In 1959, Christmas changed dramatically for our family when my Mother went into labour and delivered a ‘Christmas Day baby.’
For as long as I can remember, my young sister Rita celebrates her birthday on the stroke of midnight Christmas Eve, to have a few moments of experiencing her own special day. I guess it’s not much fun when your birthday lands on a day everyone else receives presents!
Although Rita would be the first to admit she was often compensated with extra presents because she is also the youngest of six siblings and spent a good part of her life being ‘the baby’ to be spoiled.
Memoirs are the backstairs of history.
In 2003, whenever Mum stayed a few days with me, I recorded her talking about her life. These treasured memories still have to be fully typed, but I do it in small doses because hearing her voice sends me into an emotional spin. However, here is her description of Christmas 1959:
On Christmas Day, 1959, I had Rita. That Christmas some little boy had spread the story that there was no Father Christmas. ‘It’s your dad that puts the presents out,’ he told the children in the neighbourhood.
My eldest daughter Catriona and her best friend Anne Marie Docherty, who was the eldest in her family, determined to convince the children that ‘yes, there is a Santa’.
On Christmas morning Mary Docherty always went to early mass and she called in at 7.00am and asked the midwife how I was and the nurse said, ‘Oh she has a beautiful baby girl. At the moment she’s sitting up having tea and toast. The baby was born at six o’clock.’
‘Oh,’ said Mary, ‘that’s great.’
Mary went home to her house across the street and told her kids, who were now awake, ‘Do you know what Santa has brought Mrs McInnes? A beautiful baby girl!’
Her youngest daughter, Kathleen (8) said, ‘I knew there was a Santa Claus, that boy lied. Mrs McInnes wanted a baby girl and she got one.’
Well, the story went around the street and I think every child that lived in Davaar Road had to come up and see the Christmas baby that Santa brought Mrs McInnes. Rita’s birth proved Father Christmas was real!
Another neighbour, Christine McDonald had three sons and the eldest, Robert (6) got a post office set for Christmas. He came to see me and the baby with a telegram he had written, congratulating me on having Rita, my ‘Christmas Day baby’.
I’ve still got that telegram. Poor Robert died last year – he wasn’t 50. I’ve still got that wee telegram he gave me and often think of him.
Aye, there was excitement that day.
When Rita started talking, she used to tell everyone, ‘I was born the same day as Jesus.’ Proud as punch when she said it!
There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.
That was my mother’s recollection when she was 83 years of age. Recently, my older sister Catriona (Cate), sent me a lovely vignette she wrote entitled ‘A Favourite Childhood Memory.’ This is the story of Rita’s birth from her memory:
Christmas 1959 is my favourite childhood memory, special to my family and one of the happiest times I remember. It was not the Christmas presents that Santa brought, but the special gift of life to our family in the form of a baby girl.
I remember my mother and father helping the four oldest of us get ready for the watch night service in Saint Ninian’s Church of Scotland parish church. As the eldest, I was charged with the task of keeping Iain, George and Mairi safe and together, which I did. I remember Dad telling me, Mum was not feeling well enough to go. Dad would stay home with Mum and my youngest brother, Alistair who was almost two years old. The walk in the dark and cold with snow threatening, would be too much for him.
We enjoyed the church service. All my favourite hymns and carols were sung: Away in a Manger, Silent Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and my very favourite, O Holy Night. Afterwards, we briskly walked home, and were sure we spotted some snowflakes. It was looking good for a White Christmas after all.
When we got home, Mum was in her pink candlewick dressing gown and because I was aware she was having a baby, I started to put two and two together. ‘Is the baby coming?’I asked.
Mum said, ‘Yes, but keep it to yourself. I want the others to go to bed after supper and cocoa.’
In October of that year, I’d been hospitalised with a neck operation called a torticollis. I was still wearing a small surgical collar and exercising and building up my neck muscles several times a day. When I was in hospital some of the other patients pointed out to me that my Mum was not overweight, but pregnant. A shock indeed to a naïve ten year old.
Once the other children were in bed, I helped Dad tidy up. When two midwives arrived I offered to make them all a cup of tea. We placed a babies bath on the kitchen table, got the baby soap and new face washers and towels out. I had also placed guest towels and nice soap in the bathroom for when they needed to wash up.
I made some more tea and took it upstairs. Only Dad and the midwives were allowed into the room so I knocked gently on the door and handed in the tray.
My sister was born at approximately 3.00 am. Dad brought her down in a blanket and I marvelled at her small hands and feet. I saw the umbilical cord tied off, and it was explained to me what that was about.
Dad and I proceeded to wash and dry her gently. We put a nappy on her, Dad being an expert after the previous five children. I sat in a chair and held her. She smelt beautiful and felt so soft, I never wanted to let her go.
I held a bottle of boiled water and sugar to her lips and she drank. Mum’s milk had not come in yet so this satisfied her. After the Doctor had been, Dad took the baby to Mum where she was put in her cot.
I helped Dad put out Santa’s gifts on the beds of my sleeping brothers and sisters. I got a gold signet ring with my initial C and a warm pink hat and scarf set. As I went to bed I saw the snow start in earnest.
We had the whole street visit Christmas Day to see the new member of our family, Margaret Carol Mc Innes. The Carol was Mum’s only acknowledgement of Christmas. She laughed when the Doctor suggested Noel. Margaret was named after her Godmother, whom we called Rita, a Scottish tradition to anyone named Margaret.
It’s a very special and magical memory. Rita and I, are still close today -I put it down to that bonding, when I helped bathe and feed her.
I gather together the dreams, fantasies, experiences that preoccupied me as a girl, that stay with me and appear and reappear in different shapes and forms in all my work. Without telling everything that happened, they document all that remains most vivid.
My memory of that night is different again. Catriona must have just crawled into the bed we shared and dropped off to sleep straight away. Perhaps when she lifted the blankets, the chill night air woke me, but I remember a thud as the presents ‘Santa’ had left slid off the bed onto the floor.
Excited, I sat up and peered at the bottom of the bed to see what presents were still there and grabbed the first one to open. ‘Treena, Treena, wake up! Santa’s been.’
Little did I know Treena had just managed into bed. She shrugged off my hand, and mumbled, ‘I know. Go back to sleep.’
I didn’t open the presents because I heard voices. I recognised the deep rumble of Dad’s, but not the other voice. A sliver of light shone through the bedroom door, which Treena had left ajar.
I slid out of bed and tiptoed over to peek into the hallway bathed in an orange glow. Almost immediately I was swept up into my Dad’s arms.
‘Come and see what Father Christmas has brought Mummy,’ he said as he took me into their bedroom. I can remember others in the room, probably the midwives still tidying up and observing Mum who was propped up in bed with several pillows behind her.
Mum was white faced. Very white. As white as the shawl around a red-faced bundle in her arms. Dad bent down close to Mum and the baby, ‘Have you a kiss for your new baby sister and Mummy?’
‘Isn’t she beautiful?’ Mum said.
I clung to Dad’s neck. Mum looked different and the red-faced baby didn’t seem beautiful to me. I was hungry and wanted to open my presents, which I was sure were a lot more exciting than this baby. I probably said as much because I can remember the midwives laughing.
Much of the day remains a mystery but I do remember lots of people visiting, neighbours and relatives coming and going. With adults distracted and various children joining us in the lounge room, my brothers and I literally ran riot.
The McColgans lived across the road and had relatives staying. Carol, a McColgan cousin was 8 or 9, ages with my brother Iain whom she liked. They kissed behind the couch, or rather Carol kissed Iain. Perhaps it was all part of a game but what excitement and knowledge to tease him about for years.
When the baby’s name was announced and Mum chose Carol as a middle name with a Christmas ring to it, the McColgan’s cousin thought the baby was named after her and it seemed logical to me. I wonder where Carol is now?
Almost six decades have passed and that very special night is remembered every Christmas. A new baby is a miracle and Rita was/is special – girl number three to even up the family!
Three different perspectives of the same event – what writers refer to as point of view. Details may be different in the story, but the most important points are the same.
On Christmas Day 1959 our family was changed forever by the miracle of birth and a delightful addition of a new baby sister!