Last night it got me again.
It was Penny’s school chapel service and we started singing ‘away in a manger’. And whoosh! I was there again. The Waipiata war memorial hall, December 1974. It was the school breakup concert, and the whole Waipiata community (of about 90 people) would be crammed into the hall to sing carols and watch some pretty outstanding plays straight out of the back few pages of the latest school journal.
To anyone who happened past it would just be a country gathering in a small country hall opposite the pub in central Otago lined with Land Rovers, Falcons, Holdens and farm trucks and Dad’s Rover 3 litre (reg AF9766). If you drove past you would’ve smelt the subtle waft of dust and thyme through your wind-down window and you might’ve heard the equally gentle sound of school kids singing ‘away in a manger’ coming from the hall. That was me and the 27 other kids who made up Waipiata school. And As I sang my wee heart out I was sure this was the best show in the world right here. I was sure Santa could hear us from the north pole. God knows we’d practiced enough – Mr Wilson would’ve broken about 11 metre-long rulers on the desks in frustration as Alan McHattie and I would be ensconced in a debate about who had actually farted judging by the smell- Jamie James Hazlett or David Hood- instead of memorising the song. I’ll never forget the feeling of bubbling happiness in my heart at that concert. – and the thoughts. “How many sleeps till Christmas?” “I can’t wait till we go on our camping holiday” “I’m the luckiest boy in the world” and “Wow – where will I be when I’m as old as Dad?”
Well, I’m now as old as Dad. And here I am in the Waikato, hundreds of miles away from Waipiata – and this body’s looking more and more like Dad’s. It’s endured endless laughs, love and life, careers, tears, and ideas but my soul – my real being – is still that excitable ginger haired boy who loves to sing and imagine the future. But there’s a sadness too, that that beautiful teenage girl beside last night me never got to live that wonderful childhood I did. And nor did her sister. We live in the city and their Mum and I split up about 9 years ago.
And as I drove home thinking I’d cocked it all up as a father she turned to me and said ‘thanks for coming along Dad, I really enjoyed it’.
Her childhood was different to mine and there’s actually a chance that it might be ok. I hope – no, pray actually – that when she’s my age she’ll be singing ‘away in a manger’ with her kids, and she’ll remember her carol services, with me beside her and feel the happy glow that is Christmas.