Friday, December 26, 2003

An Untraditional Christmas

We had an unusal, but wonderful, Christmas. On impulse, we went out to a rather expensive restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve. It was our first time there. We called about 6:30 and got a 7:00 reservation (not a good sign). But what was really funny was when we walked in. There were two people seated at the bar and two employees seated at the hostess station--all the tables were empty, but they actually asked, "Do you have a reservation?" The meal and service were mediocre, but the view of downtown and the harbor was spectacular. We saw the last of Wednesday's seven(!) cruise ships depart--in all their lit-up glory. Even some of the yachts along the downtown waterfront were decorated with Christmas lights. About mid-way through our meal, my old walking buddy walked in with her son and her parents, who come from New Jersey each winter to spend three months here. So it was nice to meet them (they had just arrived a week before).

Because we'd been up till the wee hours the night before, we turned in very early on Christmas Eve. As a result, we were awake at 4 a.m. on Christmas morning. We laid in bed and talked and listened to the radio for an hour; at 5:00 we decided what the hell, let's open our gifts. But first boyfriend wanted to go out to the car to get a little bag of goodies he'd bought me. (We agreed no Christmas gifts, but he wanted to get me a little something anyway.) We were standing in the living room with just the tree lights on and as he was about to open the screen door he stopped in his tracks, pointed at a bench on the balcony and asked, "Where'd that come from?" And we stood there nonplussed for a moment...because sitting on the bench was a beautiful food gift basket, which neither of us had put there. After a moment, we looked at each other and said simultaneously, "Jack and Suzy." They're our landlords who live upstairs and the only ones who possess a key to our place. It was a thank you gift to boyfriend and the card read, "Thank you for saving Paris." Their little black cat had gotten herself stuck in a tree on the golf course, and boyfriend was one of the course workers who had rescued her. (She'd been stuck for three days.) But just for a split second, it was fun to imagine that there really IS a Santa Claus...because it's been over 40 years since I had that magical feeling of walking out on Christmas morning to find a gift that had magically materialized.

After the gift basket surprise, we made a pot of decaf and opened our gifts in the pre-dawn darkness. Among our gifts was a box of See's candy--a treat since we hadn't had any in years (since we left Portland). We felt quite decadent sitting by the tree, drinking coffee and eating candy at 5:30 a.m. Since we were up and awake, boyfriend decided to go to work for a couple of hours to pitch in on a short-handed holiday.

When he returned, we packed our sand chairs and headed to the beach. There was hardly a soul there when we arrived at 9:45. We ordered breakfast and sat in the bar, where I began my day with a virgin strawberry dacquiri (I was in the mood for a red drink). We had breakfast at a picnic table and then did some major power-lounging in our chairs, while watching the arrival of ever-increasing numbers of tourists. By mid-day, the beach was packed. It was a postcard-perfect day, weather-wise. We swam (even though the water temperature is a bit chilly right now, at least to our tropically-acclimated bodies) and dined on big gooey slices of pizza for lunch. We napped in our chairs and headed home about 4:00. It was the first time either of us had ever spent Christmas Day at the beach...and it was the most relaxing Christmas day either of us could remember.

We had plenty of groceries at home but didn't feel like cooking, so we popped a frozen lasagna into the oven. Not long before it was done, boyfriend's parents called. His mother placed the call and I answered, so we spoke first and then I put him on the phone. Then his father got on the phone and proceeded to tell boyfriend about his trip to Israel (he just returned late on the 23rd). When it looked like the call might last a while, I quietly dished up a plate and ate while boyfriend was still talking to his Dad. Then his Dad asked to speak to me and I chatted with him while boyfriend ate. So our "Christmas dinner" was a casual meal of lasagna, eaten separately and surreptitiously, while listening to the extraordinary details of my "father-in-law's" trip to the Middle East.

Boyfriend's father is a pastor and was traveling to Israel on a multi-denominational mission of peace. Both government officials and the church officials who sponsored their trip told them they couldn't guarantee their safety and warned them they were on their own. They traveled into the Gaza and were shot at while standing at the Egyptian border. The saw first-hand the horrible living conditions of many Palestinians, and he said he was most surprised by that. I think it really made him realize that the news we receive about the Middle East is almost always delivered with a pro-Israel bent. I gathered from my conversation with him that it was a profound and life-altering experience. He's a deeply religious and spiritual man and takes no side, but simply prays for both sides to find peace. And all I can say is, amen to that.


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