I’ve been wishing for time to continue my Christmas reminiscences, and at last the gifts, the cards, the baking and mailing and other duties are all complete. I have the leisure to skate back down memory lane again. In honor of our current ice storm, I’m returning to another memorable Christmastime storm, the first year we were married.
It is December of 1983 and I have just come through my next to last semester of finals at Boston University. I’ve also just survived my first really serious bout of flu since I’ve been away from home. Realization of adulthood has hit home in a new way: Mom isn’t here to take care of me when I’m sick.
This year our newelywed present to each other is a train trip to visit Dennis’ family. We’ve splurged on a sleeper from Boston to Bryan, Ohio, where my brother-in-law will pick us up. We leave on Christmas Eve and arrive Christmas morning. Meanwhile, on Christmas Eve morning, both of us are still working: he’s selling smoking pipes and tobacco at Ehrlich’s, one of the oldest businesses in Boston; I’m in Revolutionary costume (kind of) at The Boston Tea Party Museum, a tour guide with no tourists today, not even the intrepid Japanese who dutifully get off the bus, snap a picture with me and ask “Please…why called ‘tea party’?”
A rare snow is falling over the city, which I have swept off the gangplank leading to the museum, which is a barge moored in Boston harbor. I’ve brewed some hot tea for the non-existent customers, and now I’m huddled in the gift shop with the clerk. I’m sitting on a tall stool reading Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend–both for pleasure and to get ahead for my lit class next semester. Its setting on London’s Thames River, dirty, wet and cold, strikes the right chord as I shiver in this wooden structure perched over the harbor.
After a quiet hour or so, a visitor approaches the ticket window. His coat is unzipped, his head bare on this windy, snowy day. He gestures toward the replica ship floating below us, and says something we don’t quite catch. He turns to look over the railing and all at once–he’s gone. That didn’t compute…did he just…? We turn to one another and then, SPLASH! We hear him hit the surface of the icy harbor. Without my coat, I run out the door of the shop and rush to the railing. There is our “guest” treading water directly below me, yelling, “I’m free! I’m free!” Great. A nut.
My colleague calls 911, I grab my coat and run down the gangplank and along the outside of the barge/museum to the back where our security guard’s houseboat is tied up. I’m not sure what he can do, but it makes me feel useful in the face of this irrational act. Was it a suicide attempt? Was the guy just stoned? Looking for a warm bed on Christmas Eve? The police motor up in their official boat, scoop him up and take him away. I hope he found what he was looking for.
So that singularly strange event frames my first married Christmas, and everything after, no matter how surreal, doesn’t top that.