By: TX O’Kelley
He was determined to string lights on the palm trees in front of the house. Mom said she thought he had seen it on a beer commercial: Christmas lights on a palm tree on a tropical island.
So my brothers and I sweated in the Bahamian December sun, wrestled with the rickety wooden ladder, and generally had a miserable time stringing lights in the palms. The tallest was over thirty feet. I got to the climb to the top. The house and the cay looked peaceful from up here. When Dad hollered up to see what was taking me so long I acted like a couldn’t hear him.
Afterward Mom called us inside to help her make cookies. That wasn’t something she would have bothered us with before. But this first year on the cay she was pulling out all the stops to make it Christmasy.
Matt kept eating the little candies that were supposed to be the eyes on the cookies. Peter clapped his flour covered hands to make a puff like Lebron James. Mom said that eight year olds know better. Then she kicked us out and said we might not get to eat any of the finished product. I told her I had been helping. She said “Well a twelve year old should help. Now take the boys out to fish.”
We ran the skiff out to the reef, anchored, and dropped in. The reef was lit up in the afternoon sun, its own massive string of colored lights in the blue. Peter got a nice gray snapper. I missed a grouper, but found three big crawfish. We got out, tired now, and lay drying on the bow. The boat rolled gently with the swell beneath us.
“Jack, do you think Santa can even find this place?”
I looked over at Peter. His hand shielded his gray eyes from the sun. I knew the boys were worried about presents. There had been no signs of gifts around the island, just a few small packages from relatives beneath the scrawny pine in the house. Dad had been back and forth three times to Little Harbour, two miles across the Sea of Abaco, that week. The boys and I had unpacked the boat. There were no mysterious packages spotted. But it was Christmas Eve, and I had faith in Santa. And Dad and Mom.
“Of course he can. He’s got a sleigh. You can see everything from 3000 feet. The cay stands out like a sore thumb at night. With all those lights on the palms, he’ll find us.”
Now Matt spoke up: “But there’s no chimney on the house. How does that work?”
“He doesn’t need a chimney. He can deliver presents through the door.”
They considered this, then quietly dropped back into the water to hunt for more fish.
When we got back to the cay, Dad was still tinkering with cords and bulbs. The boys ran off to clean the fish, and I went to help Dad. I handed him up a bulb.
“Dad, you think Santa can find the cay?”
He squinted down at me, his blue eyes even bluer in a sunburned face.
“What do you think Jack?”
“Well, with that altitude, and the cay lit up, shouldn’t be a problem.”
He looked at me for a long moment, smiled gently, and said “Yeah, I think that’s right Jack. We better make these lights work, or he’ll flat miss us and go right on to Florida.”
When he was finished Dad called us together. He plugged in the lights. They lit up, twinkling white in the dusk like a lovely diamond necklace on the slim curved palms. We all cheered.
Then the lights went out.
“What now?” Dad muttered, and turned to check the lines. A moment later Mom called from the porch “Power’s out.” Dad groaned. Power outage is frequent on the cay. Dad says the undersea cable that brings the power from the big island is so fragile a jellyfish sneezing will knock it out.
Dad just stood there, arms crossed, staring at the ground. It was not about the lights, not about the power. Just the sum of life on the cay. Nothing works the way it’s supposed to.
“We can get the generator going Dad.”
“Need that switch Jack.” I knew that. It had been out for a week, and we were waiting for the part to come from Little Harbour.
“Maybe we can rig it.” I said weakly.
He shook his head “No can do without that switch. Christmas in the dark. Perfect.” He turned and walked off towards the shed.
“Does this mean Santa can’t find us?” Peter asked.
“He’ll find us. He’s Santa.” They did not look convinced.
As I turned toward the house I heard just the trace of a boat engine in the wind. I ran down to the dock.
It was Densil. Fishing guide, carpenter, and friend to us all.
I caught his bow line.
“Hey Jackie, Merry Christmas.”
“You too Densil. What brings you out?”
“Got something for your Dad.” He pronounced it “Dodd”.
“He’s up at the shed.”
“Gettin’ dark, I’m gonna’ give it to you. I was supposed to bring this yestahday but my boat wasn’t runnin’.”
He reached down in the boat, and handed me a small brown package “Generator part, just came in on UPS.” Then he handed me a huge box, so heavy I struggled to get it up on the dock.
“Package for your Mom, I think.” He smiled at me.
“Okay, I better go, gonna be dark. Merry Christmas Jackie!” He pulled away into the gloam as Dad came down to the dock.
“Who was that? Densil?” He looked at the big box, and I handed him the generator part.
I smiled: “Yeah, looked like Densil. But might have been Santa.”
Dad laughed, and put his arm around my shoulder as we went to the generator house to light up Christmas.