Holiday Digest: Finding Happy

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Editor’s Note: The Independent is proud to continue its partnership with the Third Street Writers in publishing holiday-inspired stories by Orange County authors.

By David S. Watkins

That last flute was the culprit. The Champagne was excellent, and celebrating the new year called for one more drink. Now it is 7:05 a.m. and I am outside standing on the veranda. Overserved, with the unintended consequences of celebration reverberating in my head, I traverse the 90-year-old steps down, around and under the Juniper tree that has branched out over them. Once five foot nine, my now five-foot eight-and-a-half-inch frame still wants to duck. Armed with only black coffee in a paper cup, I swing the old iron gate open and start my trek down Crescent Bay Drive toward Crescent Beach. It’s a downhill trek only recognized as steep upon returning. A few stairs and a right-hand turn down the access road to the beach takes five minutes.

Today, the first day of the rest of the year, the beach is empty. I don’t even see the seagulls and sandpipers that usually play in the ebb tide. Strolling down to the waterline, I realize that the concept of a stroll feels cheery on this damp, gloomy day. The clouds have yet to relinquish it, and the ocean is dark. Someone has carved “Happy New Year” in the sand. I wonder if that is a wish for the future or, cynically, just another rote phrase like “Have a nice day” or “How are you.” 

I continue with no particular goal to my quest. Then, a few paces on, I distinctly hear panting from behind, getting closer and closer. Turning as quickly as it is safe to do without falling dizzily into the sand, I see something speeding directly toward me. It is a brown puppy dog running as fast as it can, ears flapping and leash dragging. In a few seconds, he or she is at my feet, tail wagging and body shaking, seemingly overjoyed to see me. Kneeling, I rub ears and tummy as the puppy rolls over in the sand. I am grateful for the greeting, immersed in the pure joy of what appears to be a mixed lab, joy clearly too great for it to contain. A boy and girl, maybe 12 years old, soon run up, laughing hysterically amid shouts of “sorry” and “Happy New Year.” Grabbing the leash, they are off down the beach. I smile and decide to hold onto the warmth that I feel.

I turn back to the path home. The tide is coming in. “Happy New Year” in the sand would soon be gone. The dog and kids are almost out of sight, taking their shared happiness with them as they climb over the rocks beneath Crescent Point Park. I grasp that “happy” is the choice I am making today.

Most of my coffee gone, the remainder being cold, I begin my retreat up the hill. Stopping at the rusty waste barrel to discard my cup, I take a last look at the beach and the “Happy New Year” message. I am thankful that I am happy and grateful for the joy visited upon me by a brown puppy dog and laughing children. I have found the blessing within the day. 

David Watkins lives near Crescent Beach with his wife Mary and the memory of their mixed lab, Bogart.

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