This year I invited people to share their Christmas traditions on my blog. Virginia is one of the contributors to this effort who went above and beyond in her sharing. What follows is an extremely personal story that may just touch your heart. I know it touched mine. Thank you for sharing it with us, Virginia!
My Christmas Tradition: Learning and Sharing Compassion
By Virginia Carraway Stark
Every holiday season I am very aware of the expectation of the holidays. Whether I am having a large Christmas or a small one, if I am on the road travelling, in a foreign country or in my own home, I am aware that it is the expectation that I have of compassion and sharing and togetherness that is of the prime import.
This is my own Christmas miracle that happened when I was a child. I try to pay it forward anytime I can to people I see struggling during the holidays. I’m not a saint but the belief in the kindness of our fellow humans is what we all really want to be at the heart of our holiday season.
I learned to have compassion for my mother’s failings during the events of one Christmas family dinner and I’ve tried my whole life to be aware that everyone has a story that explains their failings ever since. It’s become the heart of not only my holiday season but my approach to dealing with real life people and the people I write into reality as well. This is from my memoirs: ‘I Have Memory’ that is slowly being published on my blogspot: ihavememory.wordpress.com
There were a lot of things like that with my mother but the hard thing was the big incident that taught me how arms’ length I would have to be with her. It was only after I understood how she felt about her own abuse and her mother that I forgave her for that Incident. It’s easy to get confused with abuse and easier still to lash out at others and she didn’t have my ability to focus on the positive. She was the opposite of me in that way… to her the world was darkness and despair.
She had a good heart though, she had a wonderful openness to her and it was mischance and ill fortune that every choice she made with love in her heart went badly for her.
You see, she had wanted to get away from her dad more than anything else in life when she was a girl.
He wasn’t like my Dad- her father was unpredictable. My Dad had rules and if you obeyed the rules you wouldn’t be disciplined. There were a lot of rules but I took it as a challenge and I regarded it as a deep failure on my part if I was unable to remember them all or was physically unable to meet up with them. I would push myself to the point of unconsciousness rather than fail my dad while I had a drop of strength left in me.
Her dad, Dennis, was like a pot that’s on the back of the stove of life and is constantly boiling over. You could try to keep the burner set to low but the least little thing would set him off. I recall one family Christmas Eve going to his house, the table was set with margarine and butter. Dennis asked for the butter and someone (I think it was my brother) passed him the margarine instead.
I feel I should also mention at this point that both butter and margarine were unlabelled and were little squares of nearly identical yellow grease.
They were slightly different yellows and that was the only difference as they each sat on little cut crystal plates. Of course, for a normal person, getting the margarine instead of the butter would be the smallest of incidents, but not for my grandad.
He took the saucer, started to slice of a wafer of margarine and, muttering something that I think was, ‘that’s not butter’.
He picked up the outed margarine and threw it across the dining room and then threw the crystal plate behind him like a discus as he stood to his feet and hit the table with his rising lap and knocked over his chair behind him. He started to roar and rage. He ranted about ‘idiots’ who couldn’t tell the difference between margarine and butter while throwing plates and turkey around the dining room.
My Dad scooped me up in his arms and my mom grabbed my brother by the shoulders and they evacuated us as quickly as they could to the truck. My mom held onto my brother and my brother clutched me while our brave dad went back into the house amidst the sound of breaking china and incoherent ragings and extricated all of our presents.
The truck was full of presents and it was Christmas. We weren’t going to enjoy the tree, we weren’t going to have the rest of our dinner. Dad drove us to a motel and held my mom while she cried. I remember the two of them, sitting in the window of a cheap motel, him perched on the arm of the chair while my mom wept exhausted and ashamed tears. Dad helped her to the bed where she passed out and then he left without barely a word to my brother or me.
Leonard and I sat together in the window. He was kind to me that day, he was very impressionable and I noticed that he usually treated me as an exact replica of how he saw my dad treat my mom on a moment by moment basis. We talked a bit about what had happened but mostly we thought about all the presents in the back of the truck getting covered by snow. He held me the way he saw dad hold mom and we sat in the window watching the growing snowflakes until we fell asleep in the chair.
I’m not sure of when my dad returned, but when we woke up we saw a Christmas miracle.
There was a little scrawny Christmas tree on the coffee table in front of the window and the presents from the truck were mounded up around us to nearly fill the hotel room. Some of them were damp from snow but we didn’t mind. There was a little tinsel on the tree even though there weren’t any other decorations and there as the smell of fried chicken and cranberry sauce in the hotel room.
It wasn’t an ideal Christmas but it was the sort of magic that my dad could make happen when he wanted to. Sitting on the hotel bed as a family and eating take out food we all laughed at grandpa the way people always laugh at the monsters that scare them. Leonard had a bruise on his face where something grandpa had thrown had hit him and he imitated grandpa’s anger after seeing Dad do it. Mom and I laughed as the two of them mugged angry faces and stormed around the room, throwing the wrapping paper that we had left all over the room as though it were crystal plates.
We never went back to grandma and grandpa’s house for Christmas dinner ever again after that. It was a relief because you never knew what would happen.
Dad rescued us all from it by simply saying, ‘That’s not the sort of Christmas I want for my family’.
When I think about Mom and the fact that she grew up with that man and there was no escape for her, then I learned compassion.
You can find more of Virginia’s memoirs at www.ihavememory.wordpress.com
Virginia Carraway Stark is a Canadian author and screenwriter who lives in British Columbia, Canada. Her scripts have been made into movies (BlindEYE and Truth and Wine) and online podcasts (Candid Shots of the VPD). Virginia has written several dozen well-researched blog articles about cutting edge biochemistry and health topics for wellness websites and pubmed.com. In addition, she promotes the remarkable turnaround of the African country Rwanda with My Rwandaful Blog, where she educates readers about everything from mountain gorillas to murderous lakes.
Currently, Virginia is editor in chief at StarkLight Press, a leading Canadian publishing house devoted to science and speculative fiction. She promoted her new novel, Dalton’s Daughter, as well as her short story anthology Tales from Space, at VCON (Vancouver Science Fiction Convention) this year to great acclaim. In addition to introducing VCON audiences to her alien race the Gendlers, Virginia also picked up her Aurora Award Nominee Pin.
Both aforementioned works center around the Galactic Armed Forces Science Fiction Universe, the immersive and open-ended worldscape loved by fans all over the world. Virginia Carraway Stark is co- creator of this universe, and co-editor of its online incarnation the GAF Mainframe.
Virginia has also written stories for StarkLight Volumes 1, 2 and 3. These fascinating anthologies compile the winners of StarkLight Press’ short story contests, which are open to first time, fresh authors from all over the world.
In between writing projects, Virginia finds time to record excerpts from StarkLight Press’ catalogue on YouTube and runs online writing and poetry workshops. She resides with her husband in the country, where they are surrounded by several dogs, waterfowl and a small herd of goats.