Stories of Christmas past... 

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All I've got for Christmas is a six pack. So here goes.

I can't say I really remember much about my third worst Christmas. I was young enough the details got lodged somewhere in my developing brain where bad memories go to be forgotten until decades later when a knock on the head dislodges them and intensive therapy is required to repress them again. But I do remember the life lesson of that unfortunate Christmas.

I was younger than six. How young? I'm not sure. I can't remember what I asked for that Christmas, most likely everything in the final 50 pages of the department store catalogue I'd memorized. Naturally, I knew I wouldn't get everything but hopefully I'd get whatever gewgaws most captured my flighty imagination.

My mother chipped away at Christmas shopping bit by bit. What she'd bring home, she'd hide. I was very clever at finding her hiding places. Too clever apparently. But not clever enough.

Christmas morning arrived. I scampered out in my PJs, performed a quick inventory of the unwrapped Santa presents and an inconclusive count of wrapped treasures piled under the tree. The morning passed; the orgy of delight waned. And then it dawned on me. "Hey, what about my (detail forgotten)?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," my mother replied.

"I saw it in the closet where you hid it," I whined.

"I know you did. I took it back. Perhaps that'll teach you not to snoop."

It did. I never snooped again.

My second worst Christmas ever happened when I was eight years old. That autumn, we'd moved from snowy, freezing Iowa to the sere desert of Tucson, Ariz. I waited patiently through October and less patiently through November. Stress — which had only recently been discovered by Hans Selye at McGill University and the Université de Montréal — began to manifest itself in me sometime during the second week of December.

"Isn't it ever going to snow?" I cried.

"No, we live in a desert," my father answered.

I muttered something about stupid career choices. He reminded me we'd moved to the desert because my five-year-old brother had life-threatening allergies and asthma and if we hadn't, he probably would have died. I muttered something about always having wanted to be an only child... not loud enough for him to hear; I wasn't that dumb.

It seemed pretty clear to me that there was no chance in hell Santa was going to come to a place with no snow. Worse yet, our house had no chimney. No fireplace upon which to hang stockings with care. And in what I was pretty sure was the ultimate abomination, my parents had purchased an aluminium Christmas tree. Its dorky branches ended in a silvery pom-pom and it was hung with bizarre, fabric-covered balls presaging the unfortunate home decor trend that would become macramé.

It all worked out, of course. But I was a wreck. I think that was the Christmas I started to sneak my father's liquor.

But the worst Christmas ever was the year my very first live-in girlfriend surprised me with a — wait for it — pet monkey. There are times in all our lives we've received, shall we say, inappropriate or unwelcome gifts. None of those times reach the heights of receiving a pet monkey though. You'll probably have to take my word for that.

The monkey, largely wild, knew exactly three tricks. Masturbate, throw feces at you and bite. Needless to say, the amusement factor of those tricks faded quickly. And to the extent I wasn't amused by the monkey, Fartin' Franklin, my rescued-from-the-street cat was really not amused.

The monkey lasted through New Years Day, at which point I needed a hazmat team to come in if I ever wanted to get my damage deposit back. I strong-armed the owner of the pet store who sold my now ex-girlfriend the damn thing to take him back. Christmas was not merry.

But my glass is usually half full so... my third best Christmas ever was the first orphans' Christmas I threw when I was in university. There was a turkey that might not have totally passed a FoodSafe inspection, but was heartily consumed nonetheless, enough side dishes people brought to keep me eating into the New Year, a keg of beer, untold bottles of incredibly cheap wine, carolling, snowball fights, party favours and a punchbowl that had been laced with something of a lysergic nature that kept the party going strong until Dec. 28.

A good time was had by all, remembered by no one.

My second best Christmas was the year I got a new bike. Just before Christmas I'd won a bike in a draw at a shoe store. It was a serviceable one-speed beater of a bike, a lot like the old, worn-out bike I had. But it wasn't the bike I really wanted. That bike was one of the new 10-speed bikes with drop handlebars, all European and racy, albeit made by Schwinn in Chicago.

The bike I won was worth about half the price of a 10-speed. The guy at the bike store reluctantly offered a credit toward the 10-speed. The rest was just a matter of wearing my parents down. I was the first kid I knew who had a 10-speed. Ironically, it took me over a year to figure out how to use the gears the way they'd been designed to be used. It was my first experience owning something I wasn't smart enough to figure out. Not my last.

But the best Christmas ever — except for the one that'll happen this Friday, which is always the best Christmas — was the first Christmas I ever spent far from home. Not my parent's home; my home. It was a holiday Christmas.

Packing our touring bikes, my Perfect Partner and I flew to Miami. It gets better; I promise. We drove the bikes to Key Largo, dropped the rental car and spent two weeks beach camping and making our way slowly down to Key West, partying with other campers along the way, snorkelling the warm waters and, after a long, hot ride over Seven Mile Bridge, rolling into a snowbird-packed campground on Little Duck Key just in time for a Christmas feast the snowbird grannies had spent days preparing.

It all ended on the second floor of a B&B on Duval Street, conveniently located next to the only bakery in town open Christmas morning. Hot pain au chocolat, mimosas, a street festival and rousing game of beach volleyball and then the long, sad flight back to Toronto.

OK, so it didn't have a happy ending. But it was the best... until tomorrow's.

Merry Christmas.



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