A Whittaker Christmas


            I haven’t played basketball since my micro-discectomy. It was in the high school gym, my home court. I played one too many games with the youngsters. They could still run and shoot. I was sore that night. I took some Advil and went to bed. When I woke up the next morning I could hardly move. The surgery happened a week later. I’ve been slightly hesitant to play since then.
            But it’s Christmas two years later and old friends are in town. John has access to the gym and if I come, we have enough players for fives. I spit-shine the soles of my shoes. I wonder if I can still dunk. Better not try. I’m liable to hurt myself.
            Climbing and skiing muscles are different than shooting and jumping and defending muscles. Basketball is hard. I can’t shoot like I used to. Could I ever really shoot? Still, my height and passing abilities make me a presence on the floor. Thankfully I have someone to pass to. Those youngsters can shoot the lights out.
            By the end of three games I can hardly walk, but the feeling is exhilarating. High-fives and handshakes all around. I remember why I used to love this game. For a moment as I’m walking to the car I actually entertain the idea of working on my shot, getting in shape for basketball again. Maybe it will make me a stronger climber.
Joss on the gondola at Sunshine.
            Mom, Dad, Joss and I drive to Canada the next day. We’re in the car for over 13 hours before we reach the moonlit Rockies. I feel like I’m a baby dinosaur breaking out of it’s egg every time we stop for gas. I make croaking sounds as I reach my fists towards the sky, stretching. My ankles and calves are painfully tight. I have a blood-filled blister that covers the whole bottom of my big toe. How am I going to ski? Basketball is hard. Skiing is hard too.
The Canadian Rockies
            Soft groomers make it easier. While Baker, Crystal and Hurricane Ridge are getting hammered with storms, Sunshine is getting blazed with…sunshine. It hasn’t snowed here for weeks. The horizon is incredible—Assiniboine a glittering thumbs-up. Moguls, groomers, jumps are the options. Joss and I play on everything for the next three days. The terrain remains surprisingly interesting. The weather remains blue.
Pops is still skiing at age 82.
            And then its Christmas and we’re opening presents with cousins and uncles. We dip strawberries, mandarins, pineapple and angel-food cake in chocolate fondue. Toddlers and teens play with trains and video games. The rest of us play Rummoli for nickels. Joss wins it all. We sip Barrel Monkey wine—a dark pot-au-feu of grapes. Uncle Graham says that’s how all wine is in Canada. Everyone laughs. A room full of chuckleheads.
Joss shredding air.
            Eric, a 15 year-old cousin, is quite the athlete. He’s a star linebacker and he says he plays basketball to train for football. He’s a starting forward on his high school team. I remember when organized sports were life. The holidays can be about remembering and revisiting. I’ve known Eric since before he could walk. I looked after him while his parents were skiing one day. We watched a cartoon about a caterpillar. He didn’t pay much attention though, just crawled all over the couch. I imagine he would be a good climber, but he’s into adventures of a different sort.
Sunset near Banff.
            What will it be like when I’m visiting his house for Christmas? When our parents are either very old or already gone? Will we play the same games and follow the same traditions? Will there be the same enormous mound of presents under the tree? These types of questions come into my mind fairly often this time of year. They can be both fun and daunting to ponder. In the end, I can’t find any answers because there are no answers, or maybe there are too many answers, which is basically the same thing. Then my head starts to hurt and I remember one answer that I always like. I get off my ass and go out for a ski.


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