When we look back on Christmases past, we like to remember gifts received, especially those cherished items that we have held close to our hearts for a lifetime. But there also were those gifts we remember; the ones which made us shudder, shed a disappointed tear, or for one poor woman, hide in my closet until she could get a grip.
I lived on-site, managing a resort on the rugged Washington coast. The main building, where I lived, was a very old, two-story, log lodge that once had been home to the original owners. The rest of the resort consisted of twenty-six rustic cabins, artfully nestled among the pine trees, all post-card perfectly situated on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. All the cabins had fully equipped kitchens, stone fireplaces with kindling and wood delivered daily, and magnificent views of the sea. It was a beautiful place, and a destination resort for the romantically inclined.
During the Christmas season I, more often than not, found myself alone out there. Tourists tended to stay closer to home at that time of year, and it was not unusual for me to be the only person on the entire property for days at a time. Except for the year a writer from Seattle brought his girlfriend to spend Christmas on the Washington coast, in his favorite cabin, with the surprise of her lifetime just waiting to be presented.
When guests arrived, they entered the lodge’s great room to register, gather their keys, homemade clam chowder, and cinnamon rolls, which all were part of the resort experience. It had been a very quiet couple of days with nothing but winter storms for excitement, when my only Christmas guests arrived; a gorgeous couple, both probably in their mid twenties, appearing completely, madly in love, and planning on staying for a week.
After registering, collecting their chowder and cinnamon rolls, and receiving a quick tutorial from me on the art of lighting a wood fire in the fireplace (men from the city often had no clue how to light a fire that was not connected to a switch and a gas line), the happy couple left to begin their romantic Christmas holiday. Just before they closed the front door, the gentleman turned, and asked if he could come back by for just a few minutes after they got settled into their cabin. I told him of course he could, and mentioned the time I would be locking the lodge for the night.
After about an hour, he came back, carrying a box that looked like it contained a ream of paper. And that is exactly what it was. Only I was to learn this ream of paper was the gentleman’s completed novel, a manuscript on which he had been working for two years. It was done, he was exhilarated, and best of all? He was going to give it to his girlfriend to read for her Christmas present! Really? Oh yes! This would be the best gift he could give her, and he knew she would be crying the whole time, she would be so happy for him. He asked if I would do him a huge favor, and wrap his manuscript in Christmas paper and ribbon. He would leave it with me that night, and pick it up first thing the next morning, which was Christmas Eve. I told him I would be happy to do that, and it would be ready. He left the lodge a very cheerful man.
The Christmas gift was retrieved before breakfast the next day, and I wished him luck as he carried it back to his waiting girlfriend. I offered him more kindling and wood for his fireplace just in case he needed to do something while she read. He accepted my offer, and joyfully returned to his cabin to bestow this most wonderful gift on his unsuspecting lady-love.
It was early evening when the lodge door creaked open, and I looked up from my desk to see the girlfriend slip in, shut the door, and immediately burst into tears. She rushed right by me, charged into the kitchen, which was just beyond the great room, and pleadingly asked if it would be all right to talk. Oh dear. I was not surprised. The story poured out of her in tidal waves of words and tears, tissues continually popping out of the pockets of her coat like rabbits out of a magician’s sleeve or hat or whatever. She was one sobbing mess.
There had been no doubt in her mind he was going to ask her to marry him. Marry him! Not give her his lame novel to read. For gawdsake, he had been reading the completed pages to her every night for two years. And rereading them to her with every single revision, every single edit, every single sentence he added or deleted. She knew the story by heart. How could he do this? He was supposed to ask her to marry him, give her a ring, tell her they would be together forever. Not the book! Not that gawdawful book!
I was listening sympathetically, when I glanced out the kitchen window, and saw her boyfriend walking down the hill from their cabin. I stopped her, pointed, and said he was coming. She panicked, and asked if it would be all right to hide until he left. She needed time to pull herself together, and did not want him to see this disappointment. I hurried her to a closet that was across the hall from my desk, and shut the door to it just as the front door of the lodge opened, and he walked inside. No, I had not seen his girlfriend, but if I did, I would mention he had been looking for her.
He had such a sweet, satisfied look on his face; certain she was so moved by his Christmas gift, it was needful to be alone for a bit to pull herself together. I told him, again, I would say something if I saw his girlfriend, and indicated there was a mountain of paperwork I needed to attend. He thanked me, and left to go back and patiently wait for her return. As soon as he was on his way up the hill, I let her out of the closet. She had heard him, and knew what he believed was going on with her. She said it was time to set things straight. I gave her a new box of tissue, no charge, and bid goodnight, as she left and slowly walked up the hill to her boyfriend, and his book.
Christmas morning was grey, rainy, and windy. So was the beautiful couple as they drove up to the lodge, and sat in their car for a few minutes before the boyfriend came inside to return the keys to their cabin. He looked absolutely tragic, and only said they had decided to leave early, and would not be staying for the week. That was it. He dropped the keys on my desk, walked out, and they drove away.
I felt bad for both of them, and the disappointing Christmas they had at my resort. However, I like to think they went home, and worked really hard to make their relationship succeed. I like to think when they got back, he found a ring just her size, and she found, with one more reading, a profoundly stirring book had been written by her one and only. And because it began at Christmas, I like to think they realized the best gift they could give each other was a mutual love that would withstand any storm, inside or out. A love that said the peace on Earth, which is so desperately needed, will be achieved when it begins with individuals, and flows through each of them to their families, neighbors, communities, and beyond. That love, indeed, can bring peace on Earth, goodwill toward men.