ABC Open published film & photosBy J. L. Cunneen ·  2 min read · From 500 Words: Shaped by childhood

Growing up in a family of eight was always going to be interesting. My youth was littered with incidences that would have a parent today crawling into a ball rocking back and forth.

I’ll give you a few examples of how I tested my parent’s resilience. Around eight, after almost amputating my brother’s toe in my bike chain, I broke my arm hanging from soccer posts, and I flew into a creek from the handle bar of my brother’s hotted up dragster push bike… I could go on but you get the gist of it.

My mother’s six children were a handful but they would always be clean and pressed. Just because we were poor did not mean she had to lower her standards. She taught herself to sew, knit, and make lampshades, rugs and tapestries. These skills were necessitated through circumstance but each one was mastered with a drive to see her children were not disadvantaged.

One Christmas antipathies my mother’s desire to give us all she could.  I was five and woken on Christmas Eve by the delicate jingle of bells. I crept down the hall and peeked around the corner to see Santa standing near the door with the most majestic white husky dogs you will ever see. This was no store bought Santa costume and it wasn’t my father or anyone I knew.

Timid, I clung to the door frame until my mother motioned for me to come near. I was allowed to pat these beautiful snow creatures and touch Santa, then I was tucked into bed. I slept that night clutching the secret magic I had experienced. Warm in the knowledge that I saw something no other child had.

The next morning I entered the lounge room where I saw mounds of beautifully made clothes. This was the 70’s so the fabrics were bright with on trend patterns. My favourite dress was made with a Hawaiian pattern in deep blues and bright aqua. I thought it was the most beautiful dress I had ever seen.

I later learned my mother had stayed up late most nights leading up to Christmas to make the clothes and Santa sacks that contained small trinkets. My father had organised an actor friend to dress up and bring his huskies to the house to surprise us. I won’t believe I had not seen Santa that night, to me he will always be real and my parents gave that ethereal memory to me.

What affect did this and many occasions like it have on me? I inherited resilience and the ability to make a beautiful home, even when money is tight. And I learned how to make special memories for my own children. No matter what your financial circumstances you don’t have to compromise yourself. You can still present to the world a warm, clean home and give your children the gift of thoughtfulness, inventiveness, and most of all love.

Published 08 Apr 2016.


J. L. Cunneen

Thank you, bellagilla, and you are right, life is moving at such a fast pace that, ‘time’, is now a scarce commodity. I feel for parents today as much as their children as they are pushed to meet social constructs ripe with guilt and impossible to live up to. As long as we keep make-believe and fantasy alive for the children in our lives, all is not lost and I am heartened by the cultural shift that is embracing all things homemade.




This is a most beautiful and wonderful story that all children should experience. My parents did this for my brother and I. Same Xmas memories, so enchanting. These days, childhood ends so fast, no living with fairies in the bottom garden, Santa is seen everywhere, and so early. Parents explain that there is no Santa, it is they who slave hard to make these purchases. Make believe play is not encouraged. So sorry for these littlies. Life comes fast and at times hard soon enough without the added stresses of not being able to enjoy childhood. Ours was another time and place, and it was super. Thanks for your memories.