A Christmas Story in Western Belize

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It was a December 22 in the late 1940’s

Since the past three weeks or so, carols had filled the air and the ears of young and old in the fairly quiet little town of San Ignacio – at the great risk of colliding one with the other as every home and family celebrated the coming of the Christ Jesus with their own favourites. Faithful traditionalists had already arranged their nacimientos at home, the black and white cakes had been quite some time in the making, and bollos leaves had already been bought or ordered to avoid those last-minute Christmas demands. Home-grown feathered creatures were plentiful, and housewives had for weeks been eyeing their choice to complete the bollos and tamales specials for occasions such as Christmas day. These days, coops had to be kept well secured.

Children were especially jittery, always wondering with innocent suspicion what were in the bags they saw brought home from time to time. And, there was always the jealous fear that old Santa Claus might forget their address; or, would not remember to produce the favourite desired toy; or, get so many gifts mixed up at the time of his visit on Christmas Eve.

Homes were looking their best, as they always did at this time. The little center tables, chairs and rocking chairs had already been sandpapered and varnished, so as to welcome with class, this December 25 and the New Year.

The big nacimiento at Sacred Heart Church had already been installed by Don Domo, and school girls had been holding their daily practice every afternoon at Sacred Heart to produce the best Pastores ever witnessed.

And Don Sab was painstakingly ensuring that the street kerosene lamps were functional and would get new wicks by the twenty-third, not to mention that kerosene would be stored in time and in enough quantities.

Don Basilio and Doña Ursula were one happy couple who lived with their twelve-year-old boy across the western end of the Sacred Heart property. Their humble thatch-roofed home was partially surrounded by fruit trees which, apart from providing them delicious and healthy fruits, also contributed to the family’s extra income.

Don Basilio was a chiclero, but this year he was at home, away from his work for a month or two, having slipped and fallen from a sapodilla tree – luckily without great physical injury. But still unable to undertake his seasonal employment.

This evening, the couple and their child, Josue, were sitting outside their home enjoying the never-grow-old pastores songs which came to them as clear as if they were living on Church Street.

Doña Ursula would witness the Pastores at the Christmas Eve Mass along with Josue, as they had been doing for years. This year, Don Basilio would not be there with them owing to his physical condition, not being able to sit for long periods in church and having to change sitting position often among so many people.

Moreover, the family was not in the best spending situation this year and this did not make him a happy man. His concern was his wife and son. He much better preferred to stay home alone.

“Next year will be better,” Don Basilio promised his wife.

“Not to worry, Bas,” his wife reassured him. “We are only three, and as long as we have something to eat, that’s Christmas.”

“It’s Josue I am concerned about. We have not been able to buy him that mouth organ that he wants. And, he plays so well.”

“I”ll see what we can do, Viejo. I can credit the few ingredients to make the bollos and tamales. Josue can go pick up orders and collect from some in advance. There is nothing to worry about.”

“I would still like to give him a bit more. He deserves it. He studies and does well in school. He is already twelve. And he needs a few more pants and shirts, not to mention a new pair of tennis.”

“Let’s see how the bollos and tamales sales go. I have faith,” Doña Ursula promised her husband, with a knock on the bench on which they were sitting – for luck.

They had stayed on their bench longer than usual. It was already about ten.

As they prepared to get in for the night, Doña Ursula let out a scream. “Basilio! Basilio! Look! A falling star!”

They both followed the star until it disappeared, about a mile away on the Benque Road.

That star occupied Don Basilio’s thoughts and dreams that night. These stars that raced across the sky heralded good things to come.

Don Basilio kept his plans to himself. (Tomorrow he would enjoy some good fortune. He had a fairly accurate idea where the star had fallen.)

What could it be? He tried hard not to think of it and tried to get a good night’s rest.

The next morning about six he got up and drank his usual cup of coffee. He woke up his wife and Josue and waited until they had had something to eat. That morning it was homemade bread and black beans with three of their plentiful supply of eggs from their local fowls.

“Where are you going so early, Bas?” his wife enquired.

“You remember the falling star we saw last night? I have a fairly good idea where it fell, so I will go look for our fortune. Get me some lunch for two. I’m taking Josue along, because I may need help to carry what we’ll find.”

Accompanied by his son, Don Basilio, shotgun on his shoulder, eagerly began his trek on the Benque Road, and not far from town he turned left and followed the path that he remembered the star had taken.

“Soon reach, Pa?” enquired Josue.

“Very soon, Son,” promised his father.

And soon it was.

“Here is where the star fell!” rejoiced Don Basilio, screaming in an uncontrollably loud voice. “Here is our treasure! Let’s go in, Josue!”

They walked in, through the natural wall of trees that were there protecting – from undesirable intruders the corn and beans, pumpkins and watermelons that were planted seasonally on the fertile piece of land.

They saw nothing unusual, nothing like a pot of gold or hidden diamonds. But Don Bas was a believer. Something very precious was there waiting for him and his family. He couldn”t give up.

Father and son explored the complete perimeter of the land. Somewhere on the western end they came across the tracks of an animal seemingly in a hurry to escape, most likely from hunters.

As the scouting father and son team came back towards where they had entered, they found traces of blood left behind, no doubt by the fleeing animal. Someone had already been there, and very likely had shot the animal, maybe a deer, which had escaped.

And as these two father and son hopefuls got closer to the entrance – jackpot!

Trapped among some saplings and brambles was a fawn struggling without success to free herself. She had not had the good fortune to escape with her mother. Great was the joy of the two. The promise of the falling star was infallibly true!

Father and son asked each other what to do. The options were not many, but there were a few:- allow her to go free; carry her to town on their shoulders as a trophy; butcher her later at home and sell the tender meat. Or raise her on the abundant vegetation at home and later decide her future.

Both agreed that they would walk her home and decide after consulting with Doña Ursula. And that they did. The fawn was carried all the way before reaching the Benque Road, and when they got there they put her down – a bit rested after being carried – and walked her home, tied around the neck, father and son proudly exhibiting their trophy. Children and adults – especially children – lined the street to see and admire the young animal. Don Basilio and Josue looked forward to reach home with their excellent Christmas present. Finally they reached home. Already informed, Doña Ursula was waiting, a happy smile on her face.

They left the decision to determine the fawn’s future until the next day. They were overjoyed, telling the story of their find over and over to all who came by.

About nine they decided to go to bed. Don Basilio had not had much sleep the previous night.

It was not too long after that someone knocked on their door.

“Good night! Good night! Does Mr. Basilio live here? Good night! Don Basilio!”

Who could it be? The police? What had they done that was illegal? Could it be that they were being accused of entering a piece of land which was not theirs?

The situation had to be addressed.

Don Basilio opened his door, rubbing his sleepy eyes.

“Yes, I am Basilio. How can I help you?”

“I am Mr. Richards. I live in the savannah area. I am in great need to buy my son a very special gift for Christmas. It’s all over town that you caught a young deer. That would be the perfect gift for him. Please. Please,” he pleaded.

Don Basilio went back into the room, spoke with his wife, then to his son. When he came back out, he found Mr. Richards sweating with anxiety, wallet in hand.

“Please, Don Basilio. Help me make my son happy. Please.”

Don Basilio smiled. They had agreed to sell the prized fawn which would make Mr. Richards” son happy on this December 25.

How much Mr. Richards paid Don Basilio remains a secret up to this day.

But this much we know – two families spent Christmas with abundantly overflowing joy and gratitude in their hearts.