By Tim Norris
At Briny Breezes, Santa takes a back seat. This is Mrs. Claus, red dress, white bonnet, lacey apron and all, and she is coming to hug the calories out of everyone she meets.
The cookies she’s handing out should put the calories right back on again.
Even on this chilly December afternoon, palm tops flailing in a brisk wind, anyone seeing (or hearing) her seasonal cheer would even say she glows. And no need to dream of a white Christmas; the permanent mobile homes of Briny Breezes shine white in the sunlight.
Mrs. Claus, otherwise known as Bev Williams, carries joy in her voice. With her rounded figure and her robust laugh, she seems born to Claus. “I don’t even think about getting cold!” she says.
Up Cordova, down Juniper, up Hibiscus, down Ruthmary, Mrs. Claus and her entourage meet and greet. “We wanna be loud!” she says. “We’re spreading the cheer!”
They won’t come across Dasher or Dancer, but they might find a masher and a flasher: the romancer they call “Don Juan” and the good gentleman who, at home, prefers the natural look. “Sometimes he wears a shirt,” Karen Wiggins says.
What they expect to find are neighbors, some recovering from illness, some lonely, most ready for holiday spirit, free of buy-and-sell.
On the lead vehicle, a mechanical sleigh looking curiously like a golf cart, the helper elf, Joanne Doyle, bounces on the back seat, cradling a tray stacked in cookies, 10 to a foil-wrapped plate, with more beside her, 127 dozen in all. Wiggins, as the Grinch, is driving.
“I am the Grinch,” she says, but nobody is buying it. She can scowl all she wants, but even a stranger can see the reaction to familiar faces, when Grinch turns to grin.
Mrs. Claus seems permanently grinny. Her spouse, Lew, in his red Ohio State cap, is driving the support vehicle, a second golf cart with more trays of cookies shifting on the seat next to him.
One of the first trailers of call might be Mrs. Claus’s favorite. She announces, “YOOO-hooo! Marguerite! Merry Christmas! How are ya, darlin’?”
Marguerite Sanford, Lew says, is 100 years old. Maybe 101. Trading hugs, taking the cookies, she shows the glow of someone far younger finding a present under a tree. “Hi, how are you?” Marguerite says, beaming. “You didn’t have those glasses on last time.”
“I get so excited, they slide down my nose!” Bev says. “Are you feeling good?”
“Pretty good. Don’t walk too well, but otherwise....” She looks great, everyone says. “Thank you, thank you,” Marguerite says. “And thanks for coming by!”
While his wife was baking, Lew Williams was making a list, built from the Briny Breezes directory, and now Wiggins is checking it twice. At each scheduled door, a holiday happens.
“Hiiii, Jim, ha-HA-haha! Merry Christmas! Yoo-hoo, Rosie! Merry Christmas to you, honey!
Alone, in couples, stepping away from a book or TV set or dinner on the stove, shooing a cat back into the house, neighbors push out into the chill wind, break into wide smiles, answer with “Thank you!” or “I just want to look at you!”or ”I think it’s a really cool, wonderful thing you guys are doing,” adding a chorus of laughs to Bev’s infectious solo.
Then, here we go, the moocher-and-smoocher. Name Don, nickname Don Juan. “Last year, he gave me a Christmas goose,” Bev says, and glances at her backside.
“Hey, little girl,” Don calls, “I’ve got candy inside!” Bye, Don.
Trying to play Grinch, Wiggins cannot keep the good woman down. “Don’t be walking up and down the stairs; you’re gonna get too tired!” she calls. Too late. Again, Bev is up the steps, calling, handing, hugging. Again. Again. Again.
“Doing this just feels so good,” Bev says. This is their third day of giveaway (another elf, Kay Hall, also sat where Joanne sits now), covering nearly 100 stops among the households of Briny Breezes.
This is their third year. “I started for the ones who are sick, the ones who had lost their spouses, and the ones who are real, real lonely,” Bev Williams says. “But the first year, when we were going down the street, people would come out of their mobile and stand around looking. Oh, cookies! I knew we better share. Each year it gets bigger and bigger.”
Bev Williams has to contend with a heart condition and she admits that she’s been told to slow down. “I won’t do it,” she says. “If I die, I’ll die happy.”
Mrs. Claus and her mister will return to the North Pole (they call it Maryland) and then come back, as they have for 10 years, and join their neighbors. The cookies might be gone, but she’ll always bake more and, as Lew Williams knows, his
wife never runs out of hugs.