It was probably about fifteen years ago, when I was a young(er) mother. My husband was the print shop supervisor in the same district that I worked for. Our two sons attended school there, too. He was well-known and well-liked, and dealt with a lot of district personnel on a daily basis. Paper and ink salesmen dropped by his office regularly, peddling their wares in the hopes that he would change his distributors to one of theirs.
It was near Christmas that year, and a particular salesman visited my husband’s office. He started telling my husband about this boat he’d bought over the summer, and that he’d actually joined the yacht club in Newport Beach, CA. And then he went on and invited all of us to join him at the yacht club to watch the annual Christmas Boat Parade in Newport harbor! We’d have front row seats.
Well, we were excited. If you’re at all familiar with southern California beach communities, you’ll know that the Newport Beach Yacht Club is pretty swanky. Crystal chandeliers, luxury automobiles pulling through the exclusive gates…We were sure our Day had arrived. I could hardly wait to tell my friends and family that we were going to be rubbing elbows with the rich and famous of Newport Beach.
Finally the big day was here. I had gone out and bought matching Christmas sweaters for our sons. Cute ones, not the ugly kind. My husband and I had on new duds, too. We got into the car and made the relatively short drive to the beach, with me playing navigator. It was dark out (because you can’t have a Christmas light parade in daylight), and the Pacific Coast Highway was crowded as usual. I read street addresses off buildings while we crawled along. The boys could hardly contain their excitement.
There it was! The glassed-in building that signified the Newport Beach Yacht Club! Square and stately and simply beckoning us to enter. I glanced at the address on the salesman’s business card just to be sure. And blinked. And read the number again. The number on the Yacht Club building and the number on the salesman’s card didn’t match up. How could that be? We drove by, brows furrowed. The silence in our car was deafening. If we weren’t going to the yacht club, where were we going?
We made a U-turn, no mean feat on PCH anytime of the year, and cruised back the way we had come, studying addresses. And then we saw it. A little wooden sign right under the big, glitzy one that signified the Newport Beach Yacht Club. The little sign that matched the address on the salesman’s business card that said, “Newport Boating Club,” with an arrow pointing down a one-lane driveway going alongside the two-story, Newport Beach Yacht Club building.
As we started down that pot-holed alley, I started laughing hysterically. OMG. Had we ever been misled. That salesman had to be the best I’d ever met. He’d certainly sold us a bill of goods! We came to a stop in a postage-sized parking lot, all of us gazing longingly at the yacht club across the way, with its dripping chandeliers and sparkling fairy lights. At last we climbed out of our car, our shoes crunching on the crumbling blacktop. I sighed as I took in “our” yacht club.
It was also two-story. An open-air two-story, made entirely of rough-hewn wood beams and open stairs that led to a deck overlooking the Newport harbor. We could smell wood burning as we trudged up the steps to where we would spend the evening watching the boat parade. Our host greeted us affably, hugging each one of us and chattering non-stop about how great our view would be. Well, I have to admit it was. We could see right inside the Other yacht club where all the rich and famous were kibitzing, cozy and warm behind glassed-in walls. I burrowed deeper into my coat.
Our deck was covered at least, and there was a huge fire pit that burned cheerily, sending up smoke that created quite a cloud. I sneezed. We moved around it, saying hi to the other guests who had pulled up plastic Wal-Mart chairs to the wood-sided railing in preparation of the start of the parade. Our host shoved Styrofoam cups filled with instant hot chocolate into our hands, and promised to take my husband on a tour of his boat later. This time I took note of the word “boat,” not “yacht.” We settled into our wobbly chairs. After all, we were here; we might as well enjoy the show.
Surprisingly, we did enjoy it. Although we weren’t all cozy and warm, rubbing elbows with the likes of Kevin Costner or Bill Gates, and drinking champagne from Baccarat crystal goblets, we had a first-class view of the parade. Every boat that cruised by the Newport Beach Yacht Club also passed right in front of us, and our sons were enthralled. They bounced up and down in their seats, breath puffing from their excited little mouths while they clapped mittened hands at all the new sights and sounds. Christmas music blared from the boats, Santas waved from the decks while we sat beside the crackling fire drinking Swiss Miss with mini marshmallows that coated our throats like the finest caviar.
As we sat back in our creaky chairs, balancing our Ritz crackers and white cups, my husband and I shared a quiet laugh. Yes, we’d been duped; but only duped by our own blindness. Our host’s boat was as small as his yacht club. Three men could barely stand upright in his sailing vessel. But as we watched our sons giggle and laugh and point at all the lights glittering off the water and overcast night sky, we had to admit this was probably the best place we could be. The magic of Christmas was unfolding before our eyes, and we were witnessing its glory.
It didn’t matter where we sat or what we ate. We were in the thick of it, first-class guests to a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Seeing the happiness on our sons’ faces, listening to their high-pitched little voices praising this as “the best Christmas ever” proved to us that it isn’t where you celebrate Christmas that matters. It’s how you share it. And in the embrace of your happy family is the best possible place to be.
This was definitely an evening to remember, one to be tucked away in our memories and pulled out for years to come as the Best, Worst Christmas Party Ever.