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Joey Maynard, like many mothers of small fry, was used to sleeping with one ear open and it was scarcely 6 o’clock on Christmas morning when her eyes opened and she sat bolt upright.  There it was again! A creak in the corridor outside, then another.  Jo sighed resignedly and sat on the side of the bed, hunting for her bedroom slippers.  As she slipped her feet into her moccasins, she heard a giggle and a hissed “hush!” and then, more or less in tune,

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

We wish you a Merry Christmas

And a Happy New Year! 

Beside Jo, Jack stirred and sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes “eh? whassat?”  Jo grinned at her husband, “It’s the kids.  And its Christmas!”

An hour later, all the household were downstairs, the youngest children declaring that they were far too excited for breakfast and casting longing glances towards the drawing room door.  Mollie Bettany laughed at her sisters-in-law’s insistence on breakfast, declaring that lunch would more than make up for any deficiency in their breakfast.  Eventually, the meal was declared over, and the family tumbled over each other in their eagerness to reach the tree.

What a tree it was! Quite nine feet tall, and topped with a star which had adorned the trees of Madge and Dick’s childhood, the tree was beautifully decorated with red baubles, white candles and painted wooden toys.  Presents were stacked under it and little Marie-Claire clapped her hands with pleasure. 

“Marie-Claire, come here poppet” said Dick, taking the small girl’s hand.  “Now, will you be our Christmas fairy and help me with these presents?”  Marie-Claire nodded, and soon the room was filled with people exclaiming over gifts and thanking the donors.  Children and grown-ups alike sat rejoicing over books, games and sweets, jigsaw puzzles cut by Jo and other thrilling packages. 

Daphne, the youngest Bettany, took for herself the distribution of certain of her gifts which, when opened, turned out to be luridly coloured ties for her father and uncles.  “Isn’t it pretty, daddy?” she asked her father.  Dick choked manfully and agreed that it was, kissing the small girl as the others admired the gift and smothered their laughter.

The time passed pleasantly until Mollie, glancing at the carriage clock, shrieked that they would have to hurry for church.

There was a flurry of activity which ensured the whole family attended church on time.  After church, the menfolk and children settled down to a lengthy and keenly fought game of Monopoly whilst Mollie, Madge, Jo and the triplets attended to the cooking.

“I’m not sure we should involve you in this, Jo” teased Mollie.  “Sure, didn’t all your cooking lessons end in chaos of some kind?!” 

“It certainly seemed that way!” agreed Madge, laughing. 

“Cheek!” exclaimed Jo.  “Am I not part-authoress of a cookbook?  Who should know how to cook if not me?  Anyway, other folk have done worse than me!”

“Corney’s cloves” said Madge reminiscently.  “And Joyce Linton’s sulphur cakes”

“Oh those cakes!” gurgled Jo. 

“Do you remember those doughnuts Carola fried in cod liver oil” added Len, giggling.  “But, Mamma, auntie Mollie is right, remember those sandwiches you made for our house-warming party at Freudesheim?”   Margot and Con joined in her laughter.

Jo collapsed.  “Do I not! And I remember what your father had to say on the subject.  I promise not to experiment today, everyone! As for you, Len, what a thing to bring up!”

The meal, when it came, lived up to everyone’s expectations.  The enormous, beautifully cooked goose was everything fancy had painted, and the crisp roast potatoes satisfied the appetites of even Steve Maynard and David Russell, both celebrated in the family as ‘better to keep for a week than a fortnight’.  Then Dick turned out the electric light, and Mollie bore in the pudding with an air of triumph, setting it alight and thrilling the youngest children. 

No-one was inclined to grumble at Jem’s dictat that there must be a rest after the meal but by the late afternoon the snow, which had fallen steadily since the midnight service, had stopped, and the sun came out.  “It will be light for long enough for a snow fight, Mums” said Mike Maynard.  Jo, glancing out of the window, saw the gleaming snow and looked a question at her husband.

“No reason why they shouldn’t, if they will wrap up well and the youngsters will promise to keep moving about and come straight when they are told to,” said Jack.

“No reason why they shouldn’t!” exclaimed Jo.  “I’m in on this! Its an age since I had a good snow fight!”

The triplets looked at each other and laughed.  Despite her long family, Jo could still look like an eager schoolgirl and join in with her children with equal enthusiasm.  “Well, if Mother is going to join in ..” murmured Margot.

A very few minutes later, Jack and Dick were picking up sides.  Madge and Mollie cried off, laughing at Jo’s enthusiasm.  “Five minutes for making ammunition!” cried Dick.  “Then to battle!”

The sides scattered across the large garden and began making snowballs rapidly.  Jack and Jem chose to set up camp behind a large clump of bushes whilst Dick and Jo began to stockpile their snowballs behind the summer house. 

A loud cry from Dick, and battle was joined; snowballs being flung rapidly in all directions.  At first, Dick and Jo seemed to be advancing ground but Jem had laid his plans carefully and Jack and Margot, rosy with the cold air, crept away from the main body of their team and came around behind Jo, Dick and the younger members of their side, capturing Geoff and Marie-Claire before anyone had realised what was happening. 

The battle was quickly over.  Turning away from some of their foes to deal with Jack and Margot, Jo’s team were quickly captured by Jem and his satellites.  As they were captured, the children were sent indoors where, they made short work of the crumpets which, a few hours earlier, they had declared they would never eat. 

Exhausted by the day, the children were sent to bed early and their elders followed soon on their heels.  The triplets gathered in their room for a few words before bed. 

“Its been a wonderful day, together as a family” said Con, thoughtfully.  Len and Margot agreed. 




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