There is nothing sweeter than Christmas morning with kids. I tried to remind myself of this as Ezra slithered into my sleeping bag with huge sparkly grey eyes a good hour earlier than I would like.
I closed my eyes and smelled his hair. When I opened them Gabe was sitting silently on a red pillow, looking at me expectantly. I rolled slightly and noticed Elisha sandwiched between Daddy and the wall, also looking at me. Only Hannah is old enough to realize that with the boys out pestering us, she could score an extra half hour of quiet.
The morning unfolded much as it does in every country we find ourselves in:
- There were cinnamon rolls, which Hannah and Ruthie heated in wave after wave of sticky goodness and Phil took upon himself to test as each batch emerged.
- The orange juice the David squeezed the night before was a little thick and I wished I’d taken the time to strain it, but the whole pitcher disappeared, nonetheless.
- Georgia and Cate appeared in the garden with an enormous fruit crate slung between them that they’d filled to the brim with wine, pineapples, strawberries, cookies, chocolates and other holiday treats to add to the festivities, but sweetest of all was the handmade card that made me cry a little.
- Grandpa read the Christmas story and we opened gifts, a ridiculous number of gifts, really; a reminder of how much we are loved by people scattered across the continent.
The highlight of the morning, without a doubt, came when Cate picked up a particular card, addressed to her and opened it with growing bewilderment. “Who is this from? How did this get here… what?!!!” It was a card I’d purchased in Pana and inscribed with a message from her parents, and a loved one in Australia; there were three more like it under the tree. What fun to be the delivery elf of a special Christmas message and little gift to each of these young people, so far from home for Christmas, many of them for the very first time. It made their day, but I think it made mine more.
We took a picnic of tostadas and toppings up to the cliff and spent a long, lazy afternoon in the sun, the children and their new friends leaping from the platform into the aquamarine blue water. Grandpa got the award for the biggest splash, with water springing from the surface almost to the height of the 30+ foot platform. There was a lot of laughter, and a lot of discussion of what would be happening at various home with various families, and a lot of wishing for missed loved ones; especially Dennis, who by unanimous agreement, should really be here, although I’m sure his mother was happy to have him home.
It was on the walk home that catastrophe struck.
It’s a long, rocky, mountain goat climb out around the craggy point and up to the cliffs. It’s at least as perilous coming down and Grandma had to go slowly, as she could feel it in her knees. I watched her carefully and as we picked our way around the most difficult spots.
When Hannah fell, it was completely unexpected, she’s the best climber we have. Nonetheless, down she went, and she didn’t get up. If Hannah cries, you KNOW she’s hurt. This time, it was bad. She couldn’t stand, or move her ankle at all.
Daddy and Grandpa lifted her carefully and settled her on Daddy’s back and then he began the difficult task of negotiating the worst part of the trail with his most precious cargo sobbing on his shoulder.
We walked straight to the Doctor’s house. He set aside his family afternoon and ushered us immediately into his living room where he manipulated Hanny’s ankle, put it in an open cast and recommended we get an x-ray, which is impossible until Monday. By the time the shot in the rear end the Doctor’s wife gave her kicked in, Hannah was doing okay.
Dinner was only slightly derailed by Hannah’s extra curricular activities. We arrived home to a kitchen buzzing with young people making quick work of potatoe and carrot peeling, bread baking and chicken preparation, all under Grandma’s capable control.
The meal was as festive as they come, complete with loud cheers for the cranberry sauce and the very first taste of pumpkin pie for Cate and Georgia. They took their first bite on the communal count of three, with Tony photographing the moment.
Georgia sank back in her chair and rolled her eyes to the heavens, “Oh my GOSH, this is GENIUS!” she sighed. We laughed, and clapped and about that time, Marcario knocked on the door.
He was returning the plate we’d delivered his pizza on last night. We hauled him in the door, against his light protests, and filled the plate again with everything we could lay our hands on. He cracked the seal on the Moza black beer Tony handed him and smiled his gap toothed smile, “Gracias! Muy Amable!!” He sat and we talked for a couple of hours.
We learned a lot about him:
- He has a house and a family in San Pablo, he just sleeps here (it’s been his job for a year and a half).
- He has six children, four boys, by two wives. One wife and one son have died.
- In addition to this job, he works as a gardener, washes coffee and tends a milpa.
- He was once a traveling salesman for cleaning products and has visited all of Guatemala’s departments.
He laughed with us much, taught me a few words of Ka’chikel and asked a million questions.
Steve taxed my translating brain by asking a million of his own and I did my best to field the back and forth.
He proudly showed us his brand new “New Balance” tennis shoes, “I got these with your gift!” he announced, and Steve approved his purchase, “Those are the BEST shoes out there. I wear them too!” They gave each other the thumbs up.
I pulled out my new pair of leather shoes, handmade by a Mayan lady in San Pedro that Tony gave me for Christmas. He looked them over carefully and then warned me, “Cuidado! Be careful! These soles are not for climbing the mountains, only in the house and in town.” The soles are a solid, half inch thick piece of smooth leather, like moccasin bottoms.
“What did you pay for these?” Marcario asked Tony. He told him, less than $30 USD. “Muy carro para nosotros,” he said, “Very expensive for us, but, for your wife this is good, very good, it keeps the peace to give good gifts.” I translated, we all laughed heartily.
The candles burned late in the fireplace. Because Hannah was laid up, we didn’t walk into town to hear the live music at Fe. Instead, we swapped stories, looked at pictures, and finished off the bottle of white wine that Cate and Georgia provided.
There was no snow. We did not sled, or sip hot chocolate. Candy canes were in short supply and we have only two strings of lights hung around the windows. The Christmas tree is cut paper. Cookies were not left out for Santa and there was no egg nog.
Even so, this Christmas is a serious contender for the very best Christmas yet. The presence of the Grandparents on their first international trip and the serendipity that brought a whole houseful of young friends wove magic into the fabric of time and provided a celebration that we’ll never match. The only thing missing… was you.