Paper Boats

By Sara Martin

February 27, 2023

Paper Boats

It’s Christmas Eve. Grandpa sits between my brother, Jeff, and me in the church pew. Grandpa must see that we’re fading, because as soon as we're seated after singing “Oh Holy Night,” he nods at the bulletin in his hands. As the pastor starts the homily—Mary, Joseph, the wise men, the manger—Grandpa folds the bulletin at the crease, back and forth, and scrapes his fingernail down the edge. He smiles, and the dimple on his right cheek appears. He fake coughs to cover the sound as he rips the bulletin into two rectangles. Grandma raises her eyebrows at him, but smiles when I catch her eye.

The pastor talks of frankincense and myrrh, but Jeff and I are fixed on Grandpa’s hands as he creases and folds one of the papers until he peels the sides apart into a small boat. He places it on the top of a hymnal in the rack and starts on the second one. When Grandpa finishes the second boat, he picks up the first one and gives them to Jeff and me at exactly the same time.

After the homily, candles are lit and the overhead lights are lowered and the opening chords of “Silent Night” begin.

As I listen to Grandpa’s deep baritone sing “all is calm, all is bright,” I skim the boat over imaginary waves. The candle in my left hand is a lighthouse on a rocky shore, guiding the boat to safety.


Sara Martin is a public interest attorney and lives in St. Paul with her husband, two sons, and two spoiled dogs. If she's not working, spending time with her family, or trying to squeeze in writing time, she's probably riding a bike. Sara's writing has appeared in Ruminate Magazine, Peacock Journal, St. Paul Almanac, Mothers Always Write, and Adoptive Families.


Image by Joachim Schnürle courtesy of Pexels

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