The winter sun crept up through the pine trees along Morro Bay. The parking lot of the Morro Bay Realty office was a Christmas tree lot for a few weeks during the holiday season. The Morro Bay Realty office was a long mobile home. Owner Bill Bloch would earn extra money selling Christmas trees during this slow-down in real estate sales.
Merry Christopher with her 15-year old daughter Christina drove onto the Morro Bay Realty parking lot, their backseat stuffed like Santa’s sack with blankets, clothes, bags, and suitcases all of which were obscuring their rear window. There was a folded tent lashed to the car’s roof.
Merry Christopher parked her car and got out and approached Bill Bloch who was surveying his little forest of Christmas trees from the steps of the mobile home-office.
Bill smiled down on Merry and said, “Doesn’t look like you’re here for a tree.”
Merry tried to smile and said, “Hello. I’m Merry Christopher. I was wondering: would you have any work for me? Any at all?”
Bill looked past the top of Merry’s head toward her car stuffed with belongings.
Merry followed his gaze and then explained, “That is my daughter Christina. She’s fifteen. We’re… moving here to Morro Bay. And I just need to find a job.”
Bill mulled, “Moving without a job? Jeez, pretty bold. You know,… Morro Bay is a pretty small town. There isn’t much work at this time…,” then he asked, “Where are you staying?”
Merry answered, “In our car, it seems like. There are no vacancies at any hotels around here. We’ll be camping out along the coast somewhere,” then she added softly, “We’re getting used to it.”
Bill said, “Hey, maybe the hotels can use help?”
Merry shook her head, “I’ve asked. It seems most of the locals grabbed the ‘extra’ seasonal jobs.”
Bill said, “Yeah… when fishing is slow the locals do odd-jobs.”
Merry’s shoulders slumped.
Bill looked up. Cottony clouds sailed southeastward overhead as the river of cold air flowed from the incoming North Pacific storm system.
Bill said after a few thoughtful moments, “Well… I’ve got an empty office in the back of the mobile home. I suppose you could sleep there a couple days, OK. But…it really is just a mangy little room.”
Merry’s eyes lit up, “Oh thank you, bless you,…?”
Bill smiled, “I’m Bill. Bill Bloch. This is my business here. Just making a little extra money this time of year, you know.”
Merry reached up and took Bill’s hand in both of her hands and shook it, “Thank you so much. I didn’t want my daughter sleeping in a wet tent. I mean, I don’t care about myself. But she…”
Bill said, “Sure. The room’s just back here on this side.”
Merry trotted to her car and nodded at Christina’s questioning face. Christina hopped in her seat and then covered her face as she began to cry with relief.
Merry spoke to Christina through the door window as Christina rolled it down, “I didn’t get a job but we have a place to sleep.”
Christina said, “Oh. OK…”, and then in unison with her mother she said, “Day by day it’ll be OK, Thank you Jesus.” and they both smiled.
As Merry and Christina carried in their overnight essentials into the mobile home, passing Bill who held the door open, they both thanked him again and again and their eyes were red and glistening.
Bill muttered, “I suppose there could be work here….”
The inside of the long mobile home was cold. Merry and Christina shuffled past the office desk and files and on down the hallway to the vacant little room. It even had a little window that you could open by cranking. And they were right next to a little bathroom. Christina dropped her armload on the floor. Merry did the same. They both laughed with nervous exhaustion. Then Merry began to spread the sleeping bags into the corner and to stack her boxes and bags of toiletries.
Christina said, “I don’t want to complain but I’m freezing.”
Merry went into the narrow hallway and found the thermostat. She called to Bill, “Excuse me, Mr. Bloch, would it be OK to turn up some heat? My daughter is cold.”
Bill couldn’t help calculating the increase in his heating bill but he said, “Sure. It’s going to be a cold storm tonight. Just close as many windows as you can…”
Merry went back into the little room and kneeled with Christina on their sleeping bags. They prayed. Then Merry hugged Christina and they both laid themselves next to each other on the sleeping bags, just to relax a minute, and Christina wept herself to sleep.
Merry got up carefully and went into the little kitchen area carrying a bag. In the kitchen she unpacked a jar of instant coffee and a little box of sugar and a box of powdered milk.
She asked Bill, “Do you mind if I boil some water for coffee?”
Bill said, “No. In fact make a pot.”
Merry found a stained coffee pot in the little cupboard and rinsed it out as best she could, then she filled it with water and turned on the little gas burner on the little stove. She stood and stared at the refraction of currents in the heating water.
When it began to boil Merry spooned-out instant coffee and stirred the coffee pot. She judged the strength of the coffee by the aroma it gave off. She could feel the current of warm air from the heating system upon her face and she began to feel cozy.
Outside a pick-up truck loaded with some more trees pulled into the parking lot.
Bill Bloch waved at the driver who was getting out of the truck, “Hey, Darius. Hey, ‘Dar he is’!”
The slender swarthy man getting out of the truck stood tall and said, “Yes, always amusing, my friend. These are the last of my trees.”
From the passenger side of the truck three young boys danced out. Darius said, “My sons, do not go far. We must unload these trees and then we are done.”
Bill waved, “Hello, boys.”
The three boys answered shyly, “Hello, Mr. Bloch.”
One boy said, “Can I have a drink of water?” the second boy said, “Me, too,” and the third boy, the youngest, said, “I need to use the bathroom.”
Bill nodded, “Sure,” and the three boys bounced up the steps of the mobile home-office and entered.
When the three boys saw Merry near the stove sipping coffee they halted and stared shyly.
Merry said, “Hello, there.”
The two older boys mumbled, “Hello, ma’am,” but the youngest boy cried, “I need to use the bathroom!” and he pushed past his brothers and Merry stood aside and waved him clear to proceed down the narrow hallway.
Darius entered the mobile home and upon seeing Merry he said, “Oh.”
Merry said, “Hello.”
Darius said, “I am Darius Rouhani,” then he grinned and said, “Dar he is,” and then he said, “I see you have met my sons.”
Merry said, “I am Merry Christopher.”
The elder boy snickered and said, “You sound like Merry Christmas.”
Darius scolded his son, “Don’t be rude like that, ever!”
Merry was conciliatory and bent down to the boy saying, “My parents named me ‘Merry’, M-E-R-R-Y, not ‘Mary’ M-A-R-Y. They were religious but they had a strange sense of humor.”
Darius smiled. His son grinned and looked away, saying, “OK. I am sorry I was rude.”
Merry smiled, “Oh, you weren’t rude. You were a boy,” and she looked up at Darius who made a wry face.
Darius said, “This rude boy is my eldest son. He is thirteen. His name is Hormi. His brother next to him is Yazdeg. He is ten. And the youngest, he is eight, wherever he is… Peroz! Where are you?”
Peroz cried from the bathroom, “I am making a peef!”
Darius covered his eyes as his two sons beside him giggled.
Merry said, “That is OK. I have a daughter who is fifteen. Her name is Christina.”
Darius said, “OK, Miss Merry, you win. One daughter is more trouble than three sons.”
Darius asked, “Are you working for Bill, if I may ask?”
Merry shrugged, “With the grace of God, yes.”
Darius nodded and intoned, “KHOH-dah-rah SHOH-kr (Praise the Lord).”
Merry said, “Oh, I’m sorry, would you like some coffee?”
Bill, who had just entered, said, “Don’t bother. Darius likes his coffee Turkish. He likes coffee you can chew.”
Darius’ youngest son Peroz emerged from the bathroom just as Merry’s daughter Christina was exiting the little make-shift bedroom. Almost wedging together, Peroz looked up at Christina and said, “I am sorry I stink.”
Christina, hands in the pockets of her bulky sweater, hugged herself and asked sleepily of her mother, “What is up?”
Merry said, “Christina, this is Darius and these are his three sons…uh, …,” and looking at Darius she said softly, “I’m sorry…”
Darius came to Merry’s aid and said, “This young man is Hormi. This young gentleman is Yazdeg. And this…stinker.. is Peroz.”
Peroz was embarrassed and he said as he twisted himself, “Daaa-ad.”
Darius scolded, “Well, I heard you name yourself just a moment ago in the hallway. In front of a young woman.”
Bill spoke up, “Hey, everyone. It’s gonna start pouring any minute. Darius, why don’t you stay here for awhile? You don’t want to be driving with your boys in what’s coming,” and he bent over to address Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz, saying, “Why don’t you pick a Christmas tree and bring it in. We can decorate it.”
The three boys yelled, “Yah!” and then they looked sheepishly at their father Darius who scolded them with his expression.
Merry said, “I can help.”
Christina said, “I can, too.”
Merry whispered to Christina, “I don’t know if that is a good idea.”
Christina said to the three boys, “Let’s go before the flood!”
They all together unloaded the last of the Christmas trees from the pick-up truck and then they selected by acclaim the plumpest one that would fit in the mobile home-office.
As they maneuvered the chosen Christmas tree through the mobile home-office doorway the waves of rain began to strafe loudly upon the parking lot and upon the mobile home roof.
The three boys squealed with excitement at the loud popping of raindrops on the metal roof of the mobile home.
Bill got a box out of a closet and boomed, “Here are some tree decorations,” and then more softly, “I haven’t seen these since I … my wife…”
Hormi nailed the wooden cross support into the base of the Christmas tree as Yazdeg and Peroz held it horizontal.
Peroz chimed, “Smells so gooood.”
Bill said, “I’ll make hot chocolate for our hard workers and we big kids can have some ‘Tennessee Coffee’,” then he began to sing comically, “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Daniels nipping at your nose…”
Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz erected the Christmas tree. Merry, Darius, and Christina began to place ornaments upon the higher branches.
Merry said to Darius, “The boys are so cute. It is a shame that their mother is missing this.”
Darius pursed his lips and said, “Their mother is no longer with us.”
Bill explained for Merry’s sake, “Darius and his wife were teachers in Syria. Darius was… is a Professor of Linguistics…”
Darius said, “I am a ranch hand on the Rossini Ranch. Mr. Rossini lets me harvest Christmas trees from his ranch.”
Merry said, “It must be a good place to raise three boys.”
Darius answered, “It could be worse.”
Merry said, “They seem so bright.”
Darius said, “Yes. They will become Engineers to please the memory of their mother.”
Merry said, “May I ask what happened to their mother?”
Darius said, “A Muslim man is allowed to marry a Christian woman, but a Christian man is not permitted to marry a Muslim woman. Islam means equality and no discrimination, but we were not permitted to marry. Aabirah was a mathematician. We both taught at the University of Aleppo. We married anyway and we had three strong sons.”
Bill could see that Darius had choked-up and so he continued on his behalf, saying, “During the civil war in Syria his wife… Aabirah… was killed when the government used poison gas on a group of rebels.”
Darius could speak again, saying, “She was not a rebel, she was just standing in the market place when they took her hostage. I took my sons and I fled Syria. It was a miracle that I was allowed sanctuary in the United States…”
Merry could only say softly, “Praise the Lord,” and then she offered as a way to change the mood, “My Christina wants to be a Minister.”
Darius turned to Christina and said, “That is fine. Do you know that ‘Christopher’ means ‘bearing Christ’? In your heart.”
Christina smiled and nodded and then she whispered to her mother, “And even Jesus was homeless and persecuted.”
Bill handed Darius and Merry each a cup of ‘Tennessee Coffee’. Suddenly they were all again aware of the drumming rain.
Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz were watching the rain through the mobile home windows.
Peroz said, “I can see the Christmas tree in the window! It looks like it is out in the parking lot.”
Christina sat beside her mother as Merry, Darius, and Bill sat down to talk.
Bill said, “So, Merry. Moving here without a job…? What is your story?”
Merry glanced at Christina and said, “Not much. My second husband, Christina’s step-father, was a God-fearing man at first. Then he became mean to us. He was especially… mean… to Christina. I couldn’t take it anymore. I left with what I could cram in my car. We’ve been living like transients for months…”
Darius said, “I am so sorry. You are a good person. God can be so mysterious with his intentions.”
Suddenly, there was a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder. Hormi, Yazdeg, and Peroz squeeled loudly, “Whoa!”
Christina glanced over at the boys and nervously parted her bulky sweater and then she began to rub her little pot belly with both hands.
Darius saw this and he turned to Merry.
Merry was observing Christina with concern. Then Merry turned and met the eyes of Darius which held his question.
Merry returned the answer to him with her eyes.
Darius then realized just how ‘mean’ the step-father had been to Christina. Darius suddenly asked Merry, “Do you know anything about horses?”
Merry was surprised and answered, “Yes. My parents had horses. They were my responsibility for years.”
Darius continued thoughtfully, “Mr. Rossini needs someone to care for his horses now that Mrs. Rossini is… not able to give them the attention they need. There is even a small bunk-house next to the stables where you could live decently for a while. I could speak to Mr. Rossini…”
Bill was already a little drunk and he raised his coffee to Merry, saying, “You have risen!”
Merry scowled involuntarily at her benefactor, Bill, but she was thrilled and she tried to give a composed response to Darius, “That would be ideal, I think, … thank you…Praise the Lord…”
Darius continued, “In fact, on Christmas day Mr. Rossini hosts a big holiday Bab-A-Kew. You could come as my guest.”
Bill chuckled, “That’s Bar-B-Que.”
Darius said, “You come too, Bill.”
Merry turned to Christina and said, “Did you hear that?”
Bill was answering Darius, “Naw. On Christmas day they always hold a reservation for me at the Sassy Wok.”
Christina said quietly, “Day by day it’ll be OK, Thank you Jesus.”
Christina rubbed her little pot belly.