As you go through life there are certain smells, flavours and sensations that seem to have become etched into your very being. They bring back memories, they transport you to special places. Almond icing means Christmas; freshly cut grass takes me back to the hay paddocks and the smell of dusty canvas on a hot sunny day takes me to the old mail bag in Maru Maru.
Condensed milk too takes me to Christmases past, when times were tough and money was scarce... a little like today, perhaps, the same but different. But as a child I had no idea that things were so difficult financially. In my memory, our Christmas stockings overflowed with gifts.
There was always a book or two, and, if I were very lucky, sometimes more. There was always something we needed, and I remember a precious narrow case to carry my music in arriving from Santa one year. There might also be a packet of sweets, or licorice. Maybe a small piece of china, or a little trinket box, and probably some craft materials or colouring pencils. And there were the treats. Real treats.
A packet of dried figs, a whole "bought" orange with a thin thin skin, not to be shared. A (small) bottle of fizzy drink (what colour will it be?) and the best of all, a whole tin of condensed milk that I could label with my name, eat when I wanted, and have all to myself. I would put a hole in each side of the lid, and drink it directly from the tin. Slowly. Over several days. Making it last.
It is only now that I realise there was never clothing in our Christmas stockings. I guess that's because Santa knew that my grandmother and mother made all our clothes, or we could buy them at the church fair, so we didn't need anything new. He's pretty smart, that Father Christmas.
I wonder if he realised, all those years ago, how much I would still be appreciating his gifts more than 50 years later?
Today I am grateful for sweetened condensed milk and happy memories.