My timeline is one of reminiscing this year and as I read Maggie from Foodborn & Bred’s memories of a tiny knitted stocking that hangs on her tree, my mind skips back eleven years ago to a time when our own children were small and life was quite different.
Instead of living in a cozy warm house Ian and I, along with our three children, two cats and a multitude of mice that were skittering around between the ceiling boards, were living in a damp, two roomed, mobile home in our front yard. We were renovating the old farmhouse sitting in front of us that we’d bought from our neighbour a couple of years before, our dogs sleeping in the shed until we had more space.
Far from the six months that we’d envisaged living in an aluminum box, there was hope that we might be able to eat our first family Christmas dinner in our stone built kitchen a full 18 months later, and we were working ridiculous hours trying to achieve that.
Our third child was conceived shortly after moving in to that caravan meaning that I was rearing three children under five in there with no running hot water.
While we adults slept on the floor every night for 18 months, a mosses basket beside us for our new-born, our two youngest topped and tailed in a single bed. I cooked our family meals on the two ring cooker and in a tiny portable oven, but whenever there was a frost, the cold water and gas pipes froze making life even more challenging. As soon as temperatures began to drop, condensation began to trickle down the thin glass windows and for months we couldn’t see out of them without wiping them down.
We had no bathroom inside so Mr G installed a toilet, a cold water hand basin and a ‘temporary’ shower in one of the outbuildings that in the end, became our bathroom for almost three years. The tank of the shower froze over too in the winter months – thank goodness for a kind friend who invited us around to her house to bathe every week.
With a week to go until the ‘big day’ and Ian working full-time, the walls needed painting, the wooden floor was still to be laid and varnished and the central heating system and cooker needed to be wired in and tested.
Despair was sinking in as temperatures began to plummet and we were talking about delaying Christmas Day… the children would never know… and all the while the mice continued to breed.
As if the self-inflicted stress levels couldn’t get any higher, and probably as a result of them, Mr G came down with a chest infection and our children became more hyper by the hour in the tiny sitting room, thoughts of Santa arriving in a few days time making them increasingly more difficult to entertain as solstice came and went.
Then two things happened. The Gerry Ryan Radio Show rang us just after 9am and we shared our story live on air. Gerry stuck his hand into his Santa Sack and we ‘won’ a DVD player, a pile of DVD’s, CDs, tee shirts and an expensive bottle of pink champagne that was hand delivered by the off license on Christmas Eve. The lift to our spirits at the generosity of a stranger was indescribable.
Secondly, between the two of us working ridiculously long days, we managed to tick off all the jobs so that the last coat of varnish went on the floor boards at around 4am on Christmas Eve morning. The wait for the varnish to dry seemed to take forever but by mid afternoon, I unlocked the door and showed our empty but sparkly new kitchen to our children.
With just four walls and a clean floor, they couldn’t believe the space. They slid and ran and quickly found all their toys that had wheels on, whizzing them around the smooth surface, their laughter and happiness contagious.
Between us we put up the tree that we’d found the day before ‘just in case’ we had somewhere for it, covering it with baubles and tinsel and egg carton decorations our older two had made at the rickety caravan table, surprising their Daddy that evening when he came home from work. The scent from the evergreen needles mingled with the fresh varnish and paint but the sun streamed through the clean windows, shining a light into the room that filled it with warmth and hope.
Later that evening, with our children fast asleep in the mobile home, their stockings carefully arranged around the base of the tree, we crept out and began moving furniture into our sparkly new kitchen. A table and chairs, a high chair, a shelf unit, small sofa and coffee table, a toy box, fridge freezer and all the cooking utensils to cook our first turkey as a complete family.
We didn’t have a sink or tap until a couple of weeks later, but we didn’t care, we’d wash up in the caravan, or in a bowl on the table. The important thing was that we’d be warm and happy. As we stood back and admired the room, way after midnight, we felt complete.
On Christmas morning when our children awoke, we took their hands and led them into their new home that for now was just one room in a crumbly old house. Their expressions were priceless as they took it all in – the gifts, the decorations, the warmth from the cooker as it was fired up for the first time to cook the first of many Christmas breakfasts.
Eleven years ago on Christmas morning, we moved into our new kitchen and never moved out. We swapped our cold floor bed for a warmer floor until bedrooms were ready many months later. It was almost two years after leaving our rental accommodation that we ran our first hot water tap indoors and as a result, have never taken water for granted, nor the pleasure of climbing under the covers onto a warm mattress, finally ridding ourselves of foam cushions and air beds…
As a result of our experience, we always feel grateful that we’ve been able to put a roof over the heads of our family, even though it’s taken every last cent of our money and years of our time, something our children may never, truly appreciate until perhaps, they have families of their own.
Instead of posting Christmas cards this year, we’ve donated money to the Simon Community. Life was difficult for us in this early years but we had a roof over our heads. An unacceptable amount of people wont have that opportunity this Christmas.
Thank you for taking the time to read my posts and articles, I really appreciate you doing so and hope that you have a wonderful time over the next few weeks during the festive holidays. See you in the New Year!
If you enjoyed reading this post you might like to read some other Christmas memories shared in Dr Hows linky and join in if you have some memories to share.
Loved your “looking back”. Makes for good stories and important lessons all round. We’ve been in our 2 bedroom house since we moved to the countryside for 2 yrs now with 2 teens and a younger boy, we’re doing it up as we go along and nothing is taken for granted. Every Xmas there is some room “on the brink of completion” and so far my husband’s come up trumps each time.
Just wanted to wish you and yours a merry Xmas and to thank you for your excellent blog – we’re complete newbies and all your advice is great. Off to make hot choc packs – sounds delicious – Lots
of love, Marian x
Thanks for dropping by Marian, appreciate your comment and hope you enjoy the hot chocolate 🙂 Our children finally got their own rooms last year, still not finished, but their own space which they’re grateful for. I grew up with a great DIY father who was an inspiration and a great role model. Hopefully our children will inherit their Dad’s abilities 🙂
What a lovely story Dee 🙂 Have a wonderful Christmas 🙂
Glad you enjoyed it Amanda, Merry Christmas 🙂
Oh my God Dee. I thought we were hard up when we moved into our first house in Lancaster because we had no couch only kitchen chairs. I’ll never forget the luxury when we finally bought a couch 😉
That’s very funny 😀 The great thing about starting out is the appreciation of home comforts, no matter how big or small.
Great story, Dee! You’re an inspiration.
Thanks Rich. It was more a case of not having any choice lol 😀
Nice post and Merry Christmas! We had a vaguely similar experience but it pales into insignificance against your epic – we had 5 months in the caravan, no kids and an out of work builder/sparks brother in Law to ;lead the way plus a sis in law with a proper complete house 2 hours drive away for the weekends! Luxury!
Luxury indeed! Ours would have been a lot quicker if Ian wasn’t working full time but thankfully he’s brilliant at DIY and there’s not a job he wont tackle. It probably only worked because ours children were so young and just got on with it without complaining. I wouldn’t want to do it at the ages they’re at now! Ignorance is bliss in circumstances like this. We flew back to the UK for our first Christmas for two weeks of luxury at folks and friends.
I’m glad to hear that people struggle and succeed. Merry Christmas Dee. 🙂
I guess we just have to believe in ourselves and not give up. Merry Christmas 🙂
What a beautiful post and a good reminder of what is really important at this time of year. Thank you for including it in the linky!
Thank you for thinking up the Linky Naomi 🙂 I’ve been reading some lovely memories in posts people have shared that have me sitting here reflecting about my own childhood Christmas’
Lovely post – I do love how unpacking the Xmas decorations brings back memories of the last 25 years – even have the first decorations Brian and I bought for our first tree in Bristol many years ago.
That post brings me back too to when we got one side of a kitchen and the cooker in for Xmas eve, after camping on mattresses on floors etc for 4 months. I can’t imagine doing it with young kids though!
I think it only worked because of their age Lorna, any older would have been awful. My friends thought I was running on ‘love hormones’ from all the breast feeding, they might have been right! Merry Christmas, hope you have a lovely time with your family 🙂
Happy 11th anniversary in your labour of love 🙂
Thank you! Merry Christmas
Wow, what a story and a true happy ending. I really enjoyed the photos. I can just imagine how ye must have felt that first Christmas in your house. Thanks for sharing this lovely story. Happy Christmas to you!
Thanks Joanna, it was fun looking through the albums and reminiscing & then watching our children’s faces as I read the post to them before publishing. It made me realise we don’t share our tales enough with them. Have a lovely Christmas 🙂