My cousin Patty's young son, Thomas, was making up his Christmas list. "What's that?" Patty asked, unable to read his scrawl. "You know, that green guy from that movie, The Bitch That Stole Christmas."
* * *
My Christmas was normal. The snow was deep in Michigan and it was below zero almost every night. Members of my immediate family behaved themselves, even my brother, who was preoccupied and worried about his first trip with a video crew to Los Angeles. (Now that he's there, he loves it.)
No, this year, it was my long-suffering cousin Judy who had the Twilight Zone Christmas, thanks to her in-laws, who are the root of all banality in the universe.
Judy is married to a guy who looks a lot like Paul Bunyan. Big, broad, and bearded, he is also full of odd political ideas that would probably lead one to believe there's a sizable arms cache in his barn. I don't ask. I don't know. And because I don't want any calls from ATF, let's just call him Paul.
Paul has a few brothers who are just as big and beefy as he is. I've never been to an event where all of them squeeze into one room, but it must be a sight.
One key to following this story is to realize the importance of noodles in the Michigan diet. To the Michigan native, there is no comfort food more comforting than a big pile of bright orange macaroni and cheese. (Disclaimer: my family is from the South. We don't eat that way.)
Christmas was at Paul's sister's house. Judy, who likes good food as much as I do, tried to coordinate this part of the event, because she knows that left to themselves, Paul's family will be happy with a dinner of beer, potato chips, and bologna sandwiches. She offered to make up a couple of tubs of lasagna. She called various of her sisters-in-law to cajole them in to bringing something to go with it. Salad, she suggested to one. Make a salad. The other was a tougher nut.
"Make a side dish," Judy suggested.
"What's that?" asked the sister.
"You know, when you go out to eat and you get something on the side?"
"Like a vegetable?" Judy prompted her.
"You mean like fries!"
Sister-in-law was proving to be a little hazy on the concept. Judy tried again.
"Well, fries would be good with a barbecue, but not lasagna. How about some beans?"
"Oh, Mike doesn't eat beans," sister-in-law protested.
Mike, like Paul, eats anything that isn't still bleeding when it goes in his mouth, so Judy found this hard to believe.
"Well, just ask Mike what his favorite side dish is and bring it, ok?"
You're getting ahead of me. When the Christmas gathering happened, Judy showed up with her two tubs of homemade lasagna. Sister-in-law #1 brought a salad - macaroni salad.
"But you said salad," she whined to Judy. "And it even has vegetables in it."
Sister-in-law #2 brought a big pile of bright orange macaroni & cheese.
"It's Mike's favorite side dish, just like you said!"
Judy has given up trying to bring vegetables to the Michiganders.
* * *
The physical progenitor of her sons, the matriarch of this clan of Bunyan wannabees, is a tall, fat woman with arms like trees and the sensibilities of a cross-dressing sailor on shore leave. If there is poker, Evelyn must play it. If there is bourbon, she must drink it. If there are sequins, she must wear them. I believe she was doing all three for Christmas.
The gift exchange was set up as a crap shoot. Literally.
Each person was instructed to bring a $20 gift. Judy created a "night at the movies" gift that included movie tickets and coupons for drinks and snacks for two people. The gift was supposed to be wrapped and labeled with the name of the person bringing it, presumably to keep them from taking their own gifts home. Although Judy eventually wished that had been the outcome.
With gifts piled up, the participants rolled dice. The first one to roll 7 or 11 got to pick a present. If the roller hit a 2, 3, or 12, he "crapped out" and the dice went to the next guy. Evelyn probably would have bet the Pass line, but they stuck to wins and craps, probably in order to shorten the evening and get back to the beer.
In Judy's estimation, the best goodie in the pile was a set of towels, so that shows you how the selection was running. The gift that drew the most trades was a three-bottle set of some oddly-named (Mister Dennis?) abysmally cheap liquors. Somebody probably picked them up as part of a quick run to the casino in Canada. Evelyn wound up with that. Heck, Evelyn might even have brought it.
Poor, long-suffering Judy got the booby prize. I can just imagine how hard she had to bite her tongue when she got to select a gift and it was…a Chia Pet. A Tweety-Bird chia pet. She was still hopping mad when I heard the story later.
"I can't believe they still make those damn things," she said to me. "Who the hell buys them except some idiot in Paul's family? I mean, they're still selling them."
The idiot in question had violated one of the rules and not labeled the package.
"If I knew who put that in there, I'd have made him take it back," she said. "That didn't cost any $20. Those things cost $5 at the drustore. Whoever bought it probably drank the other $15."
"What did you do with it?"
"I gave it to one of the nephews. What's so great about it? You smear plant stuff all over it, it grows leaves, and then it dies. Great. What a present. Let the kids grow that slimy stuff."
Paul drew some kind of collectible Christmas ornament, and Judy made him keep it.
"I'm not playing next year," Judy said. "One damn Chia pet is enough. Merry Christmas my ass. I hate stupid cheap gifts. I don't have any holiday spirit this year.
"I'm the Bitch that Stole Christmas," she finally said. "So there."