"I fell in the park three days ago and developed a clot in my leg which was traumatised. Hence, I will need a daily visit by the nurse over the next seven days, plus a hospital scan today if they can fit me in. So I don't know if I will miss my first annual Christmas gathering with the family this afternoon.
I love Christmas. It's my favourite time of year. Christmas will forever be associated in my mind with being a 'family' time. When it gets to Christmas Eve, I know that a special day is in the offing. When my mother was alive and all her seven children lived in different parts of the region, we would all nevertheless make the effort to meet up in some venue for a drink and a chance to tell and re-tell stories of our past and some of the present. Being a non-drinker, my father never attended these gatherings, but my mother would gladly drink his ration in addition to her own.
Since Mum's early death twenty six years ago, the Christmas Eve gathering continues and it is the one time of the year when all seven of us and our partners are guaranteed to assemble under one roof; most accompanied by their children and grandchildren. We naturally catch up on all the family gossip and never depart without having recounted a good number of stories involving our mother and our upbringing. Our own children have no doubt heard the same tales being told many times over the years of their development, but that never stopped me and my six brothers and sisters re-telling them. The grandchildren no doubt have quickly cottoned on as to how the same stories seem to become a little more embellished with each telling and the passing of every year.
As with the dynamics within all families, things change from year to year and the Forde family experience their successes, failures, budding romances and relationship break-ups very much the same as do other families. First there are the new births to catch up with, additional names to add to the memory bank and birthday list, the deaths of mutual friends and distant relatives to discuss and of course, any big disputes, separations and divorces that have occurred.
Last but by no means least, there is also the feared ordeal of every new partner who decides to hitch their wagon to the horse of a Forde. It is usually during a Christmas Eve gathering of the clan when they first find themselves on display for first viewing by the Forde family. This day of festivity and drinking is usually considered by their Forde 'better half' as being the best time to get them passed the family 'quality controllers,' (Me and my six brothers and sisters.......their partners and spouses aren't on the 'Acceptance and Rejection Committee!').Everything depends upon this first impression they create among the seven brothers and sisters and it is often many months later before the news trickles down to them whether or not they have been accepted as a family member when their name either is or isn't referred to on invitation cards and during other family mentionings.
In my earlier years, I can recall that a brother or sister would have to have been married for at least five years before their partner would have been fully accepted as a permanent feature in the Forde family as a person who was likely to stay the course. Having been married three times during the past 45 years, it was only with bride number three that I know that 'all six of my brothers and sisters' fully accept her as a Forde. However, one would be hard pressed ever to discover any reason not to accept Sheila; she being a person who instantly attracts the loving acceptance of all who know her or have met her a mere once.
Back to mum. My mother loved a drink and her favourite tipple was a rum and black currant. It was she who bought me my first drink of rum and black currant and I'm pretty sure that it was me who bought her the last one she ever drank. In fact, come to think of it, I probably bought her every rum and black currant she ever drank.
Here I am, looking better I might add than the brooding Mr Darcy coming out of the mist, on that very last Christmas Eve afternoon that my mother was alive to join us. I'm naturally paying for the family round; as usual. As I gave my dear mum her drink, she would invariably smile and whisper in my ear, ' You always were my bonniest, Billy; the best looking in the four boys. It's to do with possessing all your own teeth and your own natural hair colour.' Naturally, I've never had the heart to tell my four brothers this yet, but perhaps one Christmas Eve in the not to distant future, if each of them buys me a few rum and black currants, perhaps I will recount this previously untold tale and add it to the annual list of family memories! Happy Christmas everyone!" William Forde: December 24th, 2013.