Sion Corn (Father Xmas)

          The first time I saw the weak sun was through the second floor window of my mother’s bedroom in William Street Caernarfon. The brick terraced houses sheltered from the rain under a mantle of blue slates as the chimneys spewed their smoke into the quiet airs of the valley.

It was WW11, dad, wasn’t about, no leave those days to be at the birth of his second son, Alwyn. He was away with the Glider Regiment and he like many of his colleagues were to return after the war embittered by their experiences. No longer were they prepared to doff their cloth caps in silence and acceptances of  stone age conditions in return for the  pittance paid – there was strife and closures of the slate quarries which  lead him to obtain a job as the caretaker and gardener at Cwellyn.

          We left William Street, and the kinship of our neighbours, aboard Owi y Glo’s flat deck Bedford with our few possessions to Cwellyn. An old rambling manor house, it had been converted into offices, grey filing cabinets, oak desks and clumsy black bakelite telephones had replaced the polished mahogany Georgian past.

          Owi the Coal ,was a regular visitor, tipping cwt sacks of coal down the shute into the cellar ,whereupon each morning my father would shovel 15 buckets full and carry them upstairs to be placed next to the hungry fireplaces he had already prepared.The narrow servants staircase in our quarters at the back of the manor led up to my parents bedroom, box room and the attic and an inside toilet and a real bath! Downstairs the original kitchen with its red tiled floor, meat hooks in the ceiling and large fireplace had become our lounge .The adjacent pantry was converted into a kitchen where bottled fruit and pickled eggs shared the shelves above the long slab of smooth shiny slate, its coolness during the summer our only form of refrigeration. A gas stove on spindly green legs, occupied the narrow end, along the adjoining whitewashed wall, stood the mangle, next to a wooden trough with a single brass tap and finally the cauldron.

          On Mondays, the cauldron would be fired up and the laundry boiled, our shirts washed and hung out to dry with the rest of the washing, later my father’s detachable collars would be starched and ironed ready for the next visits on Sunday to the Siloh Methodist chapel.

          Before Xmas the cauldron would be fired up for a totally different reason to create the richest and most tasteful Xmas puddings one could imagine. .The rich fruit mixture containing a few farthings and silver three penny bits would be placed in round white porcelain bowls, a square piece of linen placed over the top and tied around  with brown string and immersed in the boiling steaming cauldron .Once cooked they were hung out to drain. Oh how we looked forward to Xmas dinner.

          I recall one Xmas evening, a large bunch of red holly hanging from one of the hooks in the ceiling, decorated with silver foil, insipid coloured paper cut outs, trinkets and ribbons my mum had collected over the years. A flickering fire cast shadows and, brought the draught twirling foil alive and my brother Llew on tender hooks burning to tell me the latest news. Bad it was, apparently we were to receive no Xmas presents as the family was too poor but what about Sion Corn (Father Xmas) I immediately questioned in my native Welsh tongue. Had I not heard the rumor he and his sleigh had been shot down during the war!

          In summer time we would share a bed in the attic, but as the blankets froze during the winter we were moved back down to the box room .There we shared the same bed and would roll around tightly in the flannelette sheets and grey blankets to look like a tightly rolled scroll of the Magna Carta.

          Bed time that Xmas eve we optimistically hung our empty woollen darned socks from the bedpost  and despite my brother’s seniority, and insistence that it was a waste of time, I decide to prove that he was wrong.

          Realizing Santa had to come via the door as there was no fireplace I carefully left the door  slightly ajar, bridging the gap with my favorite great book of wild animals and stacking a range of Welsh and English books on top of it .It was not long before the two sentries were rolled into the scroll position - asleep.

Needless to say Sion Corn (Santa) was very much alive and must have cast a magic spell over us and he had filled our stockings with the luxury of a banana an orange, nuts and treacle toffee just like my mother used to make and a Dinky Spitfire whoopee! ‘See Llew’ I recall saying to my brother – ‘mum posted the letter I wrote to Santa, he is alive and he speaks Welsh see or how else would he have known I wanted a Spitfire!’We were therefore both surprised when my mother came to share the joyful awakening with a warning from Sion Corn saying’ that he would not come next year if we were to play the book trick again! Indeed she said dad was in bed with a bad headache just like Santa had had ‘as he had been up most of the night looking after the old man and as a result many of the children in the district were only going to have a few presents too.

I looked tearfully across to my bother, feeling sorry for the other children but also happy that Santa had come and just think dad had really met him too!

 

 

Copyright 2010 Alwyn Parry

www.depict.co.nz

alwyn@depict.co.nz

 

Based on a true story late forties