We were two little girls looking for something to do on a quiet Christmas Eve in the funeral home.

Our father was downstairs working on a body. Upstairs, my sister and I sat on the floor in a little room my mother called “the children’s den”. If, for some reason, the floor collapsed beneath us we would have landed right atop our father’s big white porcelain embalming table. And on this night, this Christmas Eve, we would have been introduced to the elderly man who lay upon it.

We were supposed to be asleep, so we scooted near the small television wearing our matching red Christmas nightgowns and turned the sound down low as we searched the four channels to choose our evening’s entertainment. It was late, and one of the stations had already gone off the air. But wait, what was this? We paused when we heard the first dark chords of the opening music to A Christmas Carol. We looked at each other wide-eyed, for there was nothing we liked more than being scared. This sounded promising and like no other carol we’d heard. Our young lives spent entirely in a funeral home surrounded by the steady flow of the dead, and we still searched for ghosts, sought them out at every opportunity. If there was a haunted house to be explored, a ghost story to be heard, an abandoned farm to be analyzed, we were there. We even roamed the hallways of old hotels whenever we were on holiday, where we hoped to detect an undiscovered crime scene or possibly stumble upon an apparition.

We found our ghosts late that evening in a rerun of the 1951 film classic, A Christmas Carol. This man, this Scrooge, held our attention.

The Alastair Sim version of Dickens’s story was our first impression of London. We imagined the real England to be exactly like this film, completely colourless, where people spoke in different accents, all called London.

Huddled together on the floor with blankets and pillows we remained entranced with the story, when, just before Scrooge’s transformation, the UNDERTAKER appeared! This undertaker looked nothing like our handsome father.

And he was a thief!


Even though we didn’t know exactly what it was that moved us so, we understood the redemption bit. The story was so well written and acted that we were in tears when old Scrooge bought the goose for the Cratchits.

And then, with impeccable timing, here came our own Bob Cratchit, our smiling provider, up from the lower floor of doom. He stood before us with his tie, a working hazard, tucked into his trousers, his hands shrivelled from the continuous flow of water and other unmentionable fluids. (He scoffed at the thick rubber gloves used in those days. So awkward.) Tired from his late night work, he shooed us off to bed, his duties not yet complete as he changed his undertaker’s hat for that of Santa’s.

Thus began my lifelong awe and love of Dickens. I read him every year and always include his carol on Christmas Eve. He had a long hand, err, longhand that stretched all the way to two uninitiated girls living in a small town, in a funeral home, at a time when we felt completely cut off from the world. Yes, his work is sentimental, but I quite like pages of sentiment when they are so beautifully, humorously and tragically drawn.


One afternoon last year I came upon an old stone house in Hampstead, so dark, so dreary that it could have been Scrooge’s house. Then I saw the blue plaque. I ran home to call my sister.

“Guess whose house I walked by today?”

“Um, I don’t know.”

“Alastair Sim’s”

“Who’s Alastair Sim?”

“Scrooge!” I screamed, “Scrooge!”


  1. Lovely Piece, Kate. I too adore the Christmas Carol, but ONLY if it's the Alistair Sim version. A few nights ago I saw for the first time an even earlier English version that looked like it was one of the earliest talkies. Trés tepid.

    I've thought of you all along as an only child and now here you are suddenly with a sister. Makes for an interesting dynamic in that funeral home.

    Merry Christmas, M'dear. Pat

  2. Hi Pat,

    I've seen that version, too. Agree!

    I actually have two sisters and a brother. The six of us lived there together for a time, before my older sister and brother moved out.

    Merry Christmas to you and wishing you a wonderful 2012. As always, thank you for reading and for your comments.


  3. What a lovely story, I too am a fan of Dickens and that film is one of my all-time favorites. So wonderful that you walked by Alastair Slim's house and it reminded you of Scrooge! Did you know that it was a tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's to read A Christmas Carol aloud to his family each Christmas? He loved Dickens. The local theater in San Francisco, A.C.T. offers a "modern" interpretation of A Christmas Carol every year but it's never as much fun as reading the original or watching the Slim film.

    Happy Christmas Kate, and thank you for your beautiful stories.

  4. Merry Christmas to you Susan! Hope that you and yours have a wonderful holiday.

    Thank you for your time and for reading.

  5. Brilliant post, Kate. What a strange and unique confluence of worlds. Love your edition of Dickens too...

  6. Thanks so much Wendy. Appreciate your taking the time to read!