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An elderly man drinking coffee

Recently I was having afternoon tea with one of my daughters at the local bakery, and reading her final Primary school report. The elderly fellow at the next table, a widower of Italian heritage, who I shall call Antonio* asked, “Is it a good one?”

I passed the report over to him and began to explain what each of the grades meant. He said that his last child had left school 25 years prior so his days of reading reports were a long time ago.

I asked him how many children he had and he proceeded to say that he had one daughter in Far North QLD, another in WA, two more in various parts of Victoria, one south of Sydney, and a son in Sydney.

My first response was to exclaim, “Wow, they’re spread around the country!” and then I asked if any would be coming home for Christmas. My heart sank when he replied, “No, none would be and they hadn’t been for years, as they all had busy lives with their own families, work and life. And with COVID this year, things had really taken a turn.”

He then said he wished the bakery was open on Christmas Day, as he would've liked to come and have a simple morning tea or lunch, and perhaps catch up with a friend. 

I don’t know this man that well; although being a small town I have seen him around, and had just learned he has numerous children. I did know that he, along with his brothers, had been the owner of a vast orchard business. An Italian migrant family settling in Australia after World War 2. This would have meant attending growers’ conferences and meetings, going to markets, managing teams of workers and no doubt socialising with various other orchard owners or market people, both locally where he lived or further afield in Sydney or Melbourne where his fruit was sent for sale. 

Christmas musing apples 750

Sadly, as with his children, his brothers and sister live away, so he has little day-to-day contact with them. With four siblings, a plethora of cousins and the Italian vibe for celebrating with plenty to eat and drink, I imagined Christmases of bygone years would have been fantastic bustling affairs!

My own plans for Christmas see me working right up until December 23, then hopping in the car with my daughters to do a lengthy drive to meet up with family on Christmas Eve. A teen on her Ls will make this trip slower, however, it may be the antidote to a busy term of school and work with the positive being we can have a good natter about all manner of things, as is often the case within the confines of the car with miles to drive. Topics could include plans for 2021 and garden improvements. Nothing too deep and meaningful. It gets me thinking about the conversations Antonio may have when he does catch up with his family.

This time we will be missing a couple of cousins as one has to work during the Christmas period (she drew the short straw on the hospital roster) and it’s another’s year to spend Christmas with her partner’s family. FaceTime during Christmas lunch or present opening will ensure they are still included. The blessings of modern technology. I wonder if Antonio’s family will do something similar.

Christmas musing dining 750

In the next few weeks, I’ll finish work projects, attend my children’s school presentation nights and graduation ceremonies (being so thankful that they are happening after the year it has been), duck into the shops in my lunch break and do some cooking. I’ll also go for my morning walk with the dog, get the car serviced and reign in the many thoughts of what needs doing, that threaten to overwhelm me at this busy time. All the while, I will keep in mind Antonio and wish I could do more for him.

My life appears similar to his children’s and yes I would love to stop home, restore a semblance of order to my house after this strange yet busy year, potter in my garden or read a book. However, while I can still gather with my family for Christmas and in particular this year reminisce about our childhood growing up on the farm, (my folks have made the major life decision of moving after 55 years), I’ll think of people like Antonio and hope he is okay. From leading such a busy life of raising children and running a business, it seems ironic that his wish for Christmas now is to have a simple meal and the company of a friend.

"Merry Christmas Antonio and anyone else alone at this time"

*Name changed for privacy

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