I heard the car door slam. Dad’s home.
Although, of course, he wasn’t. It was the noise that had plagued my subconscious for over a month now. The sound that had once been so comforting to me, was now like a punch in the gut. I wondered if the noise did the same thing to the rest of the family. We’d lost Dad a month earlier. Lost sounds somewhat trivial, doesn’t it? Lost as though I’d been careless and he’d turn up eventually if I tidied my room. No, Dad had passed away and now we were a family of four. Mum, Jen, Iain and me.
It was Christmas Day and the house was as festively decorated as it ever was. The tree was beautiful, with baubles and trinkets adorning the branches like little glistening memories, winking at us with the reflection of the multi-coloured fairy lights. The presents were distributed to the appropriate areas of the living room, and we each went to our assigned stations to commence unwrapping. Everything was exactly as it always had been – except for one thing. We all tried to keep the atmosphere light, showing Mum that we were OK, hoping she wouldn’t worry. Mum was like a tower of strength, never faltering.
Iain worked in a sports shop at the time. A fun job I’d imagine, for a young, sporty kid, with plenty of banter and mates to pal about with. Aidy was a new friend of my brother’s, who’d recently moved to Paisley from Manchester. Iain knew Aidy was unable to go home for Christmas, with the demands of a retail job dictating lengthy shifts on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, and had invited his new mate round for Christmas dinner. Aidy, however, was adamant he had plans for the big day. Iain was unconvinced. So, he popped round.
Half an hour later, Iain returned. And there it was. Something for us all to focus on that wasn’t the absence of Dad. It was Aidy. My brother had chapped Aidy’s door only to be greeted by him munching a Pot Noodle.
“Come on, ya numpty. You’re coming to ma house.”
My Mother welcomed him warmly. Offering him every libation and nibble under the sun. It was probably quite overwhelming for him really, having an unknown Scottish lady enthusiastically demand he eat and drink. But again, Aidy obliged.
“Christmas dinner is my favourite meal of the whole year”, I said quietly to Aidy.
Mum was busy in the kitchen – roasting, peeling, chopping and boiling like a mad woman. She probably was a bit mad at that point, having just lost her husband with three kids to support. But not now. Now she had something to focus on – a guest!
We all sat at the dining table in the living room, trying wildly to resist pulling crackers before my Mum joined us…
I couldn’t resist.
“Don’t you lot start without me!” my mum bellowed from the kitchen. “We’re nearly there! I’m just dishing out!” Mum had always loved Christmas and was certainly putting on a good front that this was a Christmas just like any other.
She marched into the living room, octopus-like, holding more dishes than you’d think possible. Turkey, gravy, pigs in blankets, carrots, parsnips, cranberry sauce and the pièce de résistance – everyone’s favourite – the roast potatoes.
“Dun-dun-dun!” My brother joked. “How’d you think you’ve done, Mum?”
“They’re not my best, kids. Sorry.”
“Aidy! Every year, Mum manages to screw up the roast taughties. Every year!”
“Are you kiddin’ me on? They’re brilliant.”
“Thank you, Aidy. You can stay.” He just got the mother seal of approval.
We ladled greedy spoonfuls onto our plates and passed serving bowls back and forth. We stuffed our faces and pulled crackers, groaning at the terrible jokes and laughing that there was no paper hat invented that could take on the circumference of my massive head. We laughed and debated noisily, mostly my sister insisting she wouldn’t be in my Pictionary team due to prior experience of my board game deceptions. We talked about Aidy’s family and told him a few stories about Dad, as much as we could whilst holding back tears. We told Aidy to have more, have seconds and thirds, and we laughed at just how much food this kid could put away! Slowly but surely, we all had to admit defeat.
We. Were. Stuffed.
“That was amazing, Mrs Hughes. Best Christmas dinner I’ve had.”
“You’re more than welcome, Aidy.”
And he was. I may have lost my Dad that year, but I gained a brother. An opinionated, pain-in-the-neck, Mancunian brother, no less. Aidy has joined us for Christmas every year since. Twenty, to be exact. And why? It was only a meal. Just some turkey and a few trimmings. It shouldn’t have really meant that much. But it did. Aidy may have needed a family to welcome him for Christmas dinner, but we needed him far more that year.
That meal brought us hope. Hope that the pain wouldn’t last forever. Hope that we’d eventually be able to talk about Dad with a smile, instead of through tears. Hope that somehow, we’d feel like a whole family again. Hope that mum wouldn’t mess up the roast potatoes. And, you know, we were right. The sadness did ease over time and we did go on to laugh when we told our favourite Dad stories. But we’re still waiting on the perfect roast potatoes.
Maybe next year, Mum.
See you then, Aidy.