Christmas is a lonely time of year for many - I've always thought so. In the way that the push of "family" reminds you of exactly what you don't have. The bitter cold seeps like acrid honey into my old joints, this time of year. Most mornings the pain makes it hard to even get out of bed. Christmas has always reminded me that I have never had someone to take me by the elbow and guide me in those painful early hours. I have done my best to not let my own experience with Christmas turn me bitter, like those other old ladies you see in the supermarket, sneering and frowning at the kids when their eyes light up at the sight of all the toys they want. I am not bitter, no. Passively and privately resentful, yes, but not bitter. Private is the perfect word to describe my life. It wasn't a choice I actively made - I've always just supposed that life is what you make of it, and I only ever made space for one in mine, and that space is for me. Before young Jovie called around, I hadn't had a single visitor for over six months. Depressingly enough, that visitor six months ago had been the boiler man.
It was one of those crisp, wintery mornings, where the skies are so deceptively blue you could kid yourself it was a summer's day. I had just set myself down in the kitchen with a cup of tea and the newspaper when a brisk knock at the door made me jump. Visitors were clearly not a common thing to little old Me.
I made my way down the hallway to the door. I thought with a grimace about the ache in my hips when I walked - I had always been adamant to never get old. I must say, it is unpleasant to say the least. The frosted glass just teased me with the sight of a big, red, human shaped mass. Christmas time equals cold-callers and charity donations. But when I opened that door, a red-nosed, cherub-cheeked girl of maybe 18 beamed at me. I still remember her very (possibly sickeningly) festive Christmas pudding hat, and her mitten-clad hands that were clutching at a stuffed book. Her bright red coat seemed a very aggressive contrast to the frost and grey-scale of outside. "Hi!" The Beam spread wider across her face as she looked at me. Who on earth was this deranged child and what did she want with me.
"Can I help you? I... I'm sorry - do I know you?" I figured the poor girl had the wrong house. Slightly embarrassing, but she'd be fine.
"I don't exactly know how to... Look, it's a... it's a long story. My name is Jovie. And your name is Annie. Aaaand, funnily enough, you are my great-aunt. Can I come in?"
Can I come in? Absurd. Totally absurd. I had half a mind to shut the door on "Jovie" and go back to my tea, which was, by the way, getting cold.
"It is Annie, isn't it?" My pause after her ridiculous "can I come in" line must have triggered an uncertainty in her, for now she looked slightly worried, and glanced back at a shoddy 2-door car which was parked adventurously on the kerb behind her. I nodded at her, finally, and some of the Beam returned again.
"Okay, Annie. Here, I'm Jovie, okay?" she extended a mitten to me, and I shook it, slowly. "I was Selma's granddaughter. My mum is Vera - and Selma was your sister, right?"
Selma. My God, I hadn't thought of her in years. I'd forgotten that she had a child before she died - Vera, that was right. I ignored my gut instinct and swallowed my anxiety at letting this stranger into my very, very private home. "Well, you'd better come in... Jovie? Please - please, wipe your feet before you do."
Ten minutes later and Jovie was as comfortable in my house as I was - a big character, the kind that fills up all the corners of a room. She could talk, Jovie. In those ten minutes, she had already told me all about her mother, and sadly her mother's death, and how she had learned about me through one of those family tree websites. I had no idea up until that point that Vera had even had a child, but here she was. A bubbly, grinning woman of eighteen. The book she carried so close to her was revealed to be a big photo album of her family - my family, I supposed. And she found me. A lonely, doddering old lady of 73. Suddenly, I didn't feel like such an island, watching the world go by. A little bit of it had landed on my doorstep in a horrific Christmas jumper and some bauble earrings.
After our introduction, weeks went by, as did gallons of tea and a lifetime of stories. Some tears, a lot of laughter and the warmest cuddle I could've felt. This burst of life shot into my bungalow and into my heart in the coldest winter I'd ever seen. Jovie and I spent many hours together, and our conversation varied from pets, to Strictly Come Dancing, to death, to boyfriends. I grew so utterly fond of this girl, my wonderfully estranged great-niece. Christmas Day rolled around, and for the first time since I was a young girl, I had a Christmas dinner. We wore paper crowns and laughed and ate. This young lady saved my Christmas. I could see so much of myself in this girl; her confidence and kindness, her charming raffishness. I really do believe that Jovie was what stopped me from becoming a sour woman in my old age. As much as I'd love to credit myself, Jovie taught me friendship again. She taught me how to be good company. She taught me that although I'd been alone for so many years, my stories were still there to be told. And by God, I will tell them!