As I walked toward the town Christmas Festival this weekend, an event I’ve attended with my daughter for the last 10+ years, a fire truck drove by, its siren blaring and horn honking. Santa rode shot gun in the passenger seat on his way to our town common. There he disembarked, waving a white-gloved hand to the line of toddlers staring in awe. I paused; a lump of memory squeezing my throat, as he crouched in front of a tiny boy, then crossed the frozen grass to mount his red sleigh.
Over all her Santa-believing Christmases, we never took our daughter to the mall to meet St. Nick, preferring this open air, non-commercial event instead. Each year, surrounded by the white-steepled churches and antique homes, she’d clamber up to sit beside Mr. Claus and have her picture snapped. Not for us the crush of crowded shopping centers, holding coats and hands of sweaty children for eternal minutes, while standing in long, snaking lines. We may have stamped cold feet, but we never waited long. After the photo-opp, we’d wander through the festival venues, before retreating to the Second Parish Church where we’d pick up the Polaroid picture of our girl sitting beside Santa, elves had fashioned into an tinsel-covered ornament.
When her Santa years ended, she and I continued to attend the Festival together, stopping first at the Episcopal Church for their used book sale, before trotting down to the congregational church for bowls of homemade clam chowder. At a table in the back room, we’d crumble our crackers into the thickened soup and slurp its salty goodness.
This year, after purchasing five books, I headed down for chowder, but with my festival partner off at college, I didn’t have the heart to eat there alone. I purchased a pint to go, crossed the common to the community center where the Greek Orthodox Church was selling Baklava, spending my last $3.00 on a piece to share with my non-chowder-eating-husband. Then I headed home. In all, it was a lovely day, except for the undercurrent of missing my regular companion.
Here is where karma pops in. Our daughter’s name is not uncommon, though its spelling is. Living with my own misspelled and mispronounced appellation, I should have suggested we think a little harder before we named her, but that’s hindsight. As a result, she too has experienced a lifetime of misspellings. She, her dad and I lift our eyebrows on the rare occasions we encounter someone who spells it the same.
So Saturday, after I arrived home, still thinking about her, I dug a spoon into my cooling broth and perused one of the books I’d purchased at the book sale. Two sentences into it, the main character’s name jumped out at me—my daughter’s name, spelled correctly. Imagine that. There I was strolling around alone at that festival, and she was with me all along.
No doubt I'm going to like that book.