I’m posting this Christmas story to meet a challenge from Tim Baker, who already posted his Ike Christmas story this morning (see my reblog of it previous to this post). So here you go, Tim! This is your surprise – that I actually pulled out my manuscript of One Woman’s Island and began rewriting again! I know, I know. Possibly a small Christmas miracle in itself, but still … better than cookies?
This is an excerpt from Chapter 10 of my novel-in-progress. Happy Holidays, everyone!
… in memory of Mariann Palmborg
A day or so after Joan’s departure, I was in the Harbour to replenish food supplies and met Solfrid there again. She was on the run, as usual, but said in passing, “Be sure you are on the main ferry wharf at 2 p.m. on December the sixth, and bring your neighbour’s children along.”
When I asked her why, she gave me that broad smile of hers. “Just be there. You will all like it.” Then, with a quick wave, she was off again.
Another Bequia surprise, I thought, happy to look forward to discovering the answer to Solfrid’s mystery.
Ayayla, Philbain and I were ready, waiting in anticipation on the appointed day for Dudley to come to the house, pick us up, and drive to the Harbour. He, too, said he had no idea what was going on, although I believe he was feigning ignorance so he wouldn’t ruin the surprise. Felicity had decided to not join us. She said she wanted to spend some time by herself, but knew we would all enjoy ourselves.
The children’s excitement increased. Mine did, too, I had to admit, when we saw a large crowd, consisting mostly of children, that had gathered at the end of the wharf to wait for the same surprise. We arrived just in the nick of time; as we joined the crowd, someone at the end of the wharf shouted, “Dere! Dere!” and pointed out into the Harbour. Then others joined him, chanting, “Father Christmas!” and “St. Nicholas!”
So that was the surprise! It was the traditional European visit by St. Nicholas to all children of the island.
But I was in for an even more enjoyable surprise when the water taxi pulled up to the wharf and I discovered St. Nicholas was none other than Solfrid herself. She had the perfect costume of a European Santa, too, dressed as she was in a floor-length cloak rather than the North American-style pants and jacket. She must have been sweltering, was my first thought, until I noticed Solfrid had been very practical indeed in designing the cloak in a light-weight cotton much more suitable for Bequia’s tropical climate. While her disguise was complete and she definitely looked the part of St. Nicholas, there was no mistaking it was Solfrid behind that beard. Her big smile, kind heart and warm soul were never easily disguised at all.
The best part was yet to come though as Solfrid called out a command towards the boat and six of her dogs jumped out as well, each with a pair of those fake reindeer antlers made for dogs strapped to their heads. Perfect! Good for Solfrid!
Solfrid herself leaned down and hefted a large sack from the boat from which she began dispensing small packages to the children who had quickly formed a line in front of her.
I helped Philbain and Ayayla get into the line then stayed with them while they waited their turn. Both children were in awe of Solfrid, or actually St. Nicholas, when they finally reached her and Ayayla was barely able to get out an audible, “T’anks,” as she received her gift of candies. Philbain said nothing at all, simply stared at Solfrid.
“Here you are,” Solfrid said, handing him a bag. She patted his head. “I hope you enjoy your sweeties.” She looked up at me and asked, “Your neighbours?”
When I nodded in reply, she threw me a wide grin and said, “Good, good!” her head nodding in an approving manner.
“I’m impressed with what you’ve taken on here, Solfrid, giving the children of Bequia a little bit of Christmas excitement.”
“Oh, well, I like to do this. The children enjoy it so much and for me it is good to see their faces happy.” She gestured around us to all the other children. This was just another display of Solfrid’s generous nature, I realized.
She had already focused her attention on the next children in the line, so I coaxed Philbain and Ayayla away. Neither child wanted to take their eyes off of Solfrid, but soon discovered what she had given them was candy and they were happily munching as we walked away from the fringe of the crowd to look for Dudley to take us back home.
As we passed a group of men, Tex called out my name. He sounded quite jovial for a change and even asked to be introduced to the children.
“Ayayla, Philbain, this is Mr. uhhh …” I couldn’t remember his last name.
“Tex,” he said, first touching his fingers to the brim of his cowboy hat then shaking their hands. “You can just call me Tex.” I noticed him discreetly wiping the hand on his jeans afterwards, trying to remove the saliva-sugar residue, no doubt. “Did you enjoy meeting Father Christmas?”
Unfortunately for Tex, Philbain couldn’t understand a word and Ayayla began acting shy, hiding behind my legs, laughing inanely.
“Philbain is partially deaf,” I said. So Tex began all over with Philbain, speaking directly to him in a loud and clear voice, waiting for the child to nod that he understood before continuing. Then he shook both their hands again, this time in a more hearty manner, and turned to me.
“It was good of you to bring the children down here to see Solfrid today, Mariana. I doubt anyone has ever done that for them before. I’m sure they enjoyed it. See you soon.” With that, Tex was loping off down the road.
It was the most pleasant and cordial I’d seen Tex act in a long time and I wasn’t sure whether this could be considered a Christmas miracle that had brought about the change. Whatever the case, I was grateful he did actually have it in him to be nice, at least on this occasion.