When they were kids, Mark, Tom and one of their other brothers frequently spent part of their summers with Grandma and Grandpa Owens and Uncle Pat on land that’s been in the family for more than a century. .
What the guys told me sounded a bit like a Michigan version of Angela’s Ashes. At least it was for suburban Chicago kids.
Tom remembered having to mow the front lawn with a push mower. It would take him a full week. The lawn was that big. I guessed Tom had to start all over once he finished, like a little Sisyphus.
On hot days, the boys would strip to their undershorts and swim in a pond on the property. That was until their grandmother told them the pond held dead cows and nasty Northern Pike.
Mark recalled sweltering summers and sleeping on a window sill to keep cool. The now-empty, boarded house had a certain smell to it, too, as their uncle was a hoarder. And Tom showed me a piece of equipment with which a relative accidentally cut off a couple fingers.
Visiting on a cold, cloudy day in November just drove home the point: farming is a tough life, and we metro types should be damn thankful for those who do it.
We drove away from those memories and back to Tony’s for breakfast.
We even wound up sitting at the same table we had on or visit two days prior. Tom devoured a 1-pound bacon sandwich again. My ankles swelled just looking at him eat it.
I opted for a 12-egg veggie omelette. It may have been the healthiest item on the menu. Up for the challenge, I finished it and my toast with jam, too.
We ordered three pounds of cooked bacon to bring back home, then made our way to Frankenmuth.
We stopped at the latter, where Tom posed with a giant statue of Santa. I must say, Santa should have been a little taller or shorter, as Tom’s head lined up just below Santa’s waist. No wonder he’s a jolly old elf.
Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland is living proof there never was any war on CHRISTmas. Billed as the world’s largest Christmas store, Bronner’s draws about 2 million visits each year. The massive store holds 350 decorated trees and more than 3,000 items for sale. The grounds apparently feature elfin and reindeer burial mounds or a place where they put the naughty kids or a giant’s bra.
I almost got in trouble at Bronner’s a decade ago on a stop with another set of friends, during a summer vacation to nearby Bay City, Michigan.
They hand-decorate ornaments upon request at Bronner’s. Upon learning this, I went into improv mode that day and posited what it might be like if someone with Tourette’s Syndrome tried to place an order.
I may have blurted out “F… Christmas.” I had not noticed there was a little boy nearby. I apologized to the kid’s dad. The dad just glared. I apologized again. He said, “You think Tourette’s Syndrome is funny?”
We left the store.
This time, I worked to keep my mouth shut. Not that anyone would hear me. It was noisy and crowded, with customers milling about like friendly holiday zombies.
I was perplexed by the endless variety of ornaments.
Having Pope Francis on a bough seemed a good Catholic thing to do. And the Infant Jesus of Prague dresses Christmas fabulous anyway.
Little snowmen who look like me. That I get. But who would put a $22 bronze hippo on the tree? Or avocado halves? And where were the glass toast ornaments to go with the avocadoes?
Food was on my mind again, or rather it was making its way through my digestive system. I tried to go upon entering the store. One toilet had a dad and his kid. Through the side of the door, I could see another held a doofus using his phone while taking a crap. Tom used the third, so it would have felt weird following him on that throne.
Miffed, I thought I could walk it off with Pops and Mark, but the urge just got worse. Tom texted he was in Section 4. I needed a map to find it. Luckily, it held another bathroom.
I hurried through the ambling shoppers with an urgency the Chicago Bears could use this season. Finally, I found Tom – and the bathroom.
Task accomplished,and none too soon, I waited for Tom as he tried on a Santa suit.
He bought it, along with some hipster-ish beard beads. Sadly, they didn’t have the elf skirt or tights in my size.
Of course, we stopped once more at New Buffalo Bill’s for some carryout ribs and brisket. Our souvenirs came in foam containers and have big calorie counts.
Once back at Mark’s, Tom tried on the Santa suit for us – over his regular clothes just like Santa does.
I must say, Tom looked a lot like Nick Frost, who played Santa on Doctor Who a few years back in the episode Last Christmas. That made it a perfect look for Tom, an outfit for Christmas and a subtle homage to a show he has, on occasion, loved.
This could inspire a few Hallmark Countdown to Christmas Movies, I thought.
In Holiday Bargain Shopper, Tom plays a single dad Santa who is juggling a career while raising his grandchildren and their daffy dog. One Saturday, he meets a high tech CEO who spends her weekends secretly working at a Goodwill store. She helps him pick out holiday outfits for the kids’ Christmas pageant. He and the kids win her heart after a tragic accident involving the dog and diapers.
In Eggnog Will Be Served, Tom and I are naughty elves banished to Michigan by Santa for our antics. We earn our way back to the North Pole by helping a single, widowed mom rediscover the true meaning of Christmas.
In It’s the Suit, Tom is a down on his luck guy who finds true love after buying a Santa suit in Michigan. He uses it to visit sick children at the local hospital on Christmas morning. A pediatric nurse who just broke up with her boyfriend is taken by Santa Tom’s kindness.
Hey, all these plots are better than the one for Last Christmas.
Since movies take a lot of time to make, Tom and I headed to Rosie’s in East Dundee to lay the groundwork for where he could play Santa this year. Along with for the grandchildren, he’s lining up gigs at pubs, restaurants, sip and paint parties, bachelorette parties and even bar mitzvahs. We’re looking for just the right pairs of holiday boxer briefs.
I’m his elf and agent, which makes me like Rahm Emanuel’s brother, Ari. Contact me to get 10 percent off your booking. Hurry. Dates are filling fast.