Here we go for this Christmas memory from another with whom I shared the stage at the SCBWI Inside Story in November, Tracey Hawkins. It was super catching up with Tracey then so I was thrilled when she agreed to join in with her Christmas memory.
Here Tracey shares with us a Christmas memory of the end of the school year, and the Christmas time camping in the bush and searching for that perfect Christmas tree – just perfect!
As a child the countdown to Christmas was filled with delirious anticipation but it was a slow road to travel. Those last few weeks of school (when a school year was three terms long) seemed interminable. I lived in a small country town close to the sea and as the mercury soared and the humidity doubled, sweltering in non air-conditioned classrooms was nothing short of torture. For me that last school bell ringing loud and clear across the sizzling asphalt playground signified a momentous event. I raced for the bus dragging my younger brother in tow lumping two school cases. Stuffed inside were a mix of ugly Christmas decorations and our school reports. Never mind the miracle of Christmas … the true essence of Christmas was to be had sitting on a sticky vinyl bus seat at 3.30pm drinking down the dregs of blood warm cordial from our drink bottles. It was a rowdy bus filled with over-heated kids all excited at the arrival of that longed for freedom and six magical weeks of summer holiday.
As much as I liked school, and I did – I simply loved the unstructured life far more. Our family spent the Christmas holidays camping in a caravan at the beach. It was our holiday destination and home for the summer for over twenty years. It meant endless days of swimming, sunburn and blisters, braving giant king tides, broken foam surfboards, dodging bluebottles, watching for sharks, eating watermelon and ice-blocks. Of course Christmas preparations were essential once we had set up the van and annexe, helped Dad lay the wooden floorboards, connected the fridge, and constructed our canvas bunk beds. I don’t remember much about the gathering of food (sorry Mum). For me, it was all about the tree. This entailed a trip to an old cemetery where convicts had been buried long ago. My brother and I jumped in Dad’s wagon and off we headed. Finding the right tree was very much a ritual. And it had to be a good size to fit in the confines of our annexe. We searched and searched to find something small in a copse of towering ancient conifers. Our giggles and laughter lessened as the shadows lengthened and the evening breeze filtered through stringy willows playing an eerie, haunting song. Sun bleached headstones from another century seemingly came to life and shone in the twilight. We walked deeper into the older untouched trove of the cemetery following our father. He was a Police Officer and we believed he would protect us from anything. As the sun sunk, other families quickly departed with whatever they found. Not us. We kept seeking something special. More often than not our tree was a very large branch from a very old tree, but it was perfect. Chopped, dragged and loaded into the car. We’d slither in to sit beneath the prickly pine needles, holding tight to stop it sliding out the back. The smell of pine, sap and the masses of ants added to the excitement as we drove out of the graveyard in the last rays of fading light (never daring to look back). Once we got to the campground bricks were found to hold the tree tight in the tin bucket, and the decorations were added.
Then it was special … the magic of Christmas was upon us.
Tracey Hawkins spent her childhood years in Kempsey and Armidale, NSW but now lives in the ACT, Australia.
After twelve years in the Police Force, Tracey turned her hand to writing books for children. She is the author of pictures books through to YA. Tracey also writes murder mysteries, and hosts murder workshops in schools. Tracey’s newest releases are ‘Canberra- Federal Capital (Walker Books Australia 2013), and Max Meets a Monster released by Barnes and Noble USA 2013.
Tracey is the Regional coordinator for SCBWI in the Australian Capital Territory and can be found at her website – www.traceyhawkins.org
More on the Carolinas later but Pam Vaughan (official photographer for the New England conference last weekend) has just sent me oodles and poodles of photos … so if you don’t want to see piccies of me in action – then look away now! There are photos of me with friends, of me panelling, photos […]