Christmas at the Smalls



“Excuse me, please, but I’m lost.” I glance up and down the dock at Squalicum Harbor with its little floating sidewalks leading to sail boats, dingys and motor boats of various sizes, colors and conditions.

“I see you’re busy pulling crabs out of that boat. Looks like you stored them on ice but…oh, my, look, they’re alive.”

Alive, alive ho

singing cockles and mussels,

alive, alive ho

Ho ho ho, usually a phony holiday sound now dredges up a twinkle from distant memory of visiting the Smalls at Christmas time where nothing is phony. The time of year when the family visited neighbors, a cardboard box filled with mason jars of chili sauce wrapped in white tissue paper and tied with red bows wedged between my brother and me in the back seat of the old Ford. Mom would chop and cut and stir and can chili sauce in late summer, a task I’d avoid and was also forbidden to explore. I’d help wrap and tie bows in early December.

They’re just up the canyon from us but we have to drive around. Sally Small answers the door, her smile ever ready and welcoming. She’s wearing a new dress she just made and jokes about hemming it quickly with safety pins. They’re all so friendly. Mom doesn’t sew and we don’t have company too often. I don’t think we’re so friendly. Mom always tells Jehovah’s Witnesses that she’s Catholic. She says it scares them away.

Sally moves a mound of clean laundry on the couch so we can sit. She serves warm cookies to us kids. The adults talk and have cocktails, some concoction of holiday cheer. They have six children so there is lots of activity, voices, running up and down hallways. My brother and I are under the watchful eye of our parents, the admoniton to “behave yourselves” still ringing in our ears. We’re dressed up like church even though it’s a foggy day and our Easter clothes are too tight now.

The adults sip, banter and joke. Ward gets out his guitar, a magical instrument, the first one I’ve ever seen. He’s smiling and I’m no longer trying to behave. I’m just sitting there while the adults have another drink. He strums the strings. The music pauses the chaos of kids and adults. Like the Pied Piper, Ward’s guitar strings call his kids from back bedrooms. They lounge on the floor, sprawl over the back of the sofa, settle in. He sings a Christmas song and everyone joins in. Whatever else is happening in the world, in that moment, I’m happy and so amazed at this beaming man and his magical guitar. Sally refills the tall glasses and ice cubes clink as they all sip.

Ward sings “Sweet Molly Malone”. I’ve never heard it but begin to learn the words that day and any other time I went to their house and he sings.

In Dublins fair city, where the girls are so pretty,
I once met a girl called sweet Molly Malone,
As she wheeled her wheelbarrow, through the streets broad and narrow,
Crying cockles and mussels` Alive alive oh

Alive alive oh,
Alive alive oh
Crying cockles and mussels,
Alive alive oh.

She wheeled her wheelbarrow through the streets broad and narrow,
Just like her mother and father before
And they wheeled their wheel barrow,
through the streets broad and narrow,
crying cockles and mussels alive alive oh

I sing it to the dogs this morning as I mop the floor and unexpected memories float to the surface.



  1. balanceflow · July 24, 2012

    Sweet memories…

  2. leximagines · July 25, 2012

    Oh, such wonderful memories. Thank you for sharing. “Whatever else is happening in the world, in that moment, I’m happy and so amazed at this beaming man and his magical guitar.” We should all find those moments in our live. :0)

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