This week is Christmas. Many of you have all your shopping done, and it’s just a matter of waiting for the big day to come. Others of you are frantically trying to get the last gifts bought and arrangements made. And I know there are a handful of you that are reading this thinking to yourself “Christmas is this Saturday?” Don’t fake it, you know who you are.
For me growing up, one of our traditions was my sister and I would go to town on Christmas Eve morning with Dad. He would give each of us a twenty-dollar bill so she and I could buy gifts. Back then everything was on sale, and that twenty dollars bought a lot of gifts. Looking back on this fond tradition, I now know it had more to do with the lack of disposable income than it had to do with the fun of getting a deal.
One of the lessons I learned from these memorable Christmas Eve shopping trips are these words, “It’s not what you spend, it’s about what it means.” For many years this was just a phrase to me, but when I was in high school it became way more real.
The story starts at a Christmas party at a local lumberyard my sophomore year in high school. When I walked in the door there she was, one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. Yes, I was in love at first sight, and I knew she was right for me. No questions needed, I only needed to make the first move and make this happen. So, I walked up to the owner of the lumberyard and ask how much the perfect ice house in the corner cost. Like most young men who fall head-over-heels in love, my hopes and dreams were crushed. Yep, my new favorite ice house cost over seven hundred dollars that I didn’t have.
As the year went on, she sat in the corner where I got see her multiple times a week all summer long. The reason was because I wasn’t the only one who thought that she was beautiful but expensive, and that ice house continued to sit in the corner collecting dust and in about May she started to lower in price. This was when I realized there was hope again. So, I started dickering with the owner with the goal of getting the price down to match the amount of savings I could come up with before first ice that fall.
The magical day came about the middle of July that year. The salesman at the lumberyard that I had been working on this life changing deal with agreed to three hundred and fifty dollars. I let him know I would get paid over the weekend and I would be in Monday morning to bring in a check, so I and my first ice house could be together at last.
This was where this love story turned horribly wrong…downright criminal if you ask me. Monday morning came, and I proudly wrote out a check for the three hundred and fifty dollars and no cents. In the memo line I wrote “first ice house.” I was proud, giddy and a little twitter-pated to say the least as I walked in that same door I first saw my perfect ice house, to pay the bill. I walked up to the counter where the owner of the lumberyard was sitting, and I handed him the check. The second I saw him look at the check I knew something was wrong.
“Geremy, I didn’t know you came to an agreement on this with the salesman, and I sold it to some guys from Canada for the listed price.”
I was devastated. All that work… all the negotiations and I even wrote the check and now nothing! I looked at him and explained, “That isn’t fair!” He told me there was nothing he could do because my dream ice house was already paid for by someone else. What added insult to injury, that dumb Canadian took forever to pick up my ice house... the one he stole from me. In fact, one year after I first saw my dream ice house, she was still sitting in that same corner. So, I did what anyone would do; I made one last-ditch effort to get her back. I did so without any success.
A couple of days later, Dad gave my sister and I some cash so we could go into town for our annual Christmas Eve shopping spree. The only difference was he didn’t come with this time, which we simply thought was because we were old enough to drive ourselves. But the entire time I was shopping, all I could think about was how badly I wanted that ice house that was sitting in a corner at the lumberyard.
The next morning, we woke up and ate breakfast and started opening presents. I didn't have very much under the tree, which I expected because money was still kind of tight at that time. After a little bit, Dad handed me an envelope that had a card in it. As I opened the card, I saw that there was a check for a hundred dollars and I was pretty excited, but then Dad explained that that was a check that he wished he could give me for Christmas but really didn't have the money for it. He explained that if I wanted to, I could cash the check and he would make it work, but it would be better for the family if I accepted the thought of the gift and chose not to cash it.
A couple things to take into consideration: my dad and I were very tight in our relationship, and I knew where we were financially as a family, and that was why I had no problem tearing the check up and saying, “I don't need a hundred dollars.” It was then he gave me another envelope with a little quiz in it, and as I answered the questions in the quiz and kind of wandered around the house to find my new gift, it led me outside into the shed across the yard.
As I opened the big sliding door on the corrugated tin shed, I could see on the back wall; there she was. My Dad was the “dumb Canadian” who bought my icehouse from underneath me. I was elated. I ran into the house and gave him a great big hug. I could barely eat lunch that day, because I was so excited to get my brand-new icehouse loaded into the truck so I could go ice fishing with my very first icehouse.
What I truly started to understand that year was what Dad meant by “It’s not what you spend, it’s about what it means.” What Christmas is about is learning that love is a gift that is given with no strings attached and can never be earned. For me, that year in high school I did everything possible to get something that I wanted, but at the end of the day I learned the power in the meaning of a gift.
Geremy Olson grew up in the outdoors. After being burned as a volunteer firefighter, he had to figure out how to teach outdoor skills to his children from a wheelchair while learning to walk. Today he is an inspirational speaker, author, FCA Outdoors ND director, tournament director, video producer, wildfire consultant, and proud father of the owners of Missouri Secrets Tackle & Secrets to Fishing.