By Golda Lee Bruce
For most of my life I was fortunate to have my two grandmothers. I often talk about my mother’s mother with whom I lived until she passed away ten years ago. Less often do I mention my father’s mother who is still alive and well, thank God. I’m happy to share her with you because she shared Christmas with me.
Every year, in the weeks leading up to Christmas, I would spend many days at Granny’s home preparing. From cleaning, to decorating, to pastelle-making and cake-baking, I did it all. We did it all together.
Everyone in our family was drafted into mandatory service in Granny’s Christmas army. Our job was to show up on the assigned dates and carry out the instructions of our petit, apron-wearing leader.
Even with our help, I still don’t know how she had the energy to keep up the traditions all these years. She’d make hundreds of pastelles, several fruit cakes, ginger beer, and sorrel among other things, and always with enough to share.
The cake batter was mixed in a huge red plastic basin and stirred with a stick as long and as heavy as a cricket bat. She would order me to “keep stirring!” as she added the ingredients to the mixture one by one. My arms and chest would be in knots for weeks after.
She would stand over the pastelle assembly line, grab the cloth I would be using to oil leaves and douse it in oil. “More oil!” she’d admonish. We never used enough oil to satisfy her.
And although we were working our fingers to the bone, it was fun. There was music, there was laughter, and there was Granny who would spontaneously dance in the centre of the living room.
It was something to see us sitting at the table diligently folding pastelles and Granny dancing through one of Scrunter’s Soca Parang hits. “You know your Granny loves to dance!” she’d exclaim.
Then on Christmas Day, it wouldn’t be Christmas until we arrived at Granny’s. She’d be there stirring a pot, craning her neck for a kiss, wearing a Christmas-coloured dress. Then we’d eat and drink and laugh and talk until it was time to leave.
Many of us have a person like my Granny in our lives: the ones on whom we can rely on to keep all the tradition and festivity of Christmas alive. But the thing I like most about mine is her determination to celebrate.
My Granny has sustained tremendous losses in her life. Our family suffered a great tragedy just five days before Christmas Day in 1985. But she never allowed the difficult circumstances of life to steal the joy of Christmas. She was determined to bring us together every year, if even under the guise of work.
When I was studying abroad, I made it home one year on Christmas Day. I arrived at her house after dark. With a plate in her hand she said, “We were waiting for you.”
It’s been a difficult year for many of us. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, our circumstances may be less than ideal. But I encourage you to take a lesson from my grandmother’s determination to celebrate. Nothing under the tree compares to the moments spent with the ones we love. And if this year has taken the life of a loved one, celebrate in their honour.
I will spend yet another Christmas away from my Granny this year. But she calls me every week to find out how the Christmas preparations are coming along and to remind me of things I should be doing. I let her know that she has taught me well and I promise her that I will “keep stirring”.
Golda Lee Bruce is a Caribbean storyteller. She was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago where she worked for many years as a journalist and news anchor. She is now a Communications Specialist working in Washington DC. Golda is married to Micheal; they have a son and a daughter.