A few days ago our container of furniture arrived. I felt a little emotional as the first box was carried off the truck: not only have our paintings, crockery and clothes made a long journey but I feel as though the pair of us has as well.
The arrival of the container also signified something else: the renovation (at least the inside) of our house is finally about done. Luis, our electrician, has put up the last of the light units and ceiling fans, and our painter, José, has touched up the remaining bits of internal paintwork. We are now able to arrange the newly arrived furniture where we please, place books on freshly painted shelves and knick-knacks in appropriate places. There were some unexpected stowaways in the boxes: a piece of sash rope from my bedroom window in Sussex; the handle to the grill pan that should have remained on its hook on the kitchen wall, and a carefully wrapped container of slug pellets (a neighbour has confirmed that we do get the occasional slug here when it rains!). At one point during the unwrapping Mike called me over and said, ‘What on earth’s this?’ I looked down at a piece of paper covered in what looked like tiny black eggs. ‘An insect must have got in there,’ I replied, with a shudder. Mattie then approached and exclaimed, ‘They’re not eggs, they’re poppy seeds!’ Mike gave the paper a shake and, sure enough, hundreds, if not thousands, of seeds fell back into the box. Gathering them up, I spotted the poppy seed heads that once had filled a vase in my old study – never dreaming that they would have been wrapped up, too. I have not seen mention of poppies in any of the books or magazine articles I have read about Texas wildflowers, but as San Antonio lies on a limestone escarpment I imagine they should do rather well. We shall see. Funny to think that something of my old garden might be replicated here. Remarkably, the seed heads, along with every other item in the container, suffered no damage at all.
‘It’s just like home!’ Mattie said that night when she got into her Victorian iron bed. In many respects, Mattie’s bedroom and adjoining ‘study’ do now have a feel of her old bedroom and adjoining playroom. Mattie and I loved that house – ‘I could walk around it blindfold and know exactly where everything was’, she recently told me. And seeing all our things here in Texas brought back many memories, perhaps made a little more poignant at Christmas-time when one thinks of family and friends left behind.
Many of the houses in our new neighbourhood have beautifully decorated front gardens – live-oak tree trunks covered in tiny blue lights, candy-stick edged lawns, twinkling leafy wreaths on front doors… What I find touching are the tiny houses owned by ‘poor folks’ as they’re called here, where they have hung up little ornaments, scraps of tinsel and hand-painted signs wishing all a ‘Merry Christmas’.
Christmas for me began last night when a cold front arrived and Mike lit a fire in the grate for the first time. The three of us sat in front of it, chatting, and Mattie then recited a story she had read at school and played Jingle Bells on her flute. Reflected in the glass of our patio doors were the mauve, red and green lights of our Christmas tree, and it occurred to me that this was our first Christmas together when we could truly call ourselves a family.