Matthew and Patty met by chance at a skating rink in Toronto, Ontario. Matthew, a former hockey player, was recovering from an injury brought on by a hard body check at the last game that he played.
He was known as “The Bull” by his teammates and fans because of his ability to knock down any player that got in his way. His reputation preceded him, and a few players from opposing teams had a grudge against him.
One such player, organized an ambush with two other players against The Bull that sent him to hospital with a broken rib, damage to two of his vertebrae, and a concussion. Matthew was told that until he was fully recovered, he was off the team.
This was devastating to him. Hockey was his life, and without it, Matthew felt like a nobody. His road to recovery included keeping up on his skating skills, even though it was against doctor’s orders.
As he skated around the rink at Nathan Phillips Square, he began to become lightheaded, and before he knew it, everything started to go black. He felt his body make impact against something, then he fell to the ground.
When he came to, a woman in her early twenties was kneeling beside him. She had a bruise on her forehead. Matthew put two-and-two together and asked the girl if he was the cause of the bruise. He was.
Patty introduced herself and told him not to worry about it. She said that she was bound to collide with something before the night was over anyway. They both laughed. Matthew tried to sit up but became dizzy again.
Patty laid her arm on the ice beneath Matthew’s head and told him to rest until the medics arrive. He could feel the warmth of her skin penetrating through the thick winter jacket. It felt soothing to him.
Matthew introduced himself as well, but she already knew. She claimed to be a hockey fan and went to all of his home games, plus a few away games. Matthew was impressed. He had met so-called, “fans” before, but she seemed to be the genuine article.
After the paramedics looked Matthew over, they suggested he set up an appointment with his family doctor as soon as possible and avoid strenuous activity. They helped him to his feet and left him alone with Patty.
Wanting to make up for a terrible first impression, Matthew asked Patty out on a date. He suggested dinner and a show, and Patty accepted gleefully.
Two days later, Matthew prepared for his date with Patty. He dressed in an emerald green button-up shirt with a pair of black jeans. He even splashed on a drop of L’Homme cologne by Yves Saint Laurent for the full effect.
Because of his concussion, he wasn’t permitted to drive, so Patty agreed to pick him up instead. She pulled up in front of his apartment at 4:30 PM, and Matthew was still trying to get dog hair off his black pants. He loved his dog, Lil Bowow to no end, but hated how much hair he shed.
Looking at her forehead, Matthew noticed that the bruise had nearly healed completely, which was a relief to him.
They drove to Aloette Restaurant on Spadina Avenue for their 5:00 PM reservation. It was a stylish bistro with wooden booths, and wooden stools by the bar. They took a seat in one of the booths, and moments later, a waitress was there asking if they wanted to start off with a drink. Matthew ordered a Sprite and was pleasantly surprised when Patty ordered a pint of beer.
They each ordered burgers, and loaded them up. Matthew felt so relaxed around Patty. She didn’t seem to have any apprehensions being on a first date with Matthew. She was just being herself. It felt to him as if they had known each other for ages.
Following dinner, they went to the movie theatre. Matthew figured she would want to see a chick-flick, so he suggested a romantic comedy called, “Ticket to Paradise,” but she wanted to see and action flick or a horror film, so they decided on a horror called, “The Menu” instead. Matthew tended to jump more often than Patty did, and she didn’t let him forget it either.
It was getting close to Christmas, so Patty invited Matthew out to her family’s cottage for their annual Christmas bash. He gladly accepted and asked his friend to dog sit while he was away.
The cottage was located in Algonquin Park, almost four hours north of Toronto on Cache Lake. The winter roads were treacherous, but Patty seemed to drive them like it was clear and dry.
When they pulled up to the driveway, it was more than what Matthew expected. It was a massive log cabin that sat forty feet from the edge of the lake. Flames from the fireplace inside glimmered through the front windows. As they exited the vehicle, Matthew could hear laughter and singing coming from inside.
There appeared to be several cars in the driveway, and Matthew suddenly got nervous. They had just met, and her family probably knew nothing about him. Patty could sense his apprehension and squeezed his hand tightly then smiled.
As they entered the front door, Patty called out, “Where’s my bear hug?” Seconds later, a burly man came running around the corner. He had a thick grey beard and stood almost seven feet tall. The man ran toward Matthew and Patty. Matthew quickly jumped out of the way as the man wrapped his arms around Patty and lifted her off the ground.
After the man placed her back down, Patty caught her breath and said, “Dad, this is Matthew. I invited him up here for Christmas. I hope you don’t mind. Matthew, this is my dad, but you can call him Barney, or bear; that’s what his friends call him.”
Barney welcomed Matthew to his cottage and brought them into the other room to introduce him to everyone else. The first was Patty’s mother, Jackie, a petit woman in her early fifties. Then came all of her aunts, uncles, cousins, and her sister, Lori.
They spent the next couple of hours by the fire singing Christmas carols and telling stories about their past. Matthew felt right at home. As the sun went down, they all bundled up and grabbed flashlights and lanterns and went on a hike into the forest.
Matthew wasn’t much of an outdoorsman. He loved being outside but wasn’t used to being around the quiet of the forest. Where he lived, sirens would race passed every few minutes, but in the woods, all he heard was the wind and the occasional owl or wolf.
They tromped through the deep snow into the darkness of the forest. No other footprints were visible, so Matthew thought that if they got lost, they could follow their tracks back. After about an hour, they started making their way back to the cottage.
The hike took a lot of energy out of Matthew, and he was ready to get some sleep, but everyone else was still in a partying mood, so they pulled out the board games and chose Pictionary to play.
They played guys against girls, and Patty’s team was much better at it than the men, and Matthew had difficulty staying focused. Finally, after a little more than an hour, they called it quits and people began to get ready for bed.
Matthew followed Patty and her mom up the stairs. She opened up one of the bedrooms and said, “You two can sleep here. I hope you don’t mind sharing a double bed.” Matthew was shocked that she was trusting her daughter to sleep with a man she just met.
Patty grabbed his hand and pulled him inside. She kissed her mom on the cheek and said goodnight, then shut the door. Without hesitation, Patty began to get undressed, and Matthew turned to face the wall.
“Is there something on that wall, Matthew?” she asked.
“Um, no. I just wanted to give you some privacy while you changed,” he replied.
“Awe, that’s so sweet, but there is no need to play shy here. Turn around.”
Wearing nothing but thermal socks, Patty climbed into bed and under the covers.
“Well, are you going to stand there all night?” she asked. “Get undressed and join me!”
Apprehensively, Matthew began to undress. He stopped at his boxers and climbed into bed. Patty draped an arm across Matthew’s chest, kissed him on the cheek, and said goodnight. With her pressed up against him, Matthew wasn’t sure if he should feel aroused or nervous that someone may walk in. Eventually, he dozed off to sleep.
As the sun came up, the door swung open. Patty’s sister walked in and sat on the edge of the bed saying, “Time to get up, you two. Mom has breakfast cooking.” Then she left the room with the door wide open.
Patty was the first to get out of bed, oblivious to the fact the door was open. Her cousin walked past and called in for them to hurry up, and all she did was tell him that they would be down soon. Matthew couldn’t believe how laid back everyone was there. Patty told Matthew that he better get up and dressed if he wanted breakfast.
When the two of them reached the kitchen, the rest of the family had already gathered and were gobbling down bacon, eggs, sausages, toast, with coffee and juice to wash it down. It smelled delicious to Matthew. He wasn’t used to meals like this.
After breakfast was finished, Matthew offered to help clear the table, but Patty’s mom slapped his hand and said, “You go sit down. I got this.” Instead, he joined the men in the living room. All of them were there except for Patty’s father, Barney.
When Matthew inquired where Barney was, one of Patty’s uncles said that he was out on the ice preparing for their annual tradition, a polar bear dip. Matthew knew what a polar bear dip was, but he had never taken part in one before. The thought of willingly jumping into ice-cold water did not appeal to him.
At the back of the house, Patty prepared the ten-person hot tub for use. “Now, that’s what I’m talking about,” Matthew thought. Hot water feels much better than cold. He could sit back and watch them all jump into the frigid lake while he relaxes in the heat.
When the hole was cut into the ice, Barney called for everyone to gather by the edge of the lake. He had made the hole big enough that everyone could jump in at once. Matthew told Patty that he would be waiting in the hot tub until she could join him, but she insisted that he join them.
After a few minutes of convincing words and soft kisses, he agreed and joined them by the lake. One-by-one, the entire family began removing their clothes. Matthew asked Patty, “What are you doing?” to which she replied, “Well, you don’t expect to jump in there with your clothes on, do you?”
Everyone had stripped down and began running toward the water, but Matthew still stood fully dressed on the snowy ground. Patty ran back and began removing his clothes for him. He struggled at first, but eventually conceded, then ran with Patty toward the water. By then everyone else was on their way to the hot tub.
Matthew couldn’t help but stare at all the naked bodies running past him. It was like a bizarre dream, but he had awakened from his stupor quickly once his body entered the water. He quickly jumped out and was soon joined by Patty. They ran to the hot tub and climbed inside.
The family sat around the hot tub like they were sitting in the living room, talking, and laughing. Nobody seemed to care that they were letting it all hang out in front of a stranger. The only discussion about their bodies throughout the entire time, was a mention of a mole on Cousin Harry’s left butt cheek. Patty’s mom seemed to think it looked Cancerous and suggested he get it checked.
After everyone was starting to prune up, they grabbed their clothes and headed back inside to sit by the fire while Patty’s mom made hot chocolate and a fresh pot of coffee.
That afternoon, the men, including Matthew, went out in search of a tree to cut down. They found a seven-foot-tall spruce pine that was nearly perfect, and with Barney on one end of the crosscut saw, and his brother on the other side, they began to cut.
Back at the cabin, the men dragged the tree through the door, leaving pine needles across every inch of floor they crossed. They hoisted the tree up and set it into the tree stand. They ladies then began unloading bins filled with Christmas decorations and lights and placing them with precision around the tree.
Once they finished, everybody huddled together and gazed at the beauty of the tree. Christmas carols played in the background, and Matthew thought of what Christmas would look like at his parent’s house at that moment.
His father was likely drunk as a skunk and passed out in his recliner, while his mother sat and watched re-runs and soap operas on television. The only Christmas tree would be a twelve-inch-high white ceramic tree with plastic lights. Christmas dinner would consist of leftovers or fast food.
Meanwhile, he could smell the turkey cooking in the oven, with fresh baked apple pies cooling on the counter. Everything looked and smelled great, and with Patty by his side, it was perfect.
What he had experienced with this family, although unconventional, was more like a traditional Christmas that what he was accustomed to, and he was having a wonderful time.