One of my favorite Christmases happened in California. My husband and I had lived in Los Angeles for several years. Our first Christmas, we drive to San Francisco after midnight mass on Christmas Eve – a lot shorter drive than the sixteen hundred miles to our families in Texas in ifmy weather. Beside, we both had to be back to work on Monday. That was a glorious trip, filled with small adventures. As anyone who has been to San Francisco can tell you, The City (as it is called by those of us who love it) holds many charms, and we sampled many of them. Believe me, San Francisco can get in your blood!
On this second or third Christmas in California (memory fails me), we drive up US 101 (the "Ventura Highway in the sunshine" in the song made famous by America) through Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo, then picked up California State Highway 1 to Morro Bay. We dropped into a quaint motel, white with blue trim, on Christmas Eve.
Christmas morning dawned bright and clear. We rose early, ate breakfast, and drove out to a huge, three-story sized rock that jutted out of the water at the edge of the beach, and was called, appropriately, Morro Rock. A few other hardy souls had preceded us to the beach that morning.
If you know about the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California, you know that it is never really warm on the beach. Windbreakers help, but sometimes you need even more. On this Christmas morning, we needed little more than hooded sweatshirts. As we walked, alone together, greeting the few passersby with "Merry Christmas," I heard the sound of the surf and the gulls overhead as the grandest symphony. It touched my soul with joy.
I spied a glint of white. Stooping, I uncovered a perfect sand dollar and carefully put it in my pocket.
On that day, my dear husband and I were completely in harmony with each other, and with our surroundings. Even today, in this moment, if I close my eyes, I can feel the sand give beneeth my feet and the moist breeze cool my face.
I kept that sand dollar for more than ten years. When my aunt died, I took it and a Yellow Rose from Texas to Kentucky. You see, my aunt loved the beach on the Gulf Coast, down near Lake Jackson where she lived for a number of years. She loved Texas, just like I do, even though both of us were born in Kentucky. So I took my cherished sand dollar and the Texas rose to Kentucky to put into her casket. At that time, putting things in caskets was something few people did, but soon her casket contained pictures and other mementos nestled beside her, ready to accompany her on her journey home.
My favorite Christmas had no tree, no beautifully wrapped gifts. Instead it was filled with all the things that truly mattered to me – love, the great sea, the beach, the birds and one tiny sand dollar.