I was six the Christmas that the tin foil fairy appeared in my life.
Other people will tell you that she wasn’t real, they’ll insist that it was all an elaborate hoax, and that they regret it.
People who were actually there that night, people who should know better, will deny that she ever existed but I can tell you that she WAS there under the kitchen spotlight in the snow of our enormous, wooded backyard.
And that she was real, in every sense of the word.
It began simply enough.
I was sitting in my bedroom colouring in a Peter Pan book (I remember this so well), when my older brother came into my room and slipped out again. Had I been an older child (although I can’t say exactly how much older), or even a tiny bit more suspicious of my brother, I might have guessed something was up.
But I wasn’t older, or suspicious. I was a totally innocent six-year-old.
Then my much older cousin came into the room, looked around, smiled brightly, and also left without saying anything. But had I been more observant, or wily, I might have noticed someone was missing from my doll collection.
I went back to my colouring book, oblivious.
How was I to know that my life was about to change forever?
While I coloured in my bedroom and events were set in place that would permanently change my life, I knew that my mother was wearing an apron, as was my aunt, and that they were both in the kitchen preparing Christmas dinner. I remember the aprons, matching red-and-green wreaths.
It was snowing gently outside, and our deeply wooded backyard ended where the green, silent, glowering acres of Carolinian
began. The woods at the back of our property were old and dark and very silent. The trees housed eagles and deer and pheasant when we moved into that house in the mid-1960s. It was a beautiful, wild and slightly magical place. oak forest
Who knew what other creatures lived in its depths?
As I coloured in my bedroom, and turkey was basted and gravy was carefully stirred, a roll of tin foil vanished from the kitchen drawer where it lived. No one would notice it, as tin foil is much used on Christmas Day, coverer of turkeys and warmer of dishes of root vegetables. Tin foil holds its shape around a pot, over the breast of a big bird, or clutched in a tiny hand in the snow.
Then she came.
There was an urgent call from my brother at the back door, not too loud, not so loud as to alert the adults.
“Pip! Pip! Come quick!”
My brother is six years older than I, twice my age on that day. Our worlds rarely collided, so the urgency in his voice drew me to him immediately.
I dropped my crayon. I raced down the stairs and into the back hall where my brother and cousin were waiting, pointing into the backyard…
“It’s a fairy, Pip! A Christmas fairy!”
There WAS a fairy in my backyard!
The spotlight by the back door shone on the falling snow and glinted off the fairy sitting at the edge of the soft light. I could just make out her wings and in her hand … a perfect wand. She was caught in the deep snow, struggling and shaking the falling flakes from her hair. She turned her head, and smiled at me…
…then the spotlight went out. When it came back on, she was gone.
I RACED into the group of surprised adults: fairy! fairy in the backyard! I shouted, dragging my mother in her Christmas wreath apron to the back door.
Was I disappointed that the fairy had vanished? Yes. Did I notice my mother later talking quietly to my brother and cousin about teasing me? Maybe.
Did I care? No.
A fairy was stuck in the snow of my backyard on Christmas day. I didn’t care what anyone said about a toy doll and tin foil and elaborate plots. The fairy shook snow from her hair then turned and smiled at me before the spotlight went out. I believed it with every inch of my six-year-old soul.
All these years later when I remember that Christmas day I know this too: your heart’s desire is a magical thing. It was without a doubt the best gift anyone ever gave me.