Chapter Eleven - Gifts
[ Also viewable in PDF format at: 11-Gifts.pdf ]
After the tyrant missionary Gambier had decimated the Marulean people
in the early 1800s, the survivors faced many hard challenges. One of the most
difficult was to reconcile their hearts with Christianity. Gambier had forced
the Catholic religion on them in a manner no different than the Jesuits had
used in California. The effect on the Maruleans was, at first, almost the same
as that experienced by the Chumash. Unfortunately for California’s seafaring
coastal tribe, the Spanish stayed forever. Fortunately for the Maruleans, the
French eventually left them alone.
This gave the sea people, with their heritage of island independence and
common sense, a basis to reject formal Christian religion. They could not
accept that the Son of God, a living embodiment of love and life, would have to
die to save them. They had no use for the image of a vengeful Father who
would burn sinners in an everlasting hell if they didn’t believe in Him. They
could not believe that Jesus had died for their sins – there was no logic to that
idea at all. The cross was a symbol of human failure – nothing more. The
image of a tortured man dying a horrible death and the Catholic teachings
about suffering, guilt and sin, were discarded.
But the Maruleans remained Christians, using love as taught by Jesus as
the cornerstone of their faith. And the more David Helmares understood the
Marulean version of Christianity, the more he embraced it. When it came to
celebrating Christmas, however, David maintained one tradition from his
youth, and again this year he made sure the batteries were fully charged on
the Morning Light as he strung lights from his rigging and put a set of
speakers on deck.
The evening star appeared above the horizon where the sun had set on a
hot and windless day, the longest day of the year. On this night the sea people
of Marulea began a week of fasting and feasting, of games and solemn
ceremonies, to celebrate the solstice – and the birth of Christ.
Taveka was standing in the doorway of his home thinking about the love
Jesus had taught and the hope and faith in the goodness of man being
celebrated by the Maruleans. He also thought of the next solstice, in June,
when the season would change to winter, when he would begin the steps of his
final journey to the arms of angels, his ancestors and his wife. Then tears came
to his eyes when Handel’s Messiah came wafting across the water.
Early in David’s apprenticeship Taveka had wanted to learn something
from the young Californian that held some special significance from his past.
David had responded by suggesting Taveka listen to the set of CDs he’d made
so that he’d always have his entire music collection with him wherever he
went. So, over a period of months, Taveka listened with respect to everything
from the Allman Brothers to “The Sound of Music”, but when David played a
special homemade compilation of Christmas songs, starting with a series of
classics from the Percy Faith Orchestra, Taveka felt his soul truly touched.
That Christmas, Taveka suggested David share the music with the Maruleans.
They loved it as much as Taveka did and considered it a wonderful gift and a
welcome addition to their celebrations.
The next song was “Away in the Manger”, and Taveka thought of the
passing of his beloved wife so many years ago. Their new-born daughter had
been in his arms when he kissed her mother goodbye. Now that Luan had
married his successor, Taveka could look forward to the day he would be with
his wife again. He stood smiling as the tears ran down his face, his heart filled
with the simple song about a child’s birth and what it meant to an old man
whose time was coming.
Three children were walking by and one of them noticed the old navigator
had not greeted them in his usual friendly manner.
“Uncle Taveka, are you sad?”
“Yes, Uncle,” said a little girl, “why are you crying? It’s Jesus’ birthday
and we’re going to my auntie’s house for stories and then we’re going to make
gifts for our parents. Isn’t anyone going to give you presents?”
“Yes, little one, I already have many presents . Sometimes people cry
when they have much happiness inside them.”
“So you are not sad, Uncle Taveka?”
“How can anyone be sad if a new year is coming with all sorts of surprises
and fun?” he said with a smile on his face.
The music faded to silence for a moment.
“Uncle Taveka, are you going to die soon?”
“Shush, you weren’t supposed to say anything to him!”
“No, it is a question I will answer. Yes, I am going away, and it will be
before next Christmas. So why don’t you all make me extra gifts this year?”
His smile turned to laughter, and the eyes of the children lit up as they felt
the joy of giving fill their hearts.
“Yes, we will! We will bring them Christmas morning, Uncle!”
The children skipped off down the path. Taveka smiled in
acknowledgement of the endless passing of generations, with the innocence
and joy of children being the only eternal constant of life in its every breath.
Then he heard the opening notes of “We Three Kings.”
* * *
Two thousand miles to the west, the Skyhook was sitting just outside her
hangar near the headquarters of the Skyrider Foundation. Victor and Tina
Sanchez were dressed up as Mr. and Mrs. Claus. Mac Owens had an elf’s
costume on. Two dozen high school students carrying brightly colored
packages formed a line at the cargo bay door. Though time and distance made
it impossible for the students to go home, the Skyhook was going to stand in as
Santa’s sleigh on its annual Christmas flight to some of the most remote
islands of Polynesia bearing gifts to the students’ families and friends.
“Did you weigh this?” asked Mac Owens.
“Uh, yeah, kinda.”
“An’ how much did it weigh?”
“The scale said forty six.”
“Was that pounds or kilos?”
“Uh, I don’t remember.”
“How much is it ‘sposed to weigh?”
“Under fifty, I think.”
“Yes, that’s right. That’s fifty pounds – not fifty kilograms!”
The boy’s lip quivered as if he was going to burst into tears.
“You mean it can’t go on the plane?”
“I didn’t say that, Mister Nathan Bailala . However, you’ll hafta pay the
excess baggage charge.”
“But I don’t have any money!”
“Ok,” said Owens, “Please print your name, an’ the weight, an’ then sign
right here.” He handed a clipboard to the grateful teenager. The young man
did as he was told until he stopped and looked at Mac Owens. He had quickly
scanned the list and realized that several students, whose gifts for their family
and friends were already stored in the Skyhook , had submitted packages that
weighed as much, or more, than his.
“Hey, these others are overweight too!”
“Look a little closer, young man. Their weights are in pounds!”
“Oh, ok. All right. Well uh - - -“
“Merry Christmas, Nathan!” said Mac Owens. The finality in his tone
told the teenager further argument would be useless.
“Uh, Merry Christmas, Uncle Mac. What should I do now?”
“Why don’t you go an’ see if Mr. an’ Mrs. Santa need some help.”
Thanks, Uncle Mac! Merry Christmas!”
“Kids these days! They jes’ don’ pay ‘tention when they should!” he said
to himself, only to remember NASA had lost an eight hundred million dollar
Mars mission because some engineers had confused pounds and kilograms.
“Oh, well,” he thought, “What’s a little excess baggage?”
The thought reminded him of the load he’d have to deal with on the
Wavelife mission, and he began to ponder, as he had for several weeks now,
just how he would deal with all their equipment, especially the jetskis, as he
positioned the Christmas gifts securely in the cargo bay. He was arranging the
packages in reverse order according to the flight plan whereby they would be
distributed to the families of the students at rendezvous points outside a dozen
barrier reefs, several of which were where the Skyhook had rescued sailors and
pilots during the war. He remembered how the Catalina had been re-fitted
especially for the purpose of those touch-and-go missions by having all the
external bomb and torpedo hardware removed since she would no longer be
tasked with delivering death.
Mac Owens stopped everything. He climbed up on the Skyhook ’s wing.
He removed a panel, and sure enough, the cable and pulley mechanisms for
bombs weighing up to two thousand pounds had never been removed when the
Skyhook had been converted for rescue missions. He checked the other wing,
and suddenly he was in business.
“Well, that solves that problem!”
* * *
The Mother Ocean Shelter occupied a building that had once been the
home of Synanon, right on the beach in Santa Monica. Over the years it had
been sold and converted into condos, but when the most recent owners went
bankrupt, the building came up for sale at a foreclosure price. Aleja Gracellen
had seen the sign announcing the sale on her way to Newport Beach for a
meeting with Cheryl Corlund. She had an idea, and now the downtrodden once
again had a home on the beach.
Gracellen had mastered the surfing mobs at Surfrider Beach and the ritzy
crowds of Malibu’s restaurants. People were needy, off balance and helpless
whether competing for waves or flaunting their wealth. Both experiences were
surprisingly relevant when it came to running the shelter.
The tree was tall and green and the presents wrapped in recycled paper. A
dozen children were listening to their mothers sing “Silent Night” in the large
utility room that was converted to a dormitory every night. When the song
ended with hugs and tears all around, Aleja Gracellen thought of Cheryl
Corlund and how she had quickly come and gone before the children could
give her the Christmas gifts they had made for her.
“Wait a minute, everyone, if you please! Everyone! Just quiet down for a
second. I don’t know how many of you saw the lady who was here a little
while ago - - -“
“You mean the one who parked her Escalade over near the pier so we
wouldn’t know who she was?” said a voice from the back.
“She’s the one who is taking care of us, isn’t she?” said one of the
“Well, there’s no getting anything past you guys, is there?”
“You live on the streets and go through hell for years, and you’ll be pretty
sharp too, Aleja!” said one woman with a laugh that was more rueful than
“Yeah, that’s her. Well, even though her company gives us a lot, she
stopped by this year with a special gift, though she didn’t want anyone to
know about it.”
“Is that what anomin – anony – what is that word?” said one of the
“Anonymous, dear, and yes, that’s what she is . Our anonymous
benefactor. Well, I want us all to bow our heads for a second and give her a
gift straight from our hearts.”
Aleja Gracellen touched the envelope in her pocket, containing a
Christmas card from Cheryl Corlund and a check for fifty thousand dollars
made out to the shelter.
“Can we pray for her? I can do that!” said a little one up front.
“Yes, child, that is what we can do for her. And of all the gifts we could
ever give her, I think prayers are the ones she needs the most.”
* * *
The tree was plastered with fake presents, clumps of tinsel, plastic
ornaments, and blinking lights. It looked just like last year’s to Cheryl
Corlund, standing outside the entrance to Wavelife’s headquarters, as did the
“Surfing Santa” party in full swing swirling through the lobby. Her husband
had gone over the top, as usual. A dozen models were scantily dressed as
Santa’s helpers and helping her husband, dressed as Santa himself, hand out
the bonus checks to dozens of happy employees. For the moment she cared not
to think about how the glow would soon fade from the bright eager faces once
they discovered the checks were less than half of last year’s.
She caught her husband’s eye for a second and then walked across the
lobby and hit the button on the elevator. He caught up with her and pulled her
to one side.
“There you are – what took you so long?”
“And Merry Christmas to you too, dear! I’m surprised you even missed
me,” she said, glancing back at the bevy of beauties handing out the checks,
“Can’t you think of something other than eye candy for your party mix?”
“Oh Cheryl, c’mon, it’s Christmas, have a drink! You look like you need
one! And there are some people from home I want you to meet.”
“I’ve already met half of Brazil, Roberto. Who are they this time?”
“Buyers from a new chain in Sao Paulo. They’ve got steel mill money
“Ok,” she said, knowing Wavelife sales had slipped a little in Brazil,
“Give me a minute. Have you heard from Maui?”
“So far, so good. They’re back up in the hills even as we speak. No
parties, no women, no nothing. Bruddah and Heath are keeping the pressure on
and Sonny-boy is doing quite well from what I understand.”
“Did you talk to Bruddah?”
“Yeah, and if it wasn’t for his friendship with Heath, we’d be sunk. He’s
turning out to be the key in all this, Cheryl.”
“Well, if he’s going to be that essential, do we have him under contract?”
“I gave him one with the salary left open. He signed it on the condition
that we pay him a dollar a year.”
Corlund was taken aback for a second. The spirit of aloha was one thing,
but turning down a blank contract to be a dollar-a-year man said a lot. She
wasn’t sure if it was a reflection of Bruddah being a proud Hawaiian – or a
well-considered decision based on an accurate opinion of what Wavelife did
and didn’t stand for. Then she knew it was both. The elevator opened and a
crowd of employees pushed their way out.
“Merry Christmas everybody!” said Roberto heartily, “C’mon over and
get your bonus checks!”
He let himself be swept away while she entered the empty elevator and hit
‘ten’ to find some peace and quiet above it all.
When the elevator doors opened, Dolly Artensa was standing there, tired
and ready to go home. But when their eyes met, Artensa knew her boss could
use some company.
“I’m surprised you didn’t just stay there,” she said, “After the year we just
had, a shelter doesn’t sound half bad.”
Corlund nodded silently and Artensa gave her a hug before they walked
slowly to the CEO’s corner office. For a long time they simply stood near a
floor-to-ceiling window and looked out at the lights of the 405 streaming
through fields of office buildings that had replaced the groves of orange trees.
The silence was eventually broken by a whisper.
“I parked two blocks away, Dolly, so nobody would see my car, and
walking in felt like, well it felt like - - -“
“Like you were coming in off the street and needed some shelter yourself.
Honey, loneliness cuts just as deep whether you’re driving a Cadillac or a
Corlund laughed softly.
“And now I’ve got to get back downstairs and schmooze some Brazilian
money. And for what? Flying surfers around the world and fake Christmas
“Well, don’t look at it that way. Aleja and the shelter and those women
with their children can use all the help they can get. So turn on the charm and
get some business done.”
An hour later the models were in a conga line around the tree and Roberto
Mercante was as happy as he could be. He and his wife were getting along
famously with the wealthy industrialist and his entourage, regaling them with
stories about how Sonny-boy had won at Pipeline and why the “When It
Counts” campaign was going to work. Then Mercante saw a sharp-dressed
man come through the front door and excused himself for a moment.
“Ian, bro! Merry Christmas!”
“Roberto, nice party! I bet there’s no shareholders at this gig, are there?”
Clark said with a knowing laugh.
“Ah, fuck ‘em! We gotta party sometime! What can I get you to drink?”
“Well, I’m driving, so I’d - - -“
“Ian, c’mere,” said Mercante, putting his arm around the tall Californian,
“Listen, I know all about DUI’s an’ corporate liability and all that shit. See
those girls dancing around the tree? Guess who they are?”
“Don’t tell me – the designated drivers!”
“See how smart you are? So have a drink, no have two! And let me
introduce you to your chauffeurs!”
Soon Ian Clark was dancing around the Christmas tree with his driver and
her backup. The Wavelife employees were now long gone, replaced by the
Orange County party patrol in their silicone and stilettos, silk shirts and gold
chains. Clark was enjoying every second of his new life as a Wavelife insider
surrounded by beautiful women, hot-shot surfers, and flashy new money all
living it up in the lobby of the surf industry’s number one.
A guy sailed by Clark, did a double-take, and extended one hand in a bro
handshake while spilling the rest of his drink with the other.
“The man himself!”
Clark knew the look, generic OC in tinted hair and loose silk shirt, but he
didn’t who he was.
“Uh, yeah, hi! My name’s Ian Clark - - -“
“Shit, man, I KNOW who you are! Mr. Ian Clark! I’ve spent a lot of
money with Geosurf! Got great waves in the Mentawais ! Spent a week at your
place in New Zealand! The Azores! Loved the place, man! I’m one of your
The party was really loud and the guy had had a few, so Clark didn’t pay
too much attention until the guy said something that was not what he wanted
“Say bro, I hear Santa gave you a pretty bitchen Christmas gift this year!”
“Uh, what? What did you say? Couldn’t hear you!”
“I said, I hear you’ve found a new reef – and you’re gonna sell trips on a
seaplane to surf the place!”
“What reef? I don’t know what you are talking about!” stammered a
surprised Ian Clark.
“Sure, Ian, no problem,” he winked, “Here’s my card. Just call me when
you’ve got the package all wrapped up and ready to go, ok? Merry Christmas,
Coming up in Chapter 12 – A New Man...
It’s a new year and Sonny-boy Noaloa has a whole new career in front of him – if he can only leave his pro surfing persona behind and learn to be a new kind of surfer who is not chasing fame and trophies and women around the world. Reforming surfing’s former world champion is an uphill battle for Heath Larson and Bruddah, and when the day comes for Noaloa to finally step into a new role, he ends up taking a big step back.