Ryan Taylor The real meaning of 'saudades'


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By Ryan Taylor

CBC reporter Pedro Mendes recently talked his family into making some wine the old way.

He remembered boyhood occasions when his Portuguese family passed the grapes into the cellar, where his father and uncles tramped them (by hand-or rather, by bare foot) and left them to ferment naturally. He described a particular feeling, 'saudades', meaning a sentimental connection with those moments in the past.

He decided to recreate the old-fashioned wine making to see if the feeling came back. "I can't remember having such a good time with my family in ears," he said, "We were laughing and telling stories." In the midst of it, he asked a cousin if he had saudades, and his cousin said, "No, because my father hasn't yelled at me yet."

I expect many of us would recognize how he felt.

The joyous nature of family occasions with a group working together toward a common goal calls up many old Christmas memories. I am not alone in thinking of each member of a family taking turns to stir the Christmas cake or pudding, which was meant to bring luck to the participants. Communal present wrapping or cooking of the holiday meals provoke the same warm memories.

I was spending Christmas with friends in Sudbury some years ago. One of the sisters had a new husband, who had never before had a Christmas stocking. Since the stockings were the primary feature of Christmas morning in this household, it was important that he have one.

His wife intended to make him one and had an elaborate pattern which involved crocheting matching sides and fitting them together, as well as assorted decorative appliqués to be added on. She had one toe completed on 22 December.

She was starting to panic when the rest of the family settled in to help. She was urged on in making the main body, while I tossed off a few of the appliqués, and her mother applied them to the sides as they were finished. One of the other sisters kept the teacups filled. We laughed our way through the work.

Late on the 23rd, we had a complete stocking. The final step was to embroider Bud's name along the top, which was Mother's task. He enjoyed finding it on Christmas morning and used it every year.

My happy stocking experience came back to me several years ago when my niece Laura's boyfriend Bruce spent his first Christmas with us. He too had no stocking and Laura had stuff to fill it but thought he could use one of his own (admittedly large) socks.

I announced that I could make him one, which would be better - a special Christmas stocking to welcome him to the family. I had no pattern but felt sure I could replicate the form of Bud's from several years before. All I'd need was a hook and a little red yarn.

So I set to work, watching Christmas films on the television, hook flying. By the time I'd made two sides in red and joined them up with festive white, we had a stocking so large the Jolly Green Giant could probably have worn it. It looked good as a hat when Bruce tried it on.

Laura always says that it takes a couple of boxloads of stuff to fill the stocking, but Bruce doesn't seem to mind. As with the best Christmas trinkets, it has a story that gets laughs every year.

It's a shame that English has no term for 'saudades'. We could use it, especially at this time of year. Have a memorable Christmas, experience some saudades for things in the past and have moments that will provide saudades in the future.

Posted December 20, 2003
Column copyright © 2003 Ryan Taylor

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