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The Christmas Boat by Jer Welch


Once upon a time, in an area of lovely lakes in the Northeastern part of Ohio, there was a tired but very special old boat. This old boat had once been quite a beauty, with gleaming mahogany sides, rakish bow with copper trim up front, and a wide and beamy countenance. But the boat had fallen on hard times, and had been lying upside down on a decrepit ancient trailer unused for many years. Rumor was that old St. Nick himself used to ply the pristine waters of these lakes in this sprightly vessel, when the days were warm and sublime, and his thoughts were not about delivering toys in an airborne sleigh. Santa was a nautical kind of guy, although this fact is not widely known today. He even had a small lighthouse built near his cabin at the North Pole!

Anyway, one day, a kindly bearded elf named Jer took pity on this poor little boat, and made a decision to restore it to its former glory, as a special gift to Santa. The old guy had seemed a bit down this past year, and Jer wanted to see the blue gray eyes of St. Nick twinkle as they once had. Jer had once been out on the lakes with Santa on this boat, many years ago, and it was a treat that he would never forget. Most of the time, as we all know, elves are busy making all sorts of toys and play things for children and believers all over the world. Jer’s special gift was making toy boats……..little sailboats and canoes, rowboats, motorboats, even toy iceboats were all his forte! What better elf to work on getting Santa’s special boat ready again for a Christmas ride!

Jer started to work on getting this mahogany boat ready for another voyage with Santa at the helm……..one quick survey of this old craft, and he knew he would have his work cut out for him! Some of the old planks on the bottom had pulled away, and the seam compound between the planks was long gone, allowing daylight and snow to enter. There was not much time for the work that had to be done, as Jer was quite busy, as the other elves were, getting their quota of toys ready and made for the winter holidays. But this elf was determined to surprise St. Nick with restoring a very special boat in his honor, and perhaps Jer would get to go for a ride on the sparkling waters again too!

Jer worked late into the night, for many nights, scrapping and repairing, and putting things right so that Santa’s vessel would be safe for him to enjoy once more. It would not sit well if the chief elf in charge of making toy boats could not make this boat float like a swan on the water again. After several long weeks and many extra hours of work, the boat was nearing completion and Jer was excited to be able to show the old man what his special secret project was, which was being whispered about among many of the other elves. Jer did not want word getting back to Santa that he was working on his old boat, for it was a surprise after all!

The mahogany deck was glistening, the chrome and copper polished, and even the bilge and floorboards were given a much needed new coat of battleship gray, everything shipshape and Bristol-fashion, as nautical types liked to say! Jer even tuned up the old outboard motor, to ensure that Santa would not get stranded while out on the water, that would be quite embarrassing indeed! He placed a small fir tree up on the newly varnished deck, complete with small candle lights and rose hip bundles and other natural things….there was also a ship’s bell, for Santa to ring, and a tiny candle-lit lighthouse another elf friend had made for the front of Santa’s boat…..it was quite a sight!

And so, a few days before the arrival of the winter solstice, and the celebrations would begin in earnest for Christmas, Hanukkah, and other winter holidays, the stage was set for the big surprise for Santa…..Jer was very excited, and eager to see the look on his face when this new “toy” was unveiled for Santa himself! It had been a lot of work, but he knew in his heart that this would be what Santa needed to get out of his doldrums…..

As Santa gathered in Jer’s section of the workshop, he was startled to see a large shape covered with a festive red cloth and big bow, right next to Jer….”what the devil was this, what was going on here”, he wondered? Perhaps it was some new fangled toy, or another one of those electronic gadgets that kids all seemed to want these days……he longed for the simpler times, when children of all ages would brighten at the sight of one of Jer’s very special toy boats under their Christmas trees…..but something about this covered object looked somehow familiar to the old elf, and as he and Jer slowly started to uncover it, he quickly realized it was his old beloved boat, somehow come back to life to surprise him!

“Happy Christmas”, Jer said to him, smiling a broad elfin smile…..”This was my special surprise project, and I hope you like it, Santa”, he said in a proud voice. Well, Santa was pretty much speechless, and ran his hand over the smooth, well weathered hull of his boat, now lovingly restored and varnished and polished as it had been in the earlier days…..he was deeply moved by what Jer had done, and loved seeing his old boat once again. The twinkle came back into Santa’s eyes as quick as a reindeer circling round a brick chimney, and he was as pleased as Jer had ever seen him.

“Let’s take her out on the lakes”, Santa said…..”We still have a little time before we have to load the sleigh, and I want to feel the wind in my hair and beard while out on the water, before all the toys get delivered”. Jer was ecstatic that Santa felt this way, and was eager to be in this lovely boat again with the big guy…..this was a rare treat for any elf, but to get invited to go out before Christmas, well, Jer was happy beyond words.

Santa decided to load up some toys, and made a special run in his newly restored boat, delivering dozens of Jer’s toy boats to boys and girls all around the lakes in a special delivery….now, this was a special treat indeed, as Santa had never before delivered any toys from his boat….he was just so giddy with delight that he wanted to do something special this year to celebrate! Being on his boat on the sparkling waters was just what Santa needed to cheer him up! He rang the ship’s bell, startling many geese and ducks and several great blue herons that had gathered around curiously. Santa sang one of his favorite holiday carols, “I Saw Three Ships”, and laughed and smiled!

And, so….this Christmas season, if you happen to see a bearded old guy with a red furry cap, out on the water in a very special boat, be sure to wave at old St. Nick and to the kind hearted elf Jer, who made the sparkle come back into Santa’s eyes! Fair winds and happy holidays to all!

December 2006 – Dedicated to the memory of William (Allan) Murray, who passed away this year, and left me with his own special mahogany boat.
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