By Tim Whyte
The clogs were just hideous.
And, my friend Anthony wore them proudly. He’d picked them up on one of our group camping trips to Buellton. He loved those clogs, I’m guessing because they were comfortable. It couldn’t possibly have been for the fashion statement they made.
Anthony and his wife Delores had started out as my dad’s friends — Dad and Anthony had been coworkers — and they became good family friends, too, joining us on our family camp-outs.
One of our favorite places to camp was at Flying Flags RV Resort in Buellton — and by “camp” I don’t exactly mean we were roughing it. We all started in tent trailers and graduated to fully equipped RV’s over the years. The RV resort is a nice place to park your motorhome as a launching point for Santa Barbara County wine tasting excursions.
In between wine tastings we would take side trips into the nearby Danish village of Solvang.
There, we would find specialty shops — the Christmas store, open year-round, and the knife shop, and boutiques for the ladies…
And a store that sold authentic looking wooden clogs.
They were slip-ons. They looked like the real deal. And they were perfectly awful.
Anthony wore them like badges of honor for his feet.
During our group campouts, we would ride him mercilessly about those clogs. We would tease him at dinner. We would tease him at campfire. We would tease him while he was cleaning their motorhome — I don’t want to call Anthony and Delores “neat freaks,” but let’s just say, next to them, I am a “dirt freak.”
We were relentless, teasing Anthony about those wooden clogs.
Over the years, as kids got older and schedules got more hectic, the group campouts started to spread further and further apart. It occurs to me that this is kind of a metaphor for a lot of friendships. I don’t do as well as I should at staying in touch, with friends, and even family.
There are several family-and-friend traditions that have been backburnered in recent years, and I’d like to change that. (Group trips to Disneyland at Christmas. Mom — wine tasting this year, for sure. Roland and Kevin — we have GOT to go fishing next summer, whether the kids can join us or not, and if we can’t manage to get all the way up to the Sierras, let’s go somewhere closer…)
This sense of “friendship drift” was brought home to me a couple weeks ago when Anthony and Delores informed us they had sold their home and are moving to Arizona.
We haven’t been seeing as much of them these past few years — the occasional dinner or birthday party, and the holidays. We’ve been busy. They’ve been busy. And time flies whether you want it to or not.
We will see them this Christmas Day, as we usually do, when we stop at my dad’s house before heading to my mom’s place for dinner. Then the next day, Anthony and Delores are heading out, part of the mass exodus of people seeking a place to enjoy their retirement years that isn’t quite so California.
The news got me flashing back to Anthony’s clogs.
We were all sitting around the campfire one night, recapping the day’s adventures, and Anthony came clomping out to the fire in his clunky wooden clogs.
The ribbing proceeded in haste. I forget the exact barbs, but we were not exactly known for our restraint. And some adult beverages were in the mix. We rode Anthony like a rented mule for wearing those clogs.
Finally, he’d had enough.
Anthony stood up. He stepped out of his clogs. He said something along the lines of, “I can’t believe the treatment I get from my so-called friends just for wearing these damn clogs.”
He tossed them into the fire, then stormed off, disappearing around a corner of one of the motorhomes, presumably to go be alone with his thoughts and wonder why he ever got mixed up with a group of miscreants like us.
I’ve never witnessed a hush of silence descend upon a group campfire so suddenly.
My wife and I exchanged looks of shock, jaws dropping, aghast at what had just transpired.
Someone, I think it was my sister, said, “Maybe we finally went too far.”
“Should we go talk to him?” someone else asked.
And then I looked over at Anthony’s bride, Delores. And her shoulders were heaving.
Not with tears. But with suppressed laughter.
Anthony had gotten us, and he’d gotten us good, and Delores was in on it. It was the best kind of practical joke — relatively harmless, and months in the making. I’m sure he wore those clogs even more than he wanted to, just to set the bait.
He returned to the fire with a new pair of shoes and we all had a good laugh at our own expense, while those awful clogs were reduced to ashes.
I’ll miss my friends Anthony and Delores when they move to Arizona after Christmas Day, and I’ll try to do better at keeping time and distance from being an obstacle, not just with them, but with family and friends alike. There are so many great campfire stories to tell, both from the past and those yet to be crafted.
Plus, all these years later, I still owe Anthony a payback for the clog prank.
Merry Christmas, everyone.
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays.