An Irishwoman’s Diary on a chance encounter with Mr Claus
“I knew for sure then that this could only be the great toymaker himself”
I didn’t expect snow. After all, I was on my summer holidays. I had this image in my head of warm green valleys and shady pine trees and I packed clothes accordingly – lots of cool cotton and linen.
Snow in summer? Never! Even the Austrians were surprised. But the snow came early that year to the Tyrol, and the brilliant sunshine had icicles hanging from its edges. Luckily I had a trusty waterproof anorak that was good enough to keep the heat in and the cold at bay as I climbed up the Alps ... in a cable car.
On the top of the Zugspitze mountain, the snow was several inches deep and it was easy to think of Christmas as I stood there breathing in the crisp clean air and listening to the faint sound of bells coming up from far below. Not exactly jingle bells but the clanking of Tyrolean cow-bells. The cattle were being herded down from the mountains to the sanctuary of the valley for the winter. And on my way back down the mountains there, between the fir trees, was a herd of reindeer grazing.
The fairy-tale village in the valley took me another step into Christmas.
Every shop window had a dazzling display of Christmas decorations in red, green and gold, and there were tasteful displays of wooden toys, puppets and music boxes.
I moved along the street from shop window to shop window like a delighted child. Time meant nothing to me until a cuckoo clock reminded me that I had just 20 minutes to catch the last train back to my hotel 40 miles away. Talk about being halted in my tracks! But where was the railway station?
I consulted a few passers-by but none could speak English. I tried to retrace my steps and found myself on a winding country laneway that seemed to lead up into the mountains. The sky darkened and panic-stricken, I turned and began to run back in the opposite direction. Suddenly this small truck pulled up beside me. The passenger door swung open. A hand beckoned me in. Me? Take a lift from a stranger? Never! Yet I found myself climbing up and sitting in. I can’t exactly explain it but there was a sort of warm glow in the cab of that truck.
“You go to Bavaria?” the man asked. “No. Railway station.” He looked puzzled and shook his head. I looked at the rows of chisels neatly clipped to the dashboard and I shuddered and regretted my foolish decision, warm glow or no warm glow. I had taken a lift from a stranger.
In a sudden flash of inspiration I remembered the German word for railway station. “Bahnof.”
“Ah. Banhof,” he repeated, and then he did a heart-stopping U-turn on that narrow road and I was flung full force against him.
He laughed a big gurgling laugh that banished all my fears. I began to laugh too for now I recognised who he was from that Christmas poem: his eyes, how they twinkled; his dimples how merry; his cheeks were like roses;his nose like a cherry; his droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow; and the beard of his chin was as white as the snow.
There was a strong aroma l of pine-wood in the cab of the truck and sure enough the back was loaded high with logs.
“For the toys,” he told me and pointed to the chisels on the dashboard.
And I knew for sure then that this could only be the great toymaker himself. The truck suddenly screeched to a halt. “Bahnof”, he announced opening the cab door for me with a flourish and I clambered out. He brushed aside my thanks, did another screeching U-turn, and I stood there waving as he drove off in a flurry of snow.
Now, I can reliably inform you that Santa Claus does not wear red all the year round. He was in grey lederhosen, green woollen stockings, a grey jacket with green lapels and, on his head, a funny little Tyrolean hat with a jaunty feather and, oh yes, he keeps the sleigh for Christmas and drives a truck during the summer.