Whilst contemplating what to give my children this Christmas I tried to remember the best present I ever received as a child. With the exception of my first tennis racket I couldn’t think of a single thing. What I could remember, however, was a Christmas experience, which became an annual ritual and remains one of my most cherished childhood memories.
A generation on, I still remember the evening unfolding with perfect clarity. A few nights before Christmas, just as dusk turned to night, our father would bundle up my four sisters and I and drive us into the city. To share an experience alone with our dad was a great novelty for the five of us. He worked six days a week and went back to the office most nights after dinner. But at Christmas time we shared two important activities with him: we would go and see the Myer windows and then visit his office.
My sisters and I would talk about this night for weeks leading up to it and on the day we were bursting with enthusiasm. It would begin with the drive into the city and Dad would point out landmarks along the way. Our favourite was the iconic Skipping Girl Vinegar sign. Her graceful skip and neon lights entranced us. When we reached her we knew we were getting close and our excitement grew.
The city seemed a world away from our suburban home and we soaked up the atmosphere through glistening eyes. Christmas lights and decorations filled the streets and we beamed with happiness. Our first stop was the Myer windows to see the Christmas display. When I was very little, Dad would lift me onto his shoulders so that I could see. And after that, Dad’s office was just a short walk away.
Entering the foyer of the law firm was a big thrill. I remember the gentle hum of the lift as we made the journey to the top floor, with the anticipation building as each floor passed. When we arrived, the five of us burst through the glass doors.
I remember the smell of the office; the scent of manila folders and typewriter ink. The entire floor was quiet and still, save for the giggles of five girls. We would run to Dad’s office and forage through the stationary drawers and filing cabinets. We found fascinating items like highlighters and hole punchers and some years we were lucky enough to find a few loose chocolates. It only occurred to me later that Dad probably planted these chocolates for us to find, or perhaps his secretary did!
We touched things, smelt things and played with the desk accessories. We pretended to be secretaries and typed away feverishly onto blank paper. We wrote on note pads and made important phone calls to each other. We photocopied our hands and filed documents. We were in heaven.
On some occasions we would be the only ones in the office. On other visits we would meet one of Dad’s colleagues and we would laugh as Dad introduced each of us, confusing our names or getting the order mixed up!
When it was time to leave, Dad would turn off the lights and pick up his satchel. It signified the end of the night but the beginning of a holiday – the beginning of time with our Dad who we didn’t see much during the year.
Looking back, the most enthralling part of this experience was the glimpse we had into Dad’s work life. During these short visits we had access to an otherwise private side of his existence. It seemed very important and impressive.
After the initial protests, we would retrace our steps. The descending numbers in the lift were never as exciting as the ascending ones. We would pass the Skipping Girl again, and we would turn our heads and strain our necks to see how long we could still see her skipping. Shortly after, I would be asleep. My younger sister and I would be carried from the car to our beds. The next morning our older sisters would teasingly claim they saw Santa in the sky.
I remember these evenings with Dad with great affection. They only lasted a few hours but the anticipation and the recollection sustained us for another year, until Christmas came around again.
No present under the tree can provide the endurance of nostalgia. A Christmas memory will last long after the tinsel has been packed away and the tree has been taken down.
If I close my eyes now I can still smell my Dad’s office….
First published on iVillage.com.au