Revelling in warm daze of Christmas

02:03, Jan 14 2013
FRUIT FEAST: Thomas Brothers cherries from Motueka . . . "surely the best cherries in the world".

On Tuesday, they began to arrive. They stepped giddy off the plane, already in love with Nelson, and we became four. My mother texted me asking if she needed to pack bedsheets, and if so, single, or double?

I'm old enough to own spare sheets, I started to reply, and paused; was I old enough to own spare sheets? The washing machine packed up and we carted all the laundry to the neighbour's, where I searched the linen cupboard, just in case.

On Thursday, we became six; Friday, 10. By Saturday, we were numbering 13, which meant we were just nine wine glasses short at dinner that night. On Sunday, we saw dolphins splashing off Rabbit Island, and opened our first Christmas presents: lime-green laser-cut felted placemats, diamante luggage tags, scorched almonds, fridge-mounted shark's head bottle- opener.

Temperatures nudged 30 inside; we sweated and gasped, lugged plates, whipped, basted, rinsed, and borrowed the neighbour's wine glasses.

On Monday, we were eight again, and jumped off the Rocks Rd seawall into the thick, silky waters of Tasman Bay. The potatoes wilted in their beds and the courgettes began to swell. My brother-in-law's Dad, chilly of Wellington, wondered how we could stand the relentless sun.

My youngest sister, heatstruck of Brisbane, sniffed that 30 degrees was nothing. In the news, a Denham Springs, Louisiana, woman insulted her neighbours by hanging Christmas tree lights in the shape of a middle finger.

On Christmas Day, we opened presents: cookbooks, a second-hand milkshake maker, scorched almonds, jandals, and gorged on seafood for dinner. It was the first Christmas in 12 years we'd all been together, Mum said.

We swung off ropes into the Maitai, and my Brisbane sister shivered for long minutes on its banks. An unidentified stench began brewing in my kitchen. In the news, a Johnsonville pilot stood outside in the night, looked into the sky, and saw an orange light approach, shimmer, and disappear. An elderly couple, aged 88 and 91, vanished in their silver Honda Jazz after visiting family in Auckland's Botany Downs. Police were concerned. A woman tried to shoot a police officer with his own Taser at a party in Dargaville.

On Wednesday, the nation woke to discover that the elderly couple were found safe at home after becoming lost during the 15km drive from Botany Downs to their home in Greenlane. We visited the Recycle Centre, picked boysenberries, got fruit icecream on the car windows, bought a fan, bickered about when to make a right-hand turn on to the Appleby Highway, and swam in the clear green Lee, where a high-school hero sat in a plastic chair in the water, beer in one hand, girl in the other, and my sister lay on the rocks and piled hot river stones on her belly.

That night, Jennie Velvin, of Ngamotu Rd, New Plymouth, saw a small, fast-moving fiery sun in the sky when she took her dogs out to toilet them; a light that seemed so close she could reach out and touch it. She was not a kook, she said. A lost, blind dog made it home for Christmas in Fairbanks, Alaska.

On Thursday the heat broke, the stench in the kitchen worsened, and we discovered my yellow dwarf beans had doubled in size overnight. We argued over whether cream was good for you or not, and how many boysenberries made the best smoothie.

In the afternoon we took a bottle of tomato sauce down to the wharf and picked up nine pieces of fish, two scoops of chips, a hot dog and four jam wraps and ate it all quietly, against a breeze from the silver sea. In the news, firefighters rescued a Christchurch kitten from behind a car dashboard.

That night, we dwindled to six. My mother soaked paper towels with bleach and shoved them under the fridge, until my youngest sister discovered that not only did my fridge have a hitherto-unknown drip tray, but that it was brimming with fishy scum from Christmas dinner.

Friends brought over Thomas Bros cherries from Motueka, as rich and sweet and as fat as plums, surely the best cherries in the world; and we sat and chain-ate them as the tap dripped and the new clock ticked and a cool breeze picked off the browning needles on the Christmas tree, and away slipped the last few days of the year.