Ed. note: This story was hand-written and shoved through our drop-box just before Christmas but past deadline for our December 12 issue. It is a Christmas story, however such a heart-warmer we share it with you on this chilly, January afternoon. Thank you Patty for writing us!
By Patty “Prawn Trap” Jackson
During the mid to late ‘70s my son Richard and I lived aboard our 34’ prawn boat Moonshadow, docked at Egmont, British Columbia, just ‘round the corner from the Skookumchuck Rapids. In the fall of ’77 I was contracted to watch camp for the Christmas holidays in the Jervis Inlet area, about three hours out of Egmont.
Provisioned for our Christmas sojourn my “crew” and I untied the boat and, with the throaty hum of the Chrysler Crown flathead beneath our feet, set out for camp. (For the record, my “crew” consisted of my son, five-and-a-half-year-old Richard, our Border Collie Andy, and our cat, Teedy. Unknown to Richard, I’d stashed all of the Christmas presents under the V-Bunks in the bow).
Except for being surrounded by monolithic Coast Mountains rising out of the inlet waters, the trip to camp was uneventful. We docked, tied up, shut down the engine and stopped to listen to the vast silence, lightly interrupted by the gentle slap dance of water between boat and dock. Having no interest in ambiance, Andy and Teedy headed ashore to see to “business”. Not far behind, Richard and I bundled up and grabbed the bow saw. We had the use of the boss’s oil-heated bunkhouse for baths and cooking if we wished. Once located, Richard and I could embark on our true mission—the Christmas trees—one for the mast and one for the wheelhouse. With three to four hours of daylight left, bow saw in hand we hiked out of camp.
The weather was cold by coast standards and we had to pick our way up a steep road gouged and rutted by heavy equipment and sheeted over by a thick layer of lumpy ice.
Getting up to the first level clearing along the road gave us access to the cutaway tree line where, after some clambering about, we found and cut our trees. It was starting to get dark by the time we towed the trees to the road. At the top of the road glacier we pondered getting to the bottom, realizing the quickest, most fun way was to ride down. So each of us mounted a tree, held on to the stump and away we went. After a tip and tumble finish, we put the trees in a shed. After baths and dinner we curled up in a chair and by kerosene lamp I read to Richard “Teddy Bear” from Collected Poems of Robert Service. Afterwards we bundled up and headed down to the boat to bed.
Waking early Christmas Eve morning, we ate breakfast and headed out to get our trees. I fastened one to the mast and set up the other one in the wheelhouse. While we decorated I baked batches of shortbread cookies in our little boat stove oven. When the tree was trimmed we put our star on top and admired our beautiful tree while we ate cookies.
After dinner and a walk we looked out over the water and there was not a light to be seen anywhere across the inlet, just stillness, silence and dark.
We went in and put on the hot cocoa, got into our jammies and read The Night Before Christmas with cookies and cocoa.
Come tuck-in time, Richard seemed worried and asked me if Santa would be able to find us all the way up the inlet where no one else was. I told him that, with his “magic of Christmas” Santa would know right where to find him. Reassured, Richard thought for a minute then said that since Santa wouldn’t fit down the exhaust pipe we should leave the stern galley door unlocked.
After night-nights I waited ‘til I was absolutely sure that Richard was sound asleep. I had to get the presents out from under my bunk, up through the wheelhouse, past Richard’s bunk and under the tree. After placing the last gift, I smiled out loud inside and went to bed, too excited to sleep.
The next thing I know I’m being shaken awake to Richard’s hoots and hollers. “He found us! Santa found us! There’s presents under the tree!” And the happiest look of sheer joy you could ever see on a little boy’s face Christmas morning.
Up now and coffee on, we read “To” and “From” tags and began the opening-of-presents-Christmas-morning-ritual. Although thrilled with gifts from friends and family, I couldn’t help thinking, coffee in hand, that Richard’s best present was Santa finding us, up the inlet, on Christmas Eve.