My older brother, Dik, believed in living large. He was in equal parts impetuous, generous and silly, characteristics that surrounded him with a celebratory, party atmosphere. His nickname was Zuk, a variation on the name of Dr. Seuss characters who loved orange and liked their bread butter side down. The name was perfect for my big, red-haired brother.
Among the celebrations in Zuk’s life, Christmas was where he really brought his A-game. For Zuk, Christmas started right after Thanksgiving, Black Friday. He approached that day with military precision, using his training from his Air Force days. He would scour the newspaper ads, finding the biggest bargains and planning a route from store to store where he could make the most acquisitions.
He removed the back seats from his Ford van to make room for the Christmas loot. He bombed around town in the early hours, moving with spirit and determination through the throngs of shoppers to find the best and biggest bargains of the season. He would grab four of five of the same items and fill his cart to overflowing. He relished the thrill of the hunt and bagging the bargains. He called it his retail therapy.
Zuk was living in our family cottage in West Bend. The cottage has been in our family since the 1950s and had been converted from a rustic summer place to a three-story year-round home. Our tradition was to stay in Eau Claire on Christmas Eve for church and to exchange personal presents, with Santa presents on Christmas morning. In late morning, we would load up our van and drive down to the cottage for a “second” Christmas.
Our arrival was always exciting because we were typically the last to arrive. There was lots of food and a wide variety of Christmas music, e.g. “Elvis Christmas” and “Mambo Christmas”. Soon after our arrival, the gift giving would commence.
Each family member except Zuk would give one present to each of the others. Then Zuk would start his holiday deluge of presents. Everyone would get three or four or five gifts. Small TVs, tool sets and hardware doodads for the men, sets of kitchenware or home decorations for the women. But it was the kids who really got the jackpot. He would give a complete Barbie dream house or the complete fashion set. One year he got the kids an entire HO gauge train set with two trains, a bridge and a set of buildings. His generosity was monumental, and he had so much fun watching the amazement in all of our eyes as he passed out the goodies. He really was a modern day Santa.
We look back now on those incredible Christmases together with deep fondness. They were special family times that will never be repeated. Sadly, my brother contracted lung cancer and passed away after an 18-month battle a few years ago. We miss him deeply, but we will always remember his legacy of joyous celebration and remarkable generosity.