Boxing Day arrives in a burst of sunshine, decorated with a cool breeze and its obviously Beach Weather. So I grab my towel and cozzie, crank up the VeeDub, and drive to Melkbostrand. Because I’m an early bird, I actually find parking, and also a free patch of sand to deposit my towel, beach bag and book. My spirits lift. Christmas Day is always a bad day for me . Too many painful memories, no prezzies, no big family lunch, no …. Stop it, stop it, I scold myself, no wallowing! My eyes are watering. I sternly tell myself focus on the seagulls, the gentle incoming waves, the ozoney-suntan oily smell of the beach.
There’s plenty of activity. People are being towed along the beach by ecstatic dogs on leads, some owners semi -running to keep up with their joyful dogs.
But a huge St Bernard has other ideas, jerks free of the leash, and runs full tilt into an elderly lady sitting nearby, in an old fashioned striped canvas deckchair, complete with canvas canopy. She’s shrouded in towels, scarves, enormous sun hat, huge dark sunglasses, long green skirt topped with a long-sleeved red and white striped shirt, and seemingly absorbed in her knitting. So the express train weight of a runaway St Bernard capsizes the old dear, chair and all. Confusion reigns.
I dash over, kick the St Bernard who yelps and looks confused. I glare at the panting, red faced owner who has finally lumbered up, ineffectually waving his arms, and too out of breath to do anything but make a feeble lunge for his runaway hound, who promptly takes off again, at speed.
I leave him to it, and set about righting the capsized chair and its bewildered occupant.
Once the old dear is set to rights, reunited with hat, sunglasses, knitting, towels and cushions, I take a good look. She has the whitest skin I’ve ever seen. No wonder she’s shrouded herself from the sun’s invasive rays. She’s even wearing red and white socks – in this heat.
“Thanks you, my dear,” she says slowly in heavily accented English. “That was a surprise, for sure! Thank you for rescuing me. My name is Klara. And your name, my dear?”
“Umm, I’m Susie. Are you here alone? Should I fetch you some water, or a coffee maybe?” I gesture to the mobile coffee cart further down the beach.
“No, no, I’m alright, thank you. Just a little adventure. Nothing serious. Wait ‘til I tell Klaus. He will laugh a lot, I know,” she says cheerfully. She points to the surf where a sturdy old man is emerging onto the beach. He’s wearing striped red and white baggy boardshorts, has a green and white striped bandanna tied around his head. His bushy, white beard cascades downwards, pushed upwards and outwards by his splendid, solid tummy .
“Oh, Oh, Klara! I go for a swim and what happens? You are alright? “ Again the heavy accent. German maybe? Or Scandinavian perhaps?
“Ja, Klaus, I’m okay, Susie here chased away the dog and helped me up and all is well. Don’t worry,” and she beamed at her husband, who huffed out a big sigh of relief .
Klara hands Klaus a towel, and he starts to towel off.
“We do love the beach, especially after our hard Northern winter,” Klara informs me, “but I have to be careful of the sun. Klaus gets outside more than I do, so he can wear the swimming costume. And you, my dear? You are living here? You are very brown. So your skin is used to the African sun.”
Klaus has departed with the beach bag towards the change rooms.
“You are here alone? Where is your family?”
“ Ummm – I …. I …. “ I can feel my eyes brimming.
“I’m so sorry my dear,” says Klara, removing her sunglasses, and examining me with a piercing, clear blue gaze. “Life is cruel, ja? It is especially difficult at Christmas. But I will remember you at Christmas time. Next year will be easier, I am sure”.
Tears well up again, and “Sorry, gotta go, “ I mumble, “take care, look after yourselves, have a nice holiday.”
Klara nods, carefully replaces her glasses and resumes her knitting .
I stumble off in the direction of my bag, stop at the mobile cart for a coffee to regain my composure, and find a nearby sand dune where I can settle down to read. I look around for the old couple when I leave the beach, but they’re nowhere to be seen.
That was a year ago, and now its Boxing Day again.
On Christmas Eve I watched the Royal Command Variety show, drank too much whiskey, and went to bed too late. Even though I slept heavily I was vaguely conscious of a thumping and bumping coming from the roof. Burglars? Stray cats? My whiskey induced coma held me captive in bed.
The strangest thing happened on Christmas morning.
I surfaced pretty late, and once my blurry gaze cleared, I saw … At the end of my bed? No way! A lumpy parcel wrapped in Christmas wrapping paper, tied with tinsel and sporting a prickly sprig of real holly over the knot. What? Real holly? It prickled like hell. I sucked my bleeding finger as I hunted for a gift tag. There was no gift tag.
I blinked. Too much 100 Pipers is one thing, and a hefty hangover is an old friend, but a mystery Christmas gift on the end of my bed was another thing entirely. I staggered through the house, checking for open doors, or smashed windows but found nothing untoward.
After a mega strong cup of tea, I cautiously snipped through the tinsel and jumped back. Nothing happened. So: not a parcel bomb. I prodded the parcel with my scissors. The paper crackled but nothing happened. Okaaaayyyy – time to unwrap. I discovered a crisp green and white beach towel, wrapped around a knitted floppy red sunhat. Perfect for the Beach on Boxing Day. And, the perfect Christmas gift for me. Huh. Strange.
My foggy brain couldn’t deal with the mystery, so I went to the beach, with my new beach gear. Another perfect sunny day on Melkbos beach. This time no runaway dogs, or elderly Northern tourists.
For two years running, on Christmas morning I’d wake up to a mystery, lumpy parcel at the foot of my bed. The next year I found a beautiful hand knitted red and green cotton bikini; the following year a light green cotton beach wrap, plus a pair of hand knitted socks – you guessed it – in red and green.
But on Year Four – no mystery parcel. Because I woke up next to my new husband Sam, and now I have my own family. We have prezzies galore and mammoth lunches, Family Christmas with bells on. And I’ve made it a family tradition that we have to go to Melkbos Beach on Boxing Day. Its non-negotiable.
When I told Sam my story, and he was as baffled as I am. You don’t suppose? he wondered ….. well, who knows? Does it matter? Christmas time is a time for family, gifts and the joy of giving.
Happy Christmas to us all.