One of the reasons that we can commiserate with Clark W. Griswold in Christmas Vacation and the Parker family in A Christmas Story is that most of us have similar stories to tell regarding the holidays. Maybe not as dramatic as electrocuting the cat or a squirrel running rampant through your house (Christmas Vacation) or dogs breaking into your house and stealing the Christmas turkey (A Christmas Story), but to you and your family, just as humorous (and they’re especially humorous if they did not seem so at the time, but you’re only able to laugh about it after the passage of time…you know, when a story starts with “Remember in 2004 when…”). These stories that don’t involve “real” tragedy, but family drama, are the ones that make the holidays so special.
When I began to write this post, I thought I’d simply share a few funny holiday stories from the internet machine with you. However, I decided to “spice” it up a bit by giving you a holiday version of three lies and one truth. If you’re unfamiliar…many groups, meeting for the first time, conduct ice breaker activities to assist in getting to know your fellow group members. This game involves telling the group three true facts about yourself and one lie and then seeing if the group can discern the lie. In that vein, I give you one true Christmas story that I actually lived through and three, that while true in that they happened to someone else, I did not witness. At the end of the post I reveal my “true” story.
What the Hell Stinks?
Back when I was in college (I think it was Christmas 1986) when I was young and stupid, but didn’t realize it, the “The Great Skunk Incident,” as it is referred to by my family, occurred. My parents lived in (and still do) a very rural area of central Pennsylvania (if you’re familiar with central Pennsylvania you understand that all of it is “very rural”) and their home and yard were frequented by various forms of wildlife…deer, raccoons, opossums, the occasional weasel, and, the antagonist of this story, skunks.
Anyway, Christmas morning dawned as any other, with the smell of turkey, plenty of coffee, opening presents, and dad running up from the basement screaming “There’s a %$#* skunk down there!” I, in my infinite humane wisdom, came up with the plan of cornering the beast, wrapping it in a thick moving blanket (to prevent the inevitable spray from funkifying the house) and then depositing it safely outside. So down into the bowels of the house I went, armed with a whisk broom and a blanket and wearing oven mitts in case it tried to bite, and chemistry goggles (mom didn’t want me getting sprayed in the eyes).
I must admit, all went as planned…almost. I used the broom to force it into a corner and then tossed it aside as I wrapped the monster in the thick packing blanket. However (there’s always a “however”), my faith in the blanket to absorb the skunk’s pungent spray was ill placed. It, me, the entire basement, back porch and thus, the whole house now smelled like skunk roadkill times 100 with the rest of the family set to arrive imminently. Long story short…the skunk escaped unharmed, my 12-year old niece stepped out of her family’s car a promptly enquired, “What the hell stinks?”, mom packed up the dinner and moved the feast to my sister’s house, and I spent Christmas alone, scrubbing the basement, and myself, with every cleaning solution known to man.
Grandpa’s on Fire.
This Christmas story could have ended badly, but due to some quick thinking on the part of my otherwise useless Uncle Bob, the family can still laugh about it. The background of this story is a bit fuzzy as it happened in either 1973 or ’74, so bear with me. I was quite young. Anyway, it’s a well-known fact in my extended family that mom is obsessed with candles, perhaps to the point of needing therapy, and the advent of Yankee Candle has not helped matters. The holidays only served to exacerbate my mom’s psychosis. Christmas candles seemed to metastasize exponentially as the big day approached, both lit and unlit.
I remember part of the Christmas tradition at our home was to pose for a family picture at the dining room table prior to gorging ourselves and the family patriarch was tasked with taking said picture which was my maternal grandfather until he passed back in 1990. I can’t remember exactly what he was wearing that day, but my mom, when the story is retold, informs me that it was an oversized wool sweater which assisted in the pending near-tragedy.
Grandad, as was usually the case, had to retreat a bit in order to fit the entire family into the frame of his vintage top-down view camera (the top flipped open and you viewed the frame by looking down into the viewfinder). However (there’s always a however), he, unbeknownst to him, retreated just a tad too far and the dozens of candles mom had lit on top of the buffet proceeded to ignite the stray fibers of that oversized wool sweater. The one voice I clearly remember from the ensuing cacophony of noise was that of my older brother who simply looked up and nonchalantly stated, “Grandpa’s on fire.” But it was my, here-to-for, shiftless Uncle Bob who saved the day by dosing my burning grandfather with two glasses of beer, containers of which were never too far from his reach…according to my mother.
Who Knew an Iguana Could Run so Fast?
This is another “return from college and create havoc Christmas tale.” I returned home for Christmas break to discover that my younger brother was now the proud owner and caretaker of a rather obnoxious iguana…not the most cuddly of pets. Andrew kept the green, three-foot long (mostly tail) reptile in a large glass aquarium complete with a heat lamp to keep the cute little fellow (not sure of its gender, btw) nice and toasty in my parent’s notoriously cold house…my penny-pinching mom never set the thermostat above 65 degrees.
As soon as I crossed the threshold, Andrew came running and asked if I’d like to see his iguana. I wasn’t sure of what he meant by “iguana,” but I indulged him and hoped for the best. Well, it turned out “iguana” actually meant a real iguana and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. First mistake: placing Iggy’s (yes, that was its name) heat lamp on the newly laid carpet in my brother’s room. Result: a perfectly round six-inch circle of melted carpet which was discovered by my mother who tracked down the offending odor of said melting carpet.
But wait, it gets better. This particular day was unseasonably warm for late-December. Second mistake: taking Iggy out onto the back deck without his leash (yes, Iggy had a leash) to enjoy the warm sun. However (there’s always a however), Andrew failed to inform me (yes, I’m shifting some of the blame his way) that iguanas use their long tails as whip-like weapons. Result: adorable Iggy unexpectedly whipped me in the face with his tail as I held him. I promptly dropped him in shock and Iggy promptly jumped off the deck, hauled ass across the backyard and disappeared into the woods never to be seen again as Andrew looked on in dismay. And all I could say in my own defense was “Who knew an iguana could run so fast?”
I Almost Killed You with Caramel on Christmas Eve.
My significant other and I were spending our first Christmas as husband and wife alone together. I was in the Army and stationed in Germany when my wife joined me there soon after we were married in April of 1990. We lived in military housing which consisted of a miniscule apartment with a miniscule kitchen in which my wife planned on cooking her first Christmas dinner for two. She wanted to get a jump on the cooking by preparing my favorite dessert, bonafi, a sort of banana pie with caramel and a whipped topping, a day early.
It was Christmas Eve as I walked into that small apartment after attending a military ceremony that required me to wear my dress uniform with ribbons and medals (admittedly few in number) and dress shirt and epaulets and all the trimmings. As soon as I walked in I was assailed by an odor that smelled like burnt metal and impending doom. I quickly deduced that it was emanating from our tiny kitchen and moved to investigate. I remember seeing a small pot sitting on our gas stove with a can, and by can, I mean not something dumped from a can into the pot. Whatever was in the can was still in the can which was in a pot that was sitting atop a flame. I was somewhat confused. Where the hell was my angelic wife and why was there a can cooking in a pot unattended?
As I stood in our cramped kitchen pondering these existential questions, the can proceeded to explode. It turns out that the can contained condensed milk that when heated, IN WATER, caramelizes and it is this caramelized condensed milk that is the key ingredient in bonafi. The resulting explosion covered everything, me, the stove, fridge, walls, ceiling, floor, and the lone window, with semi-solid caramel. So there I stood, in my dress uniform, covered in quickly solidifying liquid caramel, wondering, “What the hell just happened?”
It turns out the love of my life had, in fact, placed the can of condensed milk in a pot of water prior to being called into work and simply forgot her previous actions. She was a legal assistant at the base’s JAG office and had been called in for some legal “emergency” on Christmas Eve. Needless to say, the water quickly boiled off and the can continued to “cook” and I just happened to walk in when the contents of the can reached critical mass. When she returned home she was greeted by a caramelized dress uniform hanging on the door and a husband, stripped to the waist, cleaning caramel off the kitchen ceiling. Here delayed response: “Oh sh!t, I almost killed you with caramel on Christmas Eve.” Two of the above stories are actually mine…numbers 3 and 4.