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Kitzmann column: Family tradition proves to be icy experience; one videotaped for future embarrassment

Like every family, mine has its share of long-standing traditions, most of which fly in the face of common sense and logical reasoning.

However, it has been my experience that the Kitzmann rituals usually seem to involve more bodily discomfort than those of other, more typical families. A good example of this is the Annual Spring Swim, which usually happens in late spring, as soon as the ice covering the lake we live on begins to recede from the shoreline.

This year, the lake happened to be sufficiently open in mid-May, more specifically last Saturday. It was announced that there was enough open water on the lake for complete submersion, so the entire family (besides my mother, she wants nothing to do with such idiocy) walked down the shoreline, where we noticed a light breeze from the north.

I stripped to my skivvies (which, to my embarrassment, had a Star Trek theme) and standing before the vast expanse of icy water and pure ice before me, briefly wondered why I had ever agreed to this in the first place. I braced myself for a major cardiovascular shock, and tried to drown out the chant of "do it, do it, do it..." that had begun and was steadily growing louder.

I managed to delay my fate, if only for a minute, by convincing my oldest brother, who was to be a part of the First Swim as well as I, to go first. I cringed as he ran through the frigid water, and was a bit surprised when he, rather than simply coming back to shore after total submersion, instead swam out a bit further and pulled himself up on the ice that marked the boundaries of our swimming hole.

Apparently, and previously unbeknownst to me, the rules had been changed. Rather than simply dunking ourselves in the water and running for dear life into the shower, it was now necessary for the participants to pull themselves up on the ice, bare-feet and everything, and dance an Irish jig. Then, and only then, could my brother and I swim back to shore and move on with our lives.

I was not pleased by this change in procedure, and was confident that my dad had my utter humiliation in mind when he altered the rules, but knew that it was too late to back out now. The light breeze had strengthened and was chilled by the mostly-frozen lake it had blown across before reaching me.

I stood on the sandy shore, just a couple of feet from the water, and deliberated upon my method of entry. Should I ease into the water, or just dive in, brave the shock, and get it over with? But there was no use pondering. That decision was made for me.

My then 5-year-old brother (he turned 6 last Thursday), had been watching this scene unfold, and upon seeing my brother heroically throw himself into the water, decided he too wanted to be a part of this Kitzmann tradition.

While no one was looking, he jumped into the deadly water himself, and made a run (swim, I should say) for the sea of ice just yonder, where my brother stood. By the time I noticed this, and I was the first to notice, he was already in water over his head, casually dog-paddling through the icy water, with seeming oblivion to the chunks of ice that came floating by him every once in a while.

In fear of his life, I dashed through the water and swept him up. When he cried, it was not because he was cold, but on the contrary, he was upset with me for having foiled his chance to be a "big-boy."

I deposited him on the shoreline, and decided that I might as well complete the ritual and get it over with, considering I was already wet to the lowest reaches of my underwear.

It became evident that I could not delay my plunge into the icy waters of doom any longer. There were no brothers left to go before me, the brother who had gone before me was gesturing for me to join him on the ice, and the chant ("do it, do it, do it...") was getting yet louder and now included bongo drums.

Overcome by the mounting pressure, I finally relented and dashed into the water. The water was cold, really cold, and when my legs were immersed and I was faced with dousing my torso area in the numbing ice water below me, I had to take a deep breath.

Think happy thoughts, go to your Happy Place, I told myself, but even that didn't help. The immersion of the midsection was just as excruciatingly painful as you men reading this column can imagine.

Even after less than five seconds in the water, I felt my leg muscles begin to seize. But, for reasons I do not understand, I managed to reach the ice platform where my brother stood, and began to climb aboard.

Unfortunately, I had some troubles getting onto the ice. Every time I would lay my stomach on the edge, it would break and I would fall into the water again. This accounted for some rather impressive chest scratches, which I see as a sort of badge of honor and reveal to people whenever my virility is put to question.

But I finally made it, and as soon as I got my bearings, struck a heroic pose for the video camera.

In order to get full credit for our endeavors, my brother and I did our Irish jigs, and then proceeded to walk around the ice a bit. I noticed that it was beginning to break into miniature icebergs, and in a sudden moment of inspiration, I found a reasonably large piece of free ice, and jumped on it.

My dad threw me a stick for steering purposes, and before long, I was cruising through the channel of open water like an Arctic version of Tom Sawyer. My brother soon joined me in the revelry, and before long, I had graduated from simply standing on a piece of ice and riding it like a raft, to actually jumping from one mini-iceberg to the next.

After my bare feet became so cold that they began to feel warm (a definite red flag), I rode my iceberg in to shore, and ran up to the house to shower. While I waited, I watched what my dad had filmed of the afternoon's fun.

He had everything, and I mean everything. The Star Trek underwear, the initially unsuccessful clamoring to get on the ice, the Irish jig, it was all there. I had the strange feeling that I would be seeing this footage again someday.

I know, just know that my parents are going to spring that proof of what I spent my free time doing in my freshman year at a very important time in my life, when I am surrounded by friends and family and am least expecting to have my wild, shameless teenage years made manifest to the general public.

After all, what are family traditions for?

Nathan Kitzmann is a freshman and is homeschooled.