SOUTHSIDE STORIES

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Winter Wonder-land

by Dakshina Gammanpila

There is nothing quite like the sound of silence, and the stillness that accompanies snowfall and its aftermath, especially the first flurry of the year. Time stands suspended.The atmosphere far from being eerie is one of wonder. It quite literally dazzles me and that sensation is magnified since having children as I see their joy. To instantly feel like a child every now and then is important and seemingly even more so in these Covid times.

I suspect that if I lived in a place where snow was a guaranteed habitual and seasonal occurence I would feel differently. The encumbrances would weigh down too heavily and taint my enjoyment; but for many years I have lived in South America and now South Asia where snow is rare, if non-existent.

Last Friday, I awoke to that calm stasis of snow and couldn’t wait to share the news with my children. Their reaction was proof positive that teenagers, as cool and sanguine as they may be, regarding certain aspects of life, particularly that in 2020 can be transported to the realms of giggling restless excitement on sight of snow. The added bonus was that it was my husband’s birthday. What an unexpected gift.

My son who had already had his first online zoom call of the day was speechless and, once he found his voice, was desperate to tell his older sister. Was she still on a call? Could we risk disturbing her? Of course. We crept into her bedroom. She was awake and had also already had a call, but in order to prevent glare on her screen as she sits at her desk, her curtains were drawn. We opened them with a flourish “Tadah!” attempting, unsuccessfully, to suppress our glee. Her lovely face was a picture and it propelled me back 16 years to another December – Christmas Day, her first Christmas and her first ever sighting of snow.

It was the day before the Tsunami and my parents were in Sri Lanka, as my grandfather had died a few days previously. The civil war was still ongoing and my father insisted that I and his precious beloved grandchild stayed in England. We went to my husband’s family. When we awoke on Christmas morning, that silence, could it possibly be? Opening the curtains I saw the sunshine reflected on my baby daughter’s face. Aglow we lifted her up to face the garden and the magical frosted scene. The snow was everywhere and sublimely stunning. She too was silent and stared in what I would call absolute wonderment, taking it calmly in like the old soul that she is. I recall the words of the midwife a few months back saying that ‘You’ve been here before’ as she looked at her. A friend had taken a photograph of her at just 3 months old looking unwaveringly at the lens. Old soul indeed.

We wrapped up in hundred layers and went out into a cold but clear Christmas day. She was bundled and comfortable. The photograph taken sits on our mantel. It captures a blissful moment, the literal calm before the storm for the next day we learned of the Tsunami and did not hear from my parents for days. The relief when we did felt like all my Christmases and birthdays at once.                                                   

Last Friday, after work and school were over we took a birthday walk, the snow, slowly melting, sparkled in the low afternoon sun. This week’s photograph was taken for you as we crested the hill. Still enough for an impromptu snowball fight. Some much-needed laughter and a release of the tension of yet another week lived online. We were thankful. I needed this, as in yet a few more days it would be the anniversary of my Father’s death. Both he and his father died in the final month of the year. My grandfather on the Winter Solstice, which was the day of my Father’s funeral. They were both unique free spirits, fun-loving, generous, utterly charming and pioneers. I miss them both with all my heart. The elements, with their unpredictable beauty, brings memory of these exemplary men front and centre, and I steal myself to believe that they are communicating with us.                                                           

The day of the anniversary, overwhelmed with sadness, but also a glimmer of hope as fragile and incredible as a snowflake, as the first woman in the UK, a grandmother in her 90s, was the first to receive the Covid vaccine. My Father, a physician whose skill with the needle and ability to calm and reassure were renown, would have liked the poetry in those coinciding dates. I went for a walk in the woods where I had been to contemplate the loss of my teacher a few weeks earlier. The trees were pretty bare but still that autumnal leaf fall, darker now, and a different ethereal beauty everywhere. All was still. “Hello Dad”‘ I said to the sky, I closed my tear-filled eyes. The softest breeze kissed my cheek.

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