December 25, 2013 | Comments Off on Madrassi Christmas 1952 | Betsy Woodman
December, 1952: My mom doesn’t look all that encumbered in this picture, but actually she was within a very few weeks of delivering my sister Jane to this world.
My parents had arrived in Madras (now Chennai) just the previous month. They’d traveled from the US via London, Frankfort, Istanbul, Beirut, Basra, Karachi, and Delhi, with my sister Lee and me in tow. Lee and I carried Pan Am bags full of coloring books and games, plus a Raggedy Anne doll for Lee and a Raggedy Andy doll for me.
Regarding the trip, my mom reported: “The children did beautifully, and their plane supplies kept them well amused. They were not nervous about flying at all—but I must say every time the plane took off and landed, I was tense as could be.”
She found Madras a beautiful city but was experiencing culture shock from the crowds, the beggars, and the gap between rich and poor. She and my dad had yet to settle in, get involved in the cultural scene, and make the friends that they would cherish for life.
They planned a more-or-less traditional Christmas dinner, complete with turkey—which had to be purchased in advance, live.
On Christmas day, the household staff garlanded the family with marigolds and we all lined up for a picture. I’m a bit cross-eyed and my glasses are enormous; Lee looks fierce, as she often did in childhood pictures, and Jane is still hidden under my mom’s now voluminous dress.
For the next two years, our “bearer,” Jacob John (in dark jacket with flower in his lapel), was to provide a comforting anchor for our daily life in Madras. An Indian Christian, he celebrated Christmas fervently, or so my mom recollected in later years.
The next month, Jane joined our Madrassi household.
Merry Christmas all, wherever you may be.