Among the unfinished business at my house as 2012 approached the runway for an emergency crash landing – what with the last-minute Christmas-shopping snafus and an overzealous bulk eggnog purchase for which we are still paying, financially and spiritually – was this: We hadn’t yet awarded The Stewie.
The Stewie is a borrowed idea, a gift from a college roommate, a simple annual ritual for better living. In its purest form, the family gathers around the dinner table for a festive meal, each person bringing a story to tell of the stupidest thing they did all year. Thus the name.
Amusing self-delusions? Comic pratfalls? Zigged when you should have zagged? Some folks make New Year’s resolutions. At my house, all are fair game for The Stewie and its discriminating jury.
If memory serves, that college friend, Adam, shared the idea with me over a pizza at 3 a.m., just after we returned from Christmas break. The winner that year was his father, a law enforcement officer of national stature, who took the prize with the following tale. Summoned to New York City for a high-level job interview, he emerged from his hotel to discover in the harsh daylight of midtown Manhattan that he was wearing two different dress shoes. With minutes to spare, he spotted a men’s store and dropped several hundred dollars (keep the change) on some already overpriced footwear. (Pretty sure he got the job.)
Rarely are my mistakes so expensive, but I’d swear I’ve won every Stewie my family has awarded. My wife and I disagree about this. But, for one thing, she rarely does anything dumber than lock her keys in the car or house once or twice a year. She says she won the time she called me at work to bail her out and I screeched home to discover that one of our kids had broken in through the bathroom window and was walking out the open front door. Hmm. Maybe.
It helps my chances that I chair the jury and set the rules. And until my children are teenagers (our oldest is 12) in need of some purgative humiliation and my wife has safely exited the excusable childbearing years, I’m the only legitimate nominee.
Really, how can you beat the time I jolted awake at 2:30 in the morning to remember the eggs I’d left to boil before going to bed? I sailed down the stairs to find the kitchen flickering with eerie light and sulfurous eggs rocketing toward a ceiling that looked like the surface of the moon.
Then there was the day I drove to Virginia to see my parents and picked up speeding tickets in Indiana and Ohio, as if someone had sprayed my vehicle with the scent of fresh donuts. As I pulled away from the second stop, grateful that the first hadn’t yet entered the system, I imagined myself collecting citations from all 50 states like souvenir spoons.
But I’m proudest of my award for 2012, now that the results are in.
The Fourth of July was hotter than blazes, so in the afternoon we drove with some friends to our favorite spot on Lake Michigan. Grand Mere State Park has a stretch of beach that’s just lovely and remote enough for a Corona beer commercial. You can’t park within a mile of it, so you stroll down a pleasantly shady forest path and ascend a ramp of soft sand, emerging from the canopy into a swath of dunes.
We sought escape from the crowds and Grand Mere delivered. We even considered waiting to leave until dark, just to see if we could catch the fireworks from the nearby city of St. Joseph. But around 8 o’clock the sand flies began to bite, so we gave up on that idea, changed the toddler’s diaper and packed up our coolers, towels, sand toys and kids to begin the trek back to the car – and relief from the flies.
The forest path was now dark, so out came the flashlights. But any hope I’d had of leaving the flies in the sand was dashed when they followed me off the dunes to be joined by swarms of mosquitoes, gnats and mayflies. People complained, but I was getting the worst of it. And everyone was moving too slow. I scooped up 2-year-old Jack and made a break for it, child braced in one arm and a heavy cooler under the other, cursing my body chemistry and wondering aloud to God why every insect in the state of Michigan had abandoned its post and reconvened on my head.
A half-mile later, arms breaking, I reached the parking lot in twilight and found the Lord had answered my prayer. I set Jack down on the asphalt and discovered, in the sand bucket dangling eight inches from my face, the diaper I’d changed not 15 minutes before.
So as we embark upon another brave new year, I’d like to thank the academy. . . .
John Nagy is associate editor of this magazine. Contact him at email@example.com.