For weeks Hania had heard the other children talking about Christmas. Beverley and her family were going to Thirroul to visit her Aunty Tessie, but when Aunty Muriel invited Hania to go with them, her mother tried to talk her out of it.
"Christmas is a family day for Christians," she said. "You'll be out of place."
But Hania was adamant. It was bad enough missing out on the Christmas tree, the presents and festivities she loved; she wasn't going to miss out on the outing as well. Away from her mother, with Beverley and her family, she'd be able to forget she was an outsider, and feel she was part of something for once.
On the train she sat next to Beverley, her nose pressed against the grimy window as she stared out at the back of red-tiled cottages with their outdoor wooden dunnies and the skinny dogs running around and barking in backyards. Every few minutes the train ground to a halt at another station, until finally they reached Thirroul.
Aunty Tessie, Uncle Dick and their three children lived in a fibro cottage facing the beach. They kept chooks out the back, and as soon as they arrived, all the children rushed out to see if there were any eggs. Inside, the men were arguing about football, and Uncle Bill told Hania that his brother used to play for the Butchers, the local rugby league team. There was a strong piney smell in the loungeroom where the Christmas tree stood, hung with brightly coloured paper chains, tinsel, shiny baubles, and and an angel with a silver star on top. As they stood admiring the tree, Uncle Dick said that now the cedar forests around Thirroul had been logged, read Christmas trees were hard to come by, but he'd managed to get on for the kids.
Exciting boxes and parcel wrapped in bright Christmas paper were piled under the tree. Except for the fact the tree stood in a bucket and was propped up with bricks, it reminded Hania of Christmas at her foster parent's home in Poland. Despite her mother's warning that she'd be intruding, they all made her feel as if she were part of the family, and Beverley's aunty told her to call her Aunty Tessie like the other kids did.