A Tropical Christmas
by Melissa Good
It was a very bright, and very sunny day, one of those perfect, cool but not cold lower humidity ones that provide the reason so many people choose to retire in the area without spending a summer there first.
Cecilia Roberts reviewed the tables set up in the grass lined docking area with a sense of satisfaction, glancing up in appreciation at the clear, cloudless blue sky, where the sun was slanting down towards the horizon heralding the approach of sunset. “Nice.”
The tables were set up with all the things you like to see at parties, from rum grog to seven layer Mexican dip, all of which she’d carefully arranged for someone else to provide to ensure them being edible.
It was nice, she reflected, to be able to just call someone up and say, do this. Not have to worry about driving to the supermarket, fighting with the last minute dinner shoppers and hauling the lot of it back to her small boat galley and trying to assemble it.
She turned and looked at the large yacht she called him, appreciating the multicolor Christmas lights decorating pretty much every inch of it. “Almost done, sailor boy?”
Her husband turned from where he was fastening the last of the cabling. “Almost.” He was barefoot, and in swim trunks and a tshirt and a Navy ballcap on his head. “Ah figure ah can get Dar to hook them things up to the music box and have them dance.”
“Nice.” She gave him a thumbs up. The lights were horrifically garish, and she could see their slip neighbors on the right giving them a distasteful look as they crossed from their elegant motor sail boat to their Mercedes.
She mostly didn’t mind their neighbors, but a few of them were just over that edge into high society that things mattered to them that wouldn’t if they were either a cut above or below themselves.
Ceci, having been born several cuts above pretty much anything in the harbor, just laughed at them and sincerely enjoyed her staunchly redneck one of a kind husband and his garish decorations.
Andy hopped off the boat onto the dock and joined her, surveying the tables. “Looks right nice.” He said. “Folks’ll be rolling up here pretty soon.”
“Yes, they will.” Ceci hugged him. “Are you going to go to that church tonight?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Andy said. “Figgured Kerry wouldn’t mind the company and she tells so many stories about that there place thought I’d go see for myself.” He dusted his hands off then went over to the table and liberated a small group of grapes from one of the overflowing bowls and popped one in his mouth. “Ah do like parties.”
“Me too.” Ceci observed the scattering of small tables and chairs, and the big table covered in colorful bottles of liquor and mixers. “Did they bring the ice? Oh yes. There it is.” She spotted a barrel with a scoop hanging outside it.
A low rumble of engines made her turn around, to see another motor yacht, a bit smaller than their own, navigating into the South Pointe harbor. The captain of it evaded two obviously newly purchased fishing boats drifting as their drivers struggled to figure out the engines and approached the slip next to theirs at a cautious pace.
“Hey mom!” The blond woman on the back deck waved. “Love the lights!” She pointed at the boat they were parking next to. She was dressed in jeans and a white tshirt with rolled up sleeves with a Christmas tree on the front, and was wearing an elf hat with furry green ears on it.
“Growf!” The cream colored Labrador next to her added her own greeting, shaking her head and causing the bells on her bright red collar to jingle.
Ceci went to the dockside and waved back, as the new arrival drifted into place in the next slip, easing against the bumpers with casual precision. She smiled as she watched her daughter handle the big boat, in a long sleeved red tshirt with the sleeves pushed up to her elbows and a pair of denim shorts, her head decorated with a reindeer antler hat. “Happy birthday, kid!” She called out, getting a brief grin and a nod as her offspring kept her hands firmly on the throttles.
Andy appeared from behind her, and took the rope that Kerry tossed to him, lashing it to the cleat on the pier as the boat came to rest.
Kerry walked up along the side of the boat to the bow, and tossed the other rope ashore, turning to give a thumbs up to the flying bridge. “We’re tied, hon.”
“Thanks.” Dar shut the engines down, setting the batteries before she settled her antlers on her head and dropped down the ladder to the deck. “Hand me the hookups, dad.”
Andrew was already bringing over the electrical and plumbing lines, but he hopped onto the deck of the boat and bumped his daughter aside as he did the connections himself. “Gwan off of here rugrat.”
Dar cleared her throat.
“You can figure out how to make them lights go to music over there.” Andy told her. “Ahll take care of this for you.”
Dar chuckled, then followed Kerry and Chino off the boat and onto the pier.
“Happy holidays, mom.” Kerry gave Ceci a hug. “Wow, the party looks great!”
“No thanks to me.” Ceci said. “Thank the goddess for party planners.” She turned to her daughter, closing her eyes and trying not to laugh at the antlers. “Where did you get that?”
“The hat?” Dar settled her sunglasses on her nose. “Same place we got Kerry’s shirt and Chino’s collar. The internet is your shopping friend.”
“We’ve got more party supplies on the boat.” Kerry said. “And I’ve… oh. There’s Angie and Mike.” She pointed. “And my mother.” She regarded the figures. “I hope this idea of us taking them on the boat down to the cabin is a good one.”
“Better your family than mine.” Ceci said, cheerfully. She waved at the Stuarts, who had hesitated at the edge of the marina before spotting them. All three had overnight bags slung over their shoulders. “Then I’d had to have had separate dip dishes one with strychnine the other without. “
Kerry’s nose wrinkled up in a mixture of amusement and horror. “That bad, huh?”
Ceci regarded her. “They knew Andrew was alive, and didn’t tell me.” She said. “There is nothing on this earth, or any place else that will allow me to forgive that, Kerry. Nothing.”
Kerry’s gaze shifted to one side, then returned. “No.” She said, quietly. “That’s a line crossed.” She patted Ceci on the shoulder. “So let’s go meet my yoke and let me appreciate how things could have been worse. “
Dar watched them start towards the edge of the marina, then she turned her attention to the light draped 60 foot Bertram. She looked at her father, who had just come up next to her. “You going to put this thing in the boat parade? You’ll light up the whole damn Intercoastal.”
Andrew chuckled. “Wait till I plug em up.” He said. “Tried it last night and nearly made that there sailboat crash into the bait shack from it being so bright.”
Dar removed her sunglasses and tucked them into the collar of her shirt. Then she boarded the bigger boat and started investigating the complicated panel the lights were plugged into. “Got an audio in?”
“Kin plug everything but the damn head into it.”
His daughter snorted and removed her antler hat, setting it aside as she got down on one knee and stuck her head under the console. “Tell me you have a mix of new age and country in that CD changer.”
“Hey guys.” Kerry greeted her family. “Glad you found it here okay.”
“Hey sis!” Mike hugged her. “Wow it’s nice out here.”
Kerry released him and went on to get a hug from her sister. “How’s the kids?”
“Sally’s at Richards.” Angie said. “And Andrew’s being watched by his daddy.” Her face twisted into a grin at that. “Getting some practice before it’s official next week.”
Then, it was time for her mother. Kerry wrestled her Christmas spirit into place and offered a welcoming embrace, warily surprised when it was accepted. “Welcome to Miami Beach, mom.”
“It’s just lovely here Kerry.” Cynthia Stuart stated, as she released her. “Such a relief after the snow we had back at home.” She added. “And what a cute shirt.”
“It lights up.” Kerry pressed the star at the top of the tree, and displayed the results, then switched it off. “I’m saving that for after dark.”
“No kidding it’s cold up north.” Angie agreed. “Better bring a parka, sis. My greatest fear is half the guest slipping on mom’s front porch from the ice.”
“Oh. Uk!” Kerry turned. “You all remember Dar’s mom, Cecilia Roberts?”
“Hello.” Ceci greeted them. “Nice to see you all again. Glad you could make it to our little party.” She extended her hands to Cynthia, who gripped them. “I figured out that whole warm in the winter thing a long time ago. I still snicker when I see the weather reports for the eastern seaboard.”
“Goodness, that’s true.” Cynthia agreed. “I had never quite realized what the difference was until we arrived today. Here it is, Christmas Eve, and look at all the trees!” She walked alongside Dar’s mother as they headed back to where the two boats were moored.
“You ready for next week?” Kerry asked Angle, as she trailed behind between her two sibs.
“Oh yes.” Angie responded immediately. ‘This is going to be a fun wedding. Not like the last time. I even got to pick the catering so we won’t have those awful rolled chicken things again.” She put her arm over her sister’s shoulders. “Everyone thought it was crazy for us to come down here so close to the date, but it really was perfect, Ker. I needed a break, and it gives them a chance to come in and do all the decorating without us there.”
“Yep, you’ll get the grand tour.” Kerry agreed. “We’ll take the boat back home tonight, mom can see our place there, then we’ll head over to the cabin in the morning and spend Christmas day down there. It’s beautiful. You’ll love the sunset.”
“I hope I’ll love the waves.” Mike said, mournfully. “I think I still get seasick.”
“We have pills.” Kerry assured him. “Don’t worry about it.” She looked up to see Chino charging towards them, bells ringing and ears flapping. “Hey Cheebles! C’mere!”
“Growf!” The Lab pattered up to them, tail waving happily.
“She’s cute.” Mike reached down to pat the dog. “A lot bigger than when I first saw her!”
“Yeees.” Angie gave Kerry an overly sweet smile. “I”ve heard ALLL about them for the last two and a half months.” She said. “The litter of puppies I’m apparently getting a member of will be ready just after new year.”
“Heh.” Kerry crouched down and hugged her pet. “You know, Ang, you might hate me now, but sometimes having something that gives you unconditional love isn’t a bad thing.” She looked up at her sister. “You know?”
Angie regarded her for a moment. “Well, I guess we’ll find out.” She said. “Mom’s hiring an aide just to run around with puppy pads.”
“Is that where you and the commander live?” Cynthia was asking Ceci, as they approached the boats. “I think Kerry told me you lived on a boat.”
“Yep.” Ceci looked at her floating home fondly. “You know, I thought I’d lost my mind when I started thinking about living on a boat after all those years of Andy being in the Navy, but I really like it.”
“It’s lovely.” Cynthia regarded the larger of the two yachts. “Is there good space inside?”
“Less to clean.” Ceci clarified. “And if you are tired of your neighbors, you just pull up anchor and move.”
“Hm.” Cynthia mused. “You know there has been an occasion or two when that would have been very advantageous.” She said, in a thoughtful voice. “Roger always wanted to captain his own boat. We never actually had the time.”
“Lo there folks.” Andrew greeted them from the rail. “Merry ol Christmas to y’all.”
“I’ll give you the two cent tour.” Ceci led the way onto the boat. “Don’t’ trip over my daughter and those cables.”
Dar’s head emerged from under the cabinet. “Hi there.” She greeted Kerry’s family. “Welcome to Miami.” She returned the waves, then ducked back under to continue working.
Kerry paused next to her. “Whatcha doing, hon?”
“Fixing this up so Dad can make the twenty four colors of lights on this thing dance to Grandma Got Run over by a Reindeer.”
Kerry took off her sunglasses and knelt down, peering under the console. “You’re kidding, right?”
Dar smiled at her. “Nope.”
Kerry stood back up and rubbed the bridge of her nose. “Well, it’ll be a great party.” She turned around. “Want a drink? There really isn’t room for all of us to be traipsing around inside the cabin.”
“I’m all for it!” Angie retreated down the gangplank and headed for the party tables. “Can we drop these bags off in your little rowboat there, sis? Mike, go get mom’s.”
“Bossy bossy Beuregard.” Mike stuck his tongue out at her, but turned and descended into the Bertram’s cabin. ‘Hope you’re not gonna do that for three days.”
Angie and Kerry exchanged wry looks. “C’mon.’ Kerry motioned towards the Dixieland Yankee. “I’ve got drinks in there too.”
Kerry dropped down into the cabin of the Yankee, humming lightly under her breath. She crossed to the small galley and smiled at the sound of perking coffee, rubbing her hands together before she removed two insulated cups from hangers and set them on the counter.
It was dark outside. Or at least the sun was down, since the lights from the boat next door were providing enough illumination to easily read a small print book by.
The party was going full swing, and Kerry thought it was going pretty well. They had a mix of work colleagues and friends outside, of both theirs and Dar’s parents, and they’d gotten a fire started in one of the grills scattered in the gravel and grass areas of the marina.
Her kabobs had been a hit. Kerry poured the finished coffee into the cups and added cream and sugar to it, then she popped the covers on. She felt the boat rock and looked up in time to see a tall figure ducking to enter as the door opened. “Hey dad.”
“Lo there kumquat.” Andrew came over to the counter and claimed one of the cups. “You ready to go over to that little church of yours?”
“Yup.” Kerry had put a hoodie over her light tshirt in deference to the slightly cooler weather. “You sure you want to go? It’s kinda weird.”
“Yeap.” Andrew said. “Ceci aint got the patience for any of it.”
“Dar either.” Kerry groused good naturedly. “Let’s sneak out of here before my family realizes we’re going somewhere. I don’t really want them tagging along.”
Andrew leaned on the counter. “Might be a larning sperience for em.”
Kerry’s face scrunched up. “I’d rather not have one of those on Christmas Eve. I’m just looking for a service, and some hymns, dad. “
“Fair nuff.” Andrew straightened up. “Let’s get on then. Nice night for a walk anyhow.”
They climbed up out of the boat and onto the pier, turning and walking away from the party along the waterfront. Once they’d passed the edge of the dock they took the sidewalk along the marina that skirted South Point park and ended p on Ocean Drive.
“Didn’t figure Dar minded these all.” Andrew ventured, after a bit. “She went with you last year, I remember.”
Kerry nodded. “She doesn’t really.” She admitted. “But one of us really needed to stay at the party, and they kind of drive her crazy at the church.” She put her hands in the pouch at the front of her hoodie. “They always want her to do stuff. “
“Dar doesn’t like people assuming” Kerry clarified. “She doesn’t mind helping out, but it’s sort of implied there that you’re required to. I’m a little more used to that.”
“Passing the plate?” Andrew guessed.
“That, plus helping with socials, and going to all the events, and attending Sunday school and bible study…” Kerry ticked off her fingers. “You know the drill.”
“Matter of fact, ah do.” Andrew said. “Dar don’t know none of that. I didn’t want her to.” He strolled along, his hands tucked into his pockets. “Never felt like I had a choice in any of it but I wanted her to.”
Kerry nodded. “Yeah.”
“Sides ah didn’t want some years of them people fussin when she told them to kiss her ass, and then having mah wife laugh herself crazy over it.”
“Hehehehe.” She snickered. “Bingo on both.”
Andrew chuckled as well. “But you know.” He said. “Ah done was raised in the faith, just like you were and sometimes ah like to just hear it.”
Kerry nodded again, in silence. Then she looked up at her tall companion. “Do you still believe?”
Andrew considered that for a while, as they walked along the road leading to the small building that housed the eclectic church Kerry and Dar occasionally attended. “Do ah.” He said. “Ah do, Kerry. Ah do believe there’s a feller up there, watching over us.”
“Been in some places, ah do believe that’s all that got me out in one piece. “ Her father in law said. “Believing in the grace of the lord, ah mean. Been times I just closed my eyes and left it up to him.”
Kerry exhaled, tilting her head back a little and studying the stars overhead. “It’s so confusing for me.” She admitted finally. “I was raised in the church, as you said, and I never really questioned my belief in God.”
Her eyes then seemed to look past the street they were walking on, to some other place. “And I think.. no, I know there’s a place in my heart that belongs to him.” A faint smile crossed her face. “Because that part of me is so very sure of how very blessed I am.”
Andrew smiled. He took a hand out of his pocket and patted her shoulder with it.
“And yet.” Kerry went on. “When I read the paper, or look at the internet, or listen to the news, most of what I hear about religion is more about hate than about anything else.” She paused, thoughtfully. “So I guess my question is, what’s up with that, God?”
“Worship is supposed to make you feel good. It’s supposed to give you joy. You’re not supposed to be spending all your time searching the scriptures for reasons to hate everyone else.” Kerry pulled her hands from her hoodie and lifted them. “Isnt’ life hard enough as it is, without deliberately going around hating on other people and hurting them?”
‘Ah, well.” Andrew sighed. “What I done learned, Kerry, in this hear crazy life of mine is that people don’t much need reason to hate.”
“It’s part of us. We hate them that ain’t like us.” Andrew said. “Nowadays it aint’ social to say that though. I can’t call someone a name and be okay, where in the old days, you could you know?”
“You mean, like calling someone who’s Italian a wop.” Kerry said. “That was fine at the turn of the last century, right?”
“Yeap, it was.” He said. “But we all can’t do that now. So them fellers with the holy books, they haul out bits that say, it’s all right for us to be mean to them kind, and that kind, cause this hear book says it, so you can call that feller a fag, or whatever, and feel all right about it, cause that there book says go ahead.”
Kerry frowned thoughtfully. “That’s pretty much what Dar said to em the other night, when we were talking about tonight, and why she didn’t really want to go. She said even though this church doesn’t preach things like that, the people that go to it find a way to make their tribe anyway and hate on other things.”
“I guess it’s what makes us human.” Kerry tucked a hand into his elbow. “Welll, there it is.” She pointed at the small building. “And it looks like they’ve got some trouble outside.” She indicated a line of picketrs. “Pastor David warned me about that.”
Andrew cocked his head to one side. “What’s their beef?”
“We’re gay.” Kerry said, succinctly. “They want to shut the church down because that sidewalk outside is where some of their kids walk on the way to school.”
Andrew stared at the pickers, then at Kerry, then back at the picketers. “What?” He said, in a clipped tone that knocked off most of his accent and made him sound uncannily like his daughter.
It made Kerry smile. “Yeah.” She sighed. “Christmas Eve, and there they are, with signs, wishing we were dead. So that’s why I’m so conflicted about all of it, dad. How can the same God I believe so blessed me, also be the guiding light of those people?”
Some of the regular church members were across the street, in a small knot and they looked up as Andrew and Kerry arrived. “Hey guys” Kerry greeted them. “Seems like we’ve got company huh, Anne?”
“Assholes.” One of the woman responded.. “Why can’t they go shove mistletoe up their asses somewhere else?” She glanced up. “Who’s your friend, Kerry?” She asked. “Someone new?”
There were three men, and four women, and they all looked up at Andrew curiously as he ambled forward into the light of the streetlamps, his rugged features coming into focus.
“This is Dar’s father, Andy.” Kerry said. “He was nice enough to come with me since Dar’s busy hosting a party back at our place.”
“Lo.” Andrew greeted them. “Nice to meet you all.”
“Nice to meet you too.” Anne replied. “Now that you mention it, you do look like her. Doesn’t, he, Charlie?”
“He does.” A slim, muscular man agreed. “Well, welcome to the church, just wish you didn’t have to suffer the riffraff.”
“Seen worse.” Andrew commented
“Well, guys, it’s time.” Kerry said. “Let’s go on over.” She started out across the street, with Andrew a step behind her. The rest of the group hesitated, then slowly started to follow them.
Kerry could see the signs as she got closer. There was a rabid unreasoning tinge to them that made her tired, and it was hard to remember what night it was, and where she was going as she stepped up onto the sidewalk and two of the women in the group got in front of her blocking her way.
“We’re not letting this go on.” The woman told her. “Go find some other place to do your perversions.”
Without really thinking about it, Kerry put a hand out and blocked Andrew’s progress forward, much like she would have done for Dar if her partner had been there since she had no doubt at all Dar would have plucked the sign from the woman’s hand and smacked her over the head with it.
Certainly, that’s what Kerry felt like doing. “Excuse me.” She said. “We’re going to attend a church service. I’m not sure why you think that’s perverted, but we’ve got a right to do that, so kindly get out of the way.”
The woman hadn’t expected the cultured, calm tone. The protesters all gathered around and behind Kerry, the church members clustered. “We don’t want you here.” The woman said. “Our children play in this area. “
“What does that have to do with anything?” Kerry asked.
“I don’t want them exposed to your kind. It’s unnatural.” The woman stated firmly. “I have a right to keep my kids innocence intact.”
Ah. Always think of the children. Kerry felt her ire rising. “Are you also picketing the Cathedral down the street, then? If you read the papers you’d know there’ in more danger there than here. “ She heard a faint snicker from behind her. “Get out of my way.”
“Go to hell, dirty fag!” The man behind her yelled. “You try to get me out of your way!”
“Yeah? Shut up yourself you stinking Marielito!” One of the church members yelled back. “Who the hell asked you to come here?”
On the steps of the church, pastor David appeared, looking worriedly at the crowd. “I called the police!” He called out in a loud voice. “C’mon now people! It’s Christmas Eve!”
“Let em arrest us! We’ll get on the news!” The latin man yelled. “Better for us! Get these fags out of here!” He pointed at Kerry and Andrew. “You touch me I’ll sue you for every lousy fag penny you got!”
Kerry started to walk forward, coming face to face with the first woman in the group. “Are you going to let me pass?” She asked. “I’ve got an appointment to worship God, and to celebrate the birth of our Lord.”
“You don’t know the Lord.” The woman said. “He despises you. It’s written in the scripture you are an abomination!” She raised her sign, looking like she was going to hit Kerry with it.
“Ah guarantee.” Andrew’s voice boomed out. “If you so much as put a fingertip on this here child of mine’s body, them there police will just be scraping your broken bones and body off this sidewalk.”
Kerry jerked having not quite heard that tone in her father in law’s voice before. She glanced up at him, seeing the outline of his angular face framed in his sweatshirt hood, the reflection from the streetlamps glinting off his eyes.
“Are you threatening me!” The woman responded.
“Yes ma’am, I am certainly doing that.” Andrew slid in front of Kerry and made the woman take a step back. “You all are carrying on about protecting your kids, that’s what I’m doing. Protecting mah kid. Ya’ll should understand that well enough.”
The woman stared uncertainly at Kerry. “It’s not the same thing.”
“Aint it?” Andy countered. “You all don’t’ want your kids seeing people different from them, and ah don’t want mine bothered by candy assed unchristian folk.”
“We’re Christians!” The latin man yelled back at him.
“That so?” Andrew fixed his eyes on the man. “What do you all think Jesus would do if he came up here on this sidewalk? You think he’d be waving them signs?”
“Jesus didn’t write him no bible. All he done is die to give jackasses like you and me a chance to redeem themselves. He done never said there was no conditions attached like what person you pick to give your heart to.”
The protesters shuffled around, looking at the latin man for leadership.
“Git your asses out of here!” Andrew yelled louder. “Fore the Lord himself comes down here and blasts the whole of you for spreading your hate here on his son’s birthday.” He moved forward, looming over them and spreading his long arms. “Git! In the name of Jesus, who surely would beat the lot of you sorry ass people if he came back to Earth this minute!”
The Latin man looked like he would stand up for a minute, then he backed off, and the women did, and the picketers scattered back as Andrew took Kerry by the arm and headed for the church. ‘Ah swear this here city gets more morons per square inch every damn day.”
“Hey! Who the hell are you!” The Latin man yelled. “Smart mouth!”
The rest of the church members had scampered past him, and entered the church, but Andrew paused on the stairs and turned to face the man. “Who am ah?” He put a hand on his hip. “Just an old sailor, that’s all. But if you all had a lick of sense in your bodies you’d come up in this here church and see for yourselves what all happens.”
“I’m not going in there..” The woman shouted. “Are you kidding?”
“Why?” Kerry spoke up at last. “Afraid to find out we worship the same God? In the same way? That maybe we’re not different after all?”
After a moments silence, half the group moved away. But the other half, with their signs, marched forward. “All right.” The Latin man said. “Smart ass, get out of the way. You want me to see what this is? Fine.”
Kerry and Andrew let them go in, then they followed, shutting the door behind them.
“So where did Kerry go?” Angie settled into a chair next to Dar. “I haven’t seen her for an hour.”
Dar was slouched in a director’s chair, her feet up on one of the big coolers as she balanced a plate of grilled items on her lap. “She and Dad walked down to that seaside church down the way.” She said. “They do a short service on Christmas Eve then go skinny dipping in the ocean usually.”
Angie paused in mid sip, staring at her.
“We usually pass on the swim.” Dar’s eyes twinkled. “We’ve got our own hot tub.” She picked up a bit of chicken, and passed it to the patiently waiting Chino who was laying under her chair.
“Oh.” Angie shook her head and leaned back. “Is that the gay church she told me about?”
‘You didn’t want to go?”
Dar shrugged. “It’s not really my cup of tea.” She said. “I didn’t grow up with it, and they bug me to sing all the time.”
Her partner’s sister chuckled. “Well, I’m kind of ambivalent about it. I take the kids, and the social meetings are all right, but I never really felt a connection with the church.” She looked up as Ceci approached. “Great party.”
“Yes, it did turn out all right, didn’t it?” Ceci turned to survey the backdrop of the festivities, which was glowing like something from Times Square and blaring out probably the most eclectic set of songs the port had heard in many a year. “Everyone’s having fun.”
“Wait a minute, Dar.” Angie held up a hand. “You said they bug you to sing? What’s that all about?”
“Dar has a very nice singing voice.” Ceci volunteered. “So does her father, and they used to sing together when she was little.”
‘Thanks mom.” Dar bit into a lambchop. “Anyway they have a choir and they’re always bugging me to do things with them. Don’t have the damn time.”
Cynthia wandered over, taking a seat on the other side of Angie. “This has just been lovely.” She said. “I’ve never been to any party quite like it.”
“It has been.” Angie craned her neck to one side. “Though I think we lost Mike. He fell in love with someone from Kerry’s office.”
Dar rolled her eyes.
“May I ask you something? “ Cynthia addressed Ceci. “I had heard you do not celebrate Christmas, Is that true?”
Ceci leaned back and cracked her knuckles. “I do celebrate Christmas.” She said. “I take any opportunity to have a party and give presents society is willing to give me. It’s all good.”
“But if you mean, do I celebrate December 25th as a religious holiday, no.” Ceci went on. “Even if I was in a mode where I was into Christianity the fact that I gave birth on that day would have knocked it right out of me. No question.” She gave her offspring a wry look. “Sorry kid.”
Dar pointed a chop bone at her. “You act like any of that was my fault.” She said. “I had nothing to say about any of it.”
“No, that’s true.” Ceci chuckled. “But frankly, I’d rather celebrate your birthday and leave my chanting and blood sacrifices for Solstice.”
Cynthia blinked at her. “I beg your pardon?”
“Mom’s a pagan.” Dar forstalled any other explanation.
Kerry’s mother’s jaw dropped. “My goodness. I had no idea. I know I had heard something… but I didn’t think… well, I just didn’t think!”
“Before you lose your mind and think I’m a Satanist.” Ceci said. “I’m not. Paganism is essentially pre Christian faith that centers around nature, and a balance of what we consider a Godhood between male and female essences.”
“That’s pretty much why Andrew and I decided not to raise Dar with religion.” Ceci concluded. “Reconciling his and mine would have taken all the current years of her life and more. He’s a Southern Baptist.”
“Oh.” Cynthia said, with a completely different intonation.
“You know I think that would be easier.” Angie spoke up. “If you have two people who were almost the same in faith, the differences would drive you crazy.” She sipped a glass of rum punch. “I know Richard and I were from slightly different branches of the same church and it was always argument after argument over which tradition to use.”
“You know.” Cynthia sat back in her chair and folded her hands. “It has occurred to me, mostly recently, that I am not entirely convinced God exists at all.”
For a moment there was nothing but complete silence. Then Angie spit out a mouthful of her punch across the grass, coughing as she stared, goggle eyed at her mother.
“Nice.” Ceci gave Cynthia a thumbs up.
“Well, really.” Cynthia said. “I look around in the world, and all I see is what I was taught would certainly be an abomination before the Lord’s eyes. War. Hatred. Killing without end. Crime. Sickness. Destruction.” She lifted her hand and let it fall. “What, really is the point of it all? Either there is no divine force, or the divine force really couldn’t care less about us.”
“Well.” Dar spoke up. “I guess people would say there’s so much of that in the world because so few people believe.”
“Pah.” Cynthia said. “I work daily with an entire building of people who devotedly attend church every single day and are as moral as that rock over there. It’s nonsense. The hypocrisy nauseates one.”
Another brief silence. “Well I think that calls for another round of punch.” Ceci got up. “Be right back!”
Kerry settled into the pew she and Dar usually claimed, to the left hand side near the back. Andrew slid in next to her, and the protestors sat in the last pew on the right, their signs propped prominently between them.
“Wall, aint’ this special.” Andrew opened his hymnal and examined it. “Got some tunes ah like at least.”
“What is the point of this.” Kerry muttered, glancing behind her. “Jerks.”
“Let em be, Kerry.” Her father in law advised. “They ain’t worth your piss off.,”
No, Kerry admitted, they didn’t. She settled back in her pew as she saw the pastor move to the altar in his usual casual outfit. This wasn’t about them, and it wasn’t about hatred. “Hey, you make a pretty good preacher, dad. That was great outside.”
Andrew chuckled. “I done heard enough of them fellers years back.” He regarded the pastor. ‘Well, now, that’s a sight more comfortable then them robes would be.”
Slowly, the rest of the regular church members filled, not without venomous looks at the intruders in the rear. Anne took a seat next to Kerry, and leaned back, shaking her head a little. “Don’t they have their own churches to go to tonight? We don’t’ really have seats to spare anyway.”
Kerry looked around, realizing she was right. “Wow. It’s really full.”
Anne nodded. “Not sure if it’s the recent political climate or what, but we’ve been getting new members like gangbusters.” She glanced at Kerry. “Especially some younger ones.”
“A lot of the big mainstream ones are starting to take a more conservative line.” Kerry said, quietly. “I got a newsletter from my old church and you know? I almost burned it.”
Pastor David cleared his throat, and put his hands on the wooden pulpit. It was built from driftwood, and built with chunks of water washed glass and seeing it, Kerry had to smile. The wood and glass were from her and Dar’s little chunk of sand offshore.
“And a beautiful and gorgeous Christmas Eve it is, that we are gathered here tonight in order to celebrate the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the light of the world, who came to us to spread his message of peace and love for all human kind for ever and ever.”
Kerry thought about the words as she listened to the sermon, a quiet and laid back speech typical of Pastor David that mixed a little tradition with a little humor and always behind it the wistful sadness that acknowledged the religion they practiced wasn’t always in favor of them.
What did it mean, really, to believe? What was the reality of faith? Was it about yourself, inside, or about society who had this need to form a tribe, as Dar had said to her?
“Christmas is a time when we can lay aside our troubles, put to one side our anger with our neighbor, and our frustrations of the world and simply have that little space where all of us can enjoy being a child again.” Pastor David said. “It’s when the words, peace on earth, and goodwill to all mankind are spoken and there can be a sense that, in this one night, for this small time, we can drop the barriers that divide us and put a hand out to our enemies and just be human together.”
Was that true? Kerry glanced up at Andrew, who was listening quietly. Or did the people who say they did that, who spoke those platitudes just do it because it was expected? How much of her own religious life was done, because it was expected, and not because it was felt?
She thought about how she considered Christmas now, and how she’d thought about it when she’d been back in Michigan. At home there, the trappings had all been perfect. They’d always had a fresh cut tree, beautifully decorated with heirloom ornaments and underneath had always been that pile of presents for her and her brother and sister.
They’d had stockings hung on the fireplace, certainly there were paper archives all over Saugatuck of pictures taken of her home, her father’s home, with all it’s proper trimmings in place. She remembered coming across one of them going through the things Angie had taken of hers from the house and seeing her stocking, the white cuff neatly traced with her name on it, hanging there.
They’d gone to church that morning, and they’d opened presents and sung the hymns.
And here, now? Kerry smiled a little. Well, they had a tree, that was for sure. But it was covered with odds and ends and little stuffed animals, trinkets Dar had picked up at trade shows, and was capped with a pink flamingo.
Not so traditional. But the presents were there, piles and piles of them under the tree wrapped in every color of the rainbow and even this year, some for her mother, and her sister and brother were tucked there as well.
For Ceci and Andrew, too. They would open presents, and then pile on the boat and take at trip down the coast in the sunshine, trading a churches staid confines for the cool air and salt spray, and then maybe do a barbeque on the beach down by the cabin.
Not very traditional, no. This would be the only service she went to, probably all year, except maybe for Easter. They had those on the beach at sunrise and it was beautiful.
And yet sitting here, looking at the pulpit, listening to David’s words, hearing the music starting she did feel a sense of joy in her heart, knowing this year would bring her back into her family, would bring laughter and celebration and a new appreciation perhaps both from her side and from theirs.
Christmas presented the reason for an opening of the heart, she decided. It couldn’t cure everything, and it didn’t mean the same thing to everyone but it did give you that chance to explore possiblities, when your guard was down, and you were willing to feel that sense of grace towards the world.
So maybe faith was more about what you felt inside, and what you were willing to give out, than the structure of the trappings that surrounded it.
Huh. Kerry opened her hymnal and glanced down, finding her place and starting to sing as the rest of the congregation did. After a second, Andrew joined her and she looked up in surprise, smiling at him as he winked at her.
His voice was rich and deep, much deeper than Dar’s but with the same warm tone to it and resonance, and as she glanced past him, she could see the protestors in their pew, looking at the hymnals with pensive expressions.
Would they open their hearts to the moment? Would they join in and celebrate this shared faith?
One of the women, the one who had challenged Kerry, started to sing. Another put the book down and slid out of the pew, heading for the door.
The rest just sat there, arms folded.
Ah well. Kerry found herself in a place where she could dismiss them and she did. She felt her heart lighten and she set her spirit free, accepting the sense of peace and honestly wishing that everyone around her could feel it too.
Happy birthday, Prince of Peace.
“Ah, there they come.” Ceci pointed down the sidewalk, where two figures could be seen approaching. “Now we can wrap this up.” She leaned against the railing of the boat as she watched the clean up crew from the catering company clearing the tables, and the last few guests standing in small tangles chatting.
“Nice party.” Dar was leaning next to her. “Even if we did get the cops called on us and the Miami International Airport tower complained our lights were blinding pilots.”
Kerry’s family was settled down in the cabin of the Dixie, and Dar had already called their home marina to advised them they’d be back a little late.
All in all, a good Christmas Eve. She could see the smile on Kerry’s face as they approached, and found herself smiling in return, glad her partner had enjoyed her time at church in an activity that Dar truthfully mostly tolerated.
“Happy birthday, by the way.” Ceci said. “We’ve got presents for you we’ll bring over tomorrow morning.”
Dar smiled, a bit embarrassed. “You didn’t have to.”
“Of course we did.” Her mother disagreed. “Everyone else gives presents to an imaginary baby on that day. We get to do it for a real one, and besides. I worked too hard for you not to be thankful it was only that one time and give a gift for it.”
Dar started laughing.
“Hey, it’s true.” Ceci held up one hand. “Trust me, Dar, if you and Kerry ever decide to invoke Weird Science and have a kid, let it be you who does it. You’re big enough.”
“We have a dog.” Dar let her laughter wind down. “Trust me mom, all your grandkids will have tails.”
Her mother chuckled. “Well, it’s too bad for your father, since he can’t teach the dog to dive, but we’ll cope.” She turned and looked at Dar. “But you know something? I’m very glad I’ve got a good reason to celebrate December 25th again, Dar. Your father aside, I’m glad we took that second chance.”
Dar looked out over the dockside, then back at Ceci. “Me too.”
Ceci smiled. “Hello there you two!” She greeted Andy and Kerry. “Have a nice time?”
Andrew hopped onto the boat. “Yeap, we did that.” He said. “Ah do believe them folks did give a nice service.”
“They did and it was.” Kerry held her hand out to Dar. “Shall we, my love? Should be late enough to get back into our spot without crashing into too many drunk skippers.”
Dar jumped to the dock and took her hand. “See you all tomorrow morning?” She said. “Keep the lights off, huh? They’ll think a UFO is landing in the harbor.”
They walked back to the Dixie hand in hand. “Nice night.” Dar said.
“Beautiful night.” Kerry agreed. “The church is now going to be chasing your father to come sing in the choir, just so you know. Maybe they’ll give you a break for a while.”
Dar chuckled. “He might.” She said. “He likes that sort of thing.” She leaned over to untie the bow and threw the rope ashore, then going aft and slipping the knot off the cleat as she jumped onboard. The Dixie rocked a little, as she headed for the flying bridge. “Let me get the hamsters started before we drift into something.”
“Wait.” Kerry caught her by the belt loop. She opened her arms as Dar turned, and enfolded her in a big hug. “Thank you for the greatest gift I’ve ever gotten, Dar.”
Dar gently cradled her face in both hands. “Likewise.” She leaned over and gave Kerry a kiss. “To hell with presents and parties and pageantry. All I need for my birthday is you.”
Ahh. Kerry felt her heart flutter a little at the words. She’d take that message. Whatever else life brought her, she was blessed with this love, and that was worth all the rest.
Happy Birthday, indeed.