Holiday Digest: Memories can love you back

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By Jackie Bayless

A scrawny, Charlie Brown kind of Christmas tree stood lopsided in the sand. It was to the right of Aliso Creek, flowing south from the Santa Ana Mountain and then emptying into the Pacific Ocean, giving the beach its name, Aliso Beach. The tree had no ornaments, but someone had liberally tossed tinsel on it, where it rested in clumps on its branches.

Wendy sat on a bench nearby, wondering who had placed the tree there and how quickly the park employees would remove it. Her back hurt, and the wind was picking up, but the sun shone brightly, illuminating flashes of light from the tinsel swaying in the wind. The waves were large and heavy with water. Their rhythmic ebb and flow as they rushed up the shore was compelling.

She reached for her In-N-Out burger—plain and dry, just cheese, meat and bun. She zipped her bright red down vest—an indulgence, but it went well with her thick white hair—right up to her chin and took a bite. Deep pleasure.

A woman with two little boys, probably about eight or nine, walked over to the tree. The woman looked questioningly at Wendy, who shrugged her shoulders. The children ran down the beach and came back with some kelp, which they draped on the tree. A seagull, then three, landed a short distance from Wendy, eyeing her burger hopefully. The children chased the birds away. But, of course, the gulls returned immediately, sitting a foot or two further away.

Pretty soon, two teenagers, a boy and a girl in glistening black wetsuits, walked over.

“Cool,” said the girl. She placed some broken white shells, most likely rocks since shells were scarce on this beach, on the branches. The boy pulled a yellow Live Strong rubber bracelet off his wrist and placed it on the top of the tree. Soon, more children arrived at the playground. School must have let out, Wendy thought. Two little girls brought snacks wrapped in foil, and after they were eaten, they shaped the foil into makeshift decorations, a few balls and a star and hung them on the branches. A teenager found an old, brightly-colored campaign sticker and added it to the tree.

Wendy, feeling sleepy from the sun and her burger, found herself drifting off. She remembered a happy Christmas years ago, with a Christmas tree also in the sand but decorated with a hodgepodge of ornaments and popcorn chains. She, her husband and baby girl lived in trailers right on the sand on a beach just north of Laguna.

They had lived there for some of the best parts of their lives. They gathered on the beach for impromptu happy hours that became potlucks and parties. They grabbed warm flannel shirts as the cool of the evening deepened. Some of the neighbors lived alone, and the small beachfront village became a de facto family, rich in fellowship. A life rich in sunsets and sunrises—the sun or the moon glittering on the ocean, the ocean breezes lifting the hair from their necks.

It had been years since they moved the families out. The land was sold to become a state park. It used to be hard to drive past that beach, emptied of the past, sand stretching to the endless horizon of the Pacific Ocean. But Wendy moved on. The only thing that’s a given is that change will come.

Wendy startled as she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Hey, are you sleeping? Did you see they have a little Christmas tree like we used to have in the old days?” asked Tom, putting his arms around her, warm and strong just like in the old days.

She and Tom left the beach, headed for home. As they turned onto PCH, a Laguna Beach maintenance truck turned into the lot.

Jackie Bayless writes articles and short stories in Laguna Niguel.

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