I love fan mail. It’s encouraging to hear that other people can relate to my experiences.
Ornesta Fruggenbotham, of Iron Ore, Michigan, wrote: “I see that you didn’t post any bizarre Christmas stories — again! Don’t you have any to tell? Do you want to hear mine?”
“Sure, Ornesta. I’d love to,” was my prompt reply. “It’s not that my extended relatives can’t produce plenty of fodder for a good yarn. But they’d all get awful mad at me if I told on them. If you’re not afraid to tell on yours, let’s go for it!”
Y’all might remember Ornesta. She did a guest appearance in this blog months back, with the story of searching her (not-dead) brother’s house for his corpse. You can read about it at Hold the Hysteria, Mom! (Not to worry, home school mother reading this blog to your kiddies for your cultural studies class. We’re totally family-friendly here. The tale is bizarre, but not scary. It will give you a keen insider look at what life is like in Upper Michigan.)
So, here’s Ornesta’s Christmas memory from yesteryear. Once again, it’s an “as told to” piece, so if it sounds like my style, it’s because I polished it up for her. Remember, these are Ornesta’s relatives, not mine.
The four of us got to Mom’s place on Christmas at the traditional 4:00 p.m. and were surprised to find the house already full of all the bodies that normally show up an hour late — plus some fresh ones we’d never seen before. Apparently Mom had either sprouted a new crop of relatives, or else she had invited a homeless cowboy and his wife home from the grocery store.
We brought the buns, but everyone had already eaten without us. Maybe the buns hadn’t been necessary. Apparently we hadn’t been necessary either. I steered Mom off into a corner of the kitchen for a private word.
“Mom! Who are these people, why are we the last ones here, and why did everyone eat without us?”
“They’re your brother Sid’s in-laws. They dropped in unexpectedly, and they decided we should have Christmas at 1:30 instead of 4:00.”
“Let me get this straight. Sid’s in-laws drop in unexpectedly, invite themselves to your house, and tell you when to have your Christmas celebration. Am I smelling the aroma of a control freak?”
“I couldn’t refuse to let them in. They dogsledded all the way from Hibbing across Lake Superior to get here. Besides, they brought three crock pots full of weenies and beans, Swedish meatballs, and pork hocks drowning in sauerkraut.”
“I would have had a hard time refusing the Swedish meatballs myself, Mom, but the beanie-weenies and the pork hocks aren’t worth it. And it’s only December. The lake doesn’t freeze over solid until January. I’d ask to see the dogsled before I’d believe that one. And how come everyone else knew about the time change except us?”
“I got so flustered I forgot to call you.” Mom sniffled into her potholder, and it dawned on me that the pork hocks and weenies weren’t adequately compensating for the sudden change in plans after all.
We made our belated salutations and introductions as best we could. The cowboy and his wife were quite cordial, and invited us to sit down and make ourselves at home. There was not a square inch left to fit ourselves into, what with the space they and their Christmas presents occupied, so we graciously declined.
“That’s all right, we’ll just go sit in the bedroom and eat. Call us when it’s time to open the gifts.”
Life was about as delightful as it could get, sitting at our card table in the spare room. The situation would have made an effective ad for a buffet restaurant:
“Grandma’s home-cooked ham and potatoes, PLUS three other kinds of meat, including our world famous Minnesota pork hocks, all served in your own elegant private dining room next to the clothes hamper.”
The food was lukewarm, but the conversation was plenty hot enough.
Having stuffed the intruders’ delicacies, along with our lacerated emotions, into our innards, we rejoined the family circle. They must be into line dancing or the rodeo, I decided, based on the boots, fringe shirts, and the guy’s flowing mustache. But if they yodel, I will know it is just an obsession with Roy Rogers or Gene Autry.
I observed that Sid’s father-in-law was remarkably well preserved. He looked younger than Sid. It turns out he was. Mother-in-law, cuddling up to hubby, announced proudly that she had robbed the cradle the second time around. Father-in-law grinned sheepishly, looking way too handsome for his own good. I wondered what had attracted him to his adoring old feedbag. Must have been SOME horse she was riding when they first laid eyes on each other. Either that or the line dancing had gone to his head.
Mother-in-law decided to win over my teenager with charming conversation. “So you’re Ellen! I’ve heard so much about you! Stand up, honey. … Five-nine.”
Ellen’s eyes popped. “Excuse me, ma’am?”
“You’re five-foot nine.”
“I’m five-seven … and a quarter.” Ellen is very sensitive about her height, partly because all the boys in Iron Ore come on the short side. The severe winters stunt their growth, but our family genes must be dominant over the weather.
“No, don’t argue. You’re five-nine. My other daughter is five-nine, and I’d know. You’re the same height as she is. Take off your shoes. … Yep, still five-nine.”
We endured through a couple more hours of Christmas pleasantries before escaping. Ellen obsessed about her height all the way home, whenever she could get a word in edgewise between my snorts over the ham hocks we had just been visiting with — not the ones in the crock pot, either.
“Ellen, just because the rodeo queen said you are five-nine does not make you five-nine. You haven’t grown a millimeter in four years. She may be controlling, but she’s not THAT good.”
She was unconvinced. We had to haul out the yardstick and measure her when we got home, to set her mind at ease.
I was confused by the time I finished putting Ornesta’s story together, so I asked, “Ornesta, I thought that in the other story Sid lived all alone. What happened to the wife?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you that part. She was so happy to see her mama and step-daddy that she decided she couldn’t live without them anymore. She hopped the dogsled home with them and never came back. For all I know, they all fell through the ice somewhere on Lake Superior.”
(For more Ornesta-related adventures see Simply Ornesta! in the sidebar, under Archives.)