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By rob taylor  |  Posted: December 14, 2012

Illustration by Dave Green

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 I WAS born in the 1940's and lived my childhood and teenage years with my parents and brother in a house in Summit Place, Gornal Wood.

Christmas was always a special time for our family and preparations for it began weeks before. My father used to buy the dried fruit and peel from Woods' in Dudley.

These were used to make the mincemeat, puddings and cake. We'd all sit round the table after tea and chop the peel, halve the cherries and stone the raisins. My mother had been saving and storing these goods for ages as there were still many items in short supply after the war.

First was the cake, then the puddings which were steamed in the boiler in the outhouse, lastly the mincemeat, and for weeks the house smelt of baking and Christmassy spices.

Christmas week my dad used to bring home the tree, we always had a real one, not huge, just a nice size which he put in a pot, then it had pride of place on the sideboard in the front room. The evening before Christmas Eve we all shared the decorating of the tree and the room. My mom and dad pinned the string around the picture rails to hold the cards while my brother and myself dressed the tree, this took ages as over the years my parents had collected a great many shiny balls and each one had a story attached to it, which me and my brother never tired of hearing. We didn't have any lights as these had not yet become popular, but our tree when finished looked magical to us, dressed in all its finery.

One year my grandmother, who lived next door to us, bought us a box of Christmas candles, these little red candles in green tin holders were clipped on the branches of the tree. They looked smashing, but on no account could we light them.

On Christmas day both my grandmothers came to us for tea and supper, and dad moved the furniture around in the front room so we could all sit and watch the television, a great treat as we had only just had it. The coal fire lit up the room and everyone was happy and content eating nuts and sweets, talking, laughing, and just enjoying ourselves.

At 5 o'clock mom asked me to help get the tea ready. Out came the best tea service, a new tablecloth. the mince pies were put in the Aga to warm through. The cake, trifle, salad and other Christmas goodies were soon ready to be enjoyed and mom called us all to the table. The tele and lights were switched off, the door closed and we settled down to tuck in.

After a few minutes my granny Hale said she could smell burning. We all sniffed but no one else could smell anything so we carried on eating. Suddenly my mom noticed smoke coming under the door of the front room.

We quickly got up, opened the door and stood in horror, the front room was full of black smoke. Dad put the light on, the tree was a charred mess, the fruit on the sideboard was covered in black ash, the net curtains were grey, the furniture and covers were filthy but the worst were the walls and ceiling.

Everything was in ruins, and there, in the middle of all the mess the little Christmas candles were twinkling away.

My granny Marsh said she'd lit the candles as a surprise so when we went back into the front after our tea we would be met with the glow of candlelight. Well, it was certainly a surprise! My dad threw a pan of water over the tree before carrying it outside onto the yard.

Mom filled a bucket with soapy water to start the clean up, me and my brother went with our gran’s next door, out of the way.

After a poor night’s sleep, as our bedrooms stank of smoke, we rose on Boxing Day to start the big "clean up."

 Dad had to paint the entire room, mom had the washer on all day, everything had to be washed, carpets were put outside and me and my brother carefully dismantled the poor tree. Many of the shiny balls were broken, Christmas by Candlelight the rest we washed and packed away.

Later that night we sat by the fire exhausted, eating mince pies and drinking tea with a drop of whiskey but definitely no candlelight.

Pamela Hickman Lower Gornal..

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