I took a deep breath – sometime around the middle of December last year – and have finally let it out. Phew! I have an end-of-year allergy: I just don’t do the ‘season to be jolly’ thing very well and my funk is, by now, traditional.
Despite this, I have an eight year-old child who simply adores Christmas time. It has nothing to do with religion, a lot to do with presents … and something more …
For Katie, Santa Claus is one amongst the plethora of supernatural beings that populates her imagination. Like fairies, she chooses to believe in Santa because believing makes him real, and because one year, he came to her, ‘specially.
I recently (re)discovered some pictures that I had failed to share because life simply intruded to such an extent – our cruising friends know the how’s and why’s of that particular episode in our lives and will forgive me, (I hope). Finding these pictures forcibly reminded me of the spirit – that frail, gossamer presence – that survives beyond corporate and theological reach. It has reminded me of how lucky I am to have found a community of people who share, so willingly and so practically, and of the friends that I’m currently missing very much.
So, while Haven’s long-term problems require us to leave her on a mooring in Grenada for at least another six months, I wanted to share the story of Christmas 2009.
The place is a busy boatyard in Trinidad, West Indies. That year had seen plenty of trials for us. A couple of months earlier, due to bad luck and poor decisions – don’t they always go hand-in-hand? – we found ourselves hauling out for what we thought was to be a small job.
“Five days,” we told the Yard Manager at Powerboats, only to discover that our old boat was crapped out in ways we had not even begun to imagine.
Staying “on the hard”, trying to fix these problems, bankrupt us. Had it not been for the help and understanding of our friends, other cruisers and yard management, we would have lost our boat and been forced to limp away, with nothing.
Steve kept us afloat (in every sense of the word), as a rent-a-coder, working out of a friend’s container, while I worked on the boat. Katie went feral, along with the little dog that we’d taken onboard in a spat of over-confidence only a couple of months before. This was our situation at the end of December 2009, when Christmas was simply a non-starter. We had no spare cash, everything Steve earned went to food, our welding contractor, and the boatyard. Sometimes, not in that order.
It was a tough thing, trying to explain to a six-year-old that there would be no presents that year, because really, it was mummy and daddy, friends and family, who sent those nice things for her to open, and this year, there was nothing to spare for gifts. (It was too much to explain to her that friends and family overseas couldn’t send gifts because of Trinidad’s crazy import duties, and cash was just sucked up by the overdraft!) Katie told me that she understood, that she hoped we’d be better off next year because she really did like presents. Paraphrasing, she also said that she liked the idea of Santa and maybe, like Peter Pan’s fairies, if she believed hard enough she could choose for him to be real.
Putting everything else aside, we kept working. A little while before Christmas Day, a young couple came over and told me that they’d discovered a folding scooter in their rope locker. They had completely forgotten it was there … would Katie like it?
“She’ll love it,” I gushed, profoundly grateful, “only please let’s keep it a secret until Christmas.” The scooter was given into the care of our very dear friends, Mike and Pat on El Lobo. Unbeknownst to me, Mike did more than just hide the scooter, he completely refurbished it (in amongst the ton of work that he was carrying out on El Lobo at the time).
Mike, having those classic good-looks and charm, has been asked to play Mr. Claus so often that he carries a red velvet suit and beard for those occasions when he’s asked to stand in for The Man. Only someone who has experienced 35+ degrees celsius and 100% humidity in a heavy suit and thick beard understands how much I was asking of him when he agreed to bring the scooter to our boat on Christmas morning, dressed as Santa.
The morning dawned. I was in the galley, when we heard a knock on the hull. I kept my face straight and asked Katie to go see who it was because I was suddenly, very busy.
Katie scrambled up the companionway, peeked over the guardrail and rushed back. “Mummy,” she said in a voice full of awe and wonder. “Mummy, it’s Santa!”
I looked up and saw in her wide, brown eyes and little face an expression so beautiful I could spend the rest of my life trying to find just the right words to capture it. “Well,” I said, trying not to choke up. “You’d better invite him up. He must be very hot out there.”
And he was. Poor Santa. What is more, he had trouble hauling himself up the ladder because in his sailbag (sailbags make wonderful sacks, he explained to Katie), there was not just the scooter: that bag was FULL of gifts, from friends, from people we didn’t know – but who had heard about the little girl who had to miss Christmas this year because her parents had messed up and got themselves into all sorts of trouble. “Santa” even remembered our long-suffering puppy, “Li’l Sista”, who got an enormous bag of delicious and nutritious (yes, we were hungry too), doggy biscuits.
Steve and I, who had been so caught up in our seemingly impossible task of just “gettin’ tru'” were rocked to our cores by the sharing, by the joy, and by the love.
It was some time later when Katie told me, “You know mummy, Santa looks a LOT like Mike.” Then she grinned. “That’s nice,” she laughed, and scooted off.