I remember getting a little toy guitar for Christmas when I was a little boy. A great gift to be sure, but I wanted a drum set. Obviously the mature reaction was to scream “I WANT A DRUM!” and smash the guitar into a million pieces on our back porch. I didn’t get the drum. And now I had no guitar either. Smooth, Josh. Real smooth.
I like to think that I’ve changed over the years. Maybe “matured” isn’t the right word, but I’ve come to understand that the material trappings of Christmas doesn’t matter as much as the experiential stuff.
Take for instance, a recent Christmas. Each year my extended family gathers on Boxing Day at my Uncle Ed and Aunt Rene’s place in Port Albert, Ontario. It’s a rowdy affair that usually involves too many boxes of red wine, cutthroat games of Euchre and other card games and violent games of road hockey.
After a fun night of festive frivolity, my cousins, brother and I decided to call it a night. There was one small problem, however. We were staying at my Aunt Buggy’s place, located some 5 kilometres or so North of Port Albert.
The simplest solution would have been to ask one of our sober relatives to drive us home. (Actually, now that I think of it, that may not have been that simple after all). However, we opted for the simpleton’s solution rather than the simplest one and decided the best way to get home was to hike North along the frozen shores of Lake Huron.
And so, after bundling up in warmer clothes, our party of idiots headed out in the cold winter night. Our band of merry men consisted of seven cousins – John and Mike Dalton (brothers), Jonathan Chilton (Rene and Ed’s son, who had a warm bed a few feet away but wanted to come along for the adventure), Luke and Shawn Van Osch (brothers), my younger brother Nick, and me.
The gang of idiots, minus me taking the photo, on the frozen shores of Lake Huron, Ontario.
For a midnight hike along the ice-covered, treacherous beach, you want to make sure you only bring the essentials. Obviously, these included:
- a box of red wine;
- bottle of Baileys; and
- a few beers shoved into our snow pants.
Always be prepared.
After a short hike from my Aunt and Uncle’s place, we arrived at the high bank that overlooked the lake, and prepared to wind our way down the path to the beach below. Unfortunately, I misjudged the location of the path and ended up taking a giant step over the edge and into thin air. I tumbled down the snowy bank, cursing myself for bringing the bottles of beer as they jabbed painfully into my ribs.
A moment later Jonathan Chilton tumbled down after me, apparently deciding that falling down the hill was in fact the best approach.
Dusting the snow off ourselves, we bent our heads to the cold blasting winds and hiked—okay, okay, stumbled—north.
The journey took us 5 times longer than it should have for a few reasons.
- we kept tripping over frozen bits of ice, beach logs and each other;
- we had to keep Jonathan from running off onto the frozen lake where he would surely have found a way to fall into open water; and
- we kept stopping every two minutes or so to make a toast and have a drink of Baileys, boxed wine or beer. “A toast! To family!” “A toast! To the lake!” “A toast! To the genius of Miley Cyrus!” “A toast! To pineapple!”
Most of the gullies and rivers that spilled into Lake Huron along our journey had completely frozen over so traversing them posed no problem. That is, except for one particularly large stream, about half way through our trek, that was still running. Nick made a heroic attempt to leap the river and ended up with one of his legs submerged in icy water.
A moment later I watched in cringing fear as Jonathan attempted the same. I shouldn’t have been surprised, considering how he had followed me down the side of the cliff earlier.
Shockingly, he managed to clear the water completely. Landing on the far side of the river, he lay on his back catching his breath. Jonathan then decided to roll over, presumably in a drunken attempt to get to his feet. Unfortunately he lay precariously close to the bank of the river and the direction in which he chose to roll was toward the edge.
My eyes grew wide in horror as half his body dangled a few feet above the icy water below “Nick! Get Jonathan!” I yelled out in panic to my brother. Fortunately Nick grabbed him and hauled him a safe distance away before he fell in.
The rest of us walked inland a bit to a bridge and crossed safely that way. One of the few smart decisions made that night.
Eventually we made it back to Aunt Buggy’s place. We pretty much carried Jonathan the last kilometer. Shawn broke away from the group at one point to cut across a farmer’s field and somewhere along the way lost what remained of our box of wine. Nick rushed off to take care of his hypothermic leg, his pant leg now frozen stiff.
What I’ll remember
And as Mike and I sat in the hot tub, begging Jonathan to put his trunks back on; and as John Dalton drove around the backyard on a snowmobile, with Shawn riding on the back in nothing but his gotchies, hooting and hollering into the night sky, I thought to myself, “Man, we’re idiots.”
But man, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
When I look back at that Christmas, I’m not going to remember the stuff I got as gifts or what gifts I got for other people. I’m going to remember the great time I had walking along the beach with my cousins, laughing myself sick and making ridiculous toasts along the way. It’s memories over materialism. Friends over stuff.
For more stories like this one, check out my book: Simple(ton) Living: Lessons in Balance from Life’s Absurd Moments.