(Originally published in the Kaieteur News on 25 Dec 2005)
I will spend Christmas morning the same way most will, fighting over the last of the pepper pot and garlic pork and savouring the homemade bread fresh from my mother-in-law’s oven. Just like the last 21 years since I was first introduced to the Ramsaroop family, her home will be packed to capacity with laughing children and grandchildren.
Just after breakfast, we will sit down to open presents; the youngest ones will be scattered on the floor and the adults on whatever chair that can be rounded up. This part of the morning is mainly about the children, who are mostly grown now too, so they are the focus of attention while gift-wrap is shredded and boxes are ripped open.
Once all of the presents are distributed and the oohs and ahs have all been said, the children will scamper off to play with their new stuff and the adults will start to talk about anything that comes to mind. This is when things get interesting.
There are three Ramsaroop brothers and a brother-in-law who cannot be outdone by the others, so when they start to talk, they all try speak louder than everyone else even while the others are still speaking. The conversation starts to go in a million directions at the same time.
Creoles gets thick and words are repeated three times for emphasis, “That pepper was hot, hot, hot” – a distinctively Guyanese form of making a point. For this period of time, smiles are pasted on their faces, manners are tossed to the wind and none of them even cares if anyone is hearing what they are saying.
Before you know it, they are all yelling – not in anger, but in conversation, as if they are carrying on a discussion with very loud dialogue. The sight of this never fails to make me laugh out loud and always strikes me as odd since their late father was a man of very few words and exuded a more stately air about himself.
In the middle of all of this, the oldest sister always finds a way to critique the others in the room. When I was younger, these accounts would make me so mad. My mother-in-law, the peace keeper of the family, always knew when I was about to blow and would call me out of the room to calm me down.
Now I am the one who calms others down, specifically my oldest daughter. For some reason, she gets just as frustrated with her aunt as I used to get when I was her age. Life is funny like that sometimes.
It is also funny that in all of this chaos and confusion, we somehow find a way to enjoy being together. I find the older I get, the more important my family becomes to me. Family is one constant in our lives that usually remains steady through life’s storms, even when we create the storms ourselves.
I have moved around a lot in the last two decades, which has included living in four separate countries. It has been a grand adventure (I love adventure!) and I would never want to trade my nomadic lifestyle for one more “stable.” However, each time I leave another home I leave more friends behind too.
I keep in touch with some friends here and there, but time and distance wears on friendships and even the closest ones tend to fade away. However, my family ties remain constant, which is one of the reasons I love to get together and hear all of the loud dialogue and watch the nick-picking sister make her rounds.
I expect this Christmas to be even better than the last few because my sweet mother-in-law, who lost her husband in 1992, remarried another wonderful man this year. They talk to each other constantly and walk around holding hands like young lovers. I know it would seem like such a drastic change would be uncomfortable for the rest of the family, but it is actually the exact opposite.
She called me this week bubbling over with happiness and so excited about the holidays. This is a Christmas miracle in itself, since the holidays have seemed to be a chore for her since dad passed on – but that is not the case this year. I have not seen her this happy in so very long, she is like a young woman again since she has found someone with whom she can share the rest of her life.
This new addition to the family has won the heart of my oldest daughter too, who was only five when her grandfather died. She cannot remember how much her “papa” loved to carry her around or that he would lift her up to play with all of the hanging lamps in the house against the protests of her grandma.
However, she does have a new grandfather figure in her life that calls to check up on her when she is sick and who cooks her bake when she is too busy with college to eat. His name is Shafeek, but she calls him “her Feeky.” She phoned not too long ago and told me it was like she finally had a grandfather – another Christmas miracle.
It might seem a bit trite to attribute these small things to being miraculous, but when a woman in her 60s finds a way to be happy after losing the man she was married to for over 35 years – that is miraculous. And when a girl who has very little memory of her grandfather suddenly gets to have someone who will love her like a grandfather – that is miraculous.
When I am sitting in the midst of the loud bantering this morning, watching as my sister-in-law assesses the group for who she should criticise first and I remain calm and shoot my daughter a wink of support because I know her jeans will be too tight for her aunt’s taste – another miracle will have taken place right there and no one will even think about it.
When we all get up from that loud conversation, we will hug and kiss and our real feelings will be obvious. That is when we will realise we are hungry again and head for mom’s kitchen, where she will miraculously have extra pepper pot, garlic pork and fresh bread waiting to be devoured. I just love Christmas miracles.
Merry Christmas, Guyana! –From my home to yours.