Thursday, December 8, 2022

My Muddy-Booted Santas by Janie DeVos

Christmas Eve in 2019 was supposed to be a rather low-key event: A couple of friends were coming for an early supper before going to the candlelight service at our church. In the years prior to that, I’ve had quite a few people over on the eve of that most wonderful day, but that year, there were just four of us, and, in some ways, I was a little relieved that it would be a far less stressful affair. At least I thought it would be.

The menu was an easy one: a pasta casserole, salad and bread, and our friends were bringing cheese cake for dessert. Instead of drinking the harder stuff before going to church, I had a hot orange and cranberry soft cider to enjoy, and the usual nuts and cheese nibbles to go with it. It was the middle of the afternoon and all was going as smoothly as a newly paved road, until I turned on the tap in my kitchen to start washing the veggies for the pasta casserole. Instead of there being a good rush of water, all I got was a pencil-thin stream. There was only one reason for it, and that reason wasn’t good at all: We were running out of water, and the panic set in.

Now, I knew we had plenty of water in our spring because we’d had the wettest December on record here in Western Carolina. But I also knew that might actually be causing the problem. In the past, when we’ve had too much water, it’s re-routed the flow of our spring and we had to run new pipes into it. But here it was, Christmas Eve at 2:00 in the afternoon, and the likelihood of getting anyone out to help us (no, we couldn’t fix it ourselves, we’re still too city-fied), was about as likely as watching Santa swoop down into our driveway. But, that’s about what happened: I was able to reach our plumber, who was willing to come out (I think he likes my dirty jokes and he’s become a friend over the years), and I also got hold of another friend who is our handyman guru around here on a weekly basis. Within an hour’s time, they both arrived, and fifteen minutes later my spring was merrily filling up our tank once again. The pipe leading into the tank had simply gotten clogged up with muck from all of the rain and snow melt. It was an easy-breezy fix – well, for them, anyway. Once they were satisfied that all was running perfectly, out of the woods they came, with shovels resting atop their shoulders, just like Santas carrying their sacks. I stood at the kitchen window watching them, and as they talked and laughed together, their middle-aged bellies shook like bowls full of jelly. “Yes, Virginia, there really is a Santa Claus…two, actually,” I said softly.

“Y’all like pecan pie?” I asked as they kicked off their muddy boots on the back porch. There was a unanimous confirmation that they did, so I put on a pot of coffee and cut two extra-large pieces of it for them.

As we sat down at the dining room table, I pushed aside the nicely set silver, china and faux poinsettia napkin rings, then, as they say in the mountains, “we visited”. In the background, in my adjoining family room, sounds could be heard from the movie, The Polar Express, airing on TV.

“Have you seen the movie?” I asked.

Our handyman friend, Jay, said that he had and how good it was.

“What about you, Jack?” I asked the plumber.

“Well, I started to,” he explained in his easy, slow southern drawl after swallowing a bite of pie. “It was on TV the other night but my twelve year old daughter said she’d seen it enough at school ‘cuz they show it every year before Christmas. So, we changed the channel. To tell ya the truth, I was kinda disappointed,” he smilingly admitted, looking a little embarrassed. “I was really enjoying it.”

“Hold on,” I said as I got up from the table and then hurried downstairs to our basement. A couple of minutes later, I returned with The Polar Express DVD in hand. Yes, I had it, along with Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and A Charlie Brown Christmas. Doesn’t everyone? Well, everyone except Jack.

“Merry Christmas!” I smiled as I laid the movie down on the table next to his now-empty pie plate.

“No kiddin’!” he laughed, picking it up and examining the cover with a smile that was as big as a kid’s on Christmas morning.

“It’s yours. Watch it to your heart’s content,” I replied.

Two hours later, our supper guests arrived and you’d have never known we were in panic mode just a short time before. The evening went off without a hitch, and we all had a wonderfully merry time.

As I lie in bed that night, I smiled thinking about ol’ Jack watching The Polar Express. Because he’s divorced and lives alone, I pictured him sitting there in his living room in an old recliner, in a pair of boxer shorts, with a frosty beer on the table next to him, along with a bag of something salty, smiling as the train’s conductor (Tom Hanks), sang about hot chocolate. And that one little thing – a thing which may seem so unimportant to so many people – brought me much joy and was one of the highlights of my Christmas this year.

All things considered, it’s never the presents that come wrapped in shiny bright paper that make my Christmases so magical. It’s always the most unexpected gifts. This year, it was those two Heaven-sent Santas, who arrived at the eleventh hour in muddied boots and with shovels in hand ready to help us. And to be able to give one a small present that helped him to enjoy Christmas like a kid again was one of the best gifts I received this year.

Wishing each of you a wonderful year ahead, and a kinder one, filled with big and small acts of goodness and love that help us to remember how much we truly need each other.


Janie DeVos lives with her husband and two Basset Hounds, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, and is presently working on a new series about train hopping during the Great Depression. She is also a regular blogger with the WordWranglers, where she contributes pieces on a wide range of subjects.

In turn-of-the-century Florida, a family comes of age, and a daughter finds her destiny entwined with a land that is as full of promise as it is danger.