Ornesta’s Christmas


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.)

Weird Search Terms


I’m intrigued by the search terms that people use to get to my blogs.  A lot of people don’t just type in search words; they enter whole questions.  Here is a sampling for your entertainment, along with my reactions:

1.)  “Where in the Bible did Daniel fast?”  — He probably did it in the kitchen, in the living room, at the annual convention of the Chaldean Wise Men for Better Working Conditions, and in the bathtub.  Oh.  It says, “in the Bible.”  I think it was in Genesis 1, because they weren’t allowed to eat meat at that point in the Bible yet.  So Daniel ate veggies.  Eat your veggies.  They are good for you.

2.)  “Talking like a Yooper”  — (For those of you who are uninformed, a Yooper is someone from the U.P. — Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  It is a territory of Wisconsin.)  The question raised in my mind was, “Why would anyone want to?”

3.)  “Did Tommy Thompson ever eat Fruit Loops?” — Only when Lee Dreyfuss did not send him any “bee poop” for Christmas.  What kind of a fruit loop asks these things? (This is strictly a  Wisconsin joke, based on our history.  If you’ve lived in Wisconsin thirty years or so, you understand.)

4.)  “Did the Pope visit Door County?” — Of course he did.  Everybody visits Door County, even Santa Claus.  The Pope ate at Al Johnson’s — had the Swedish pancakes with lingonberries (because it was Friday, so the meatballs were off-limits).

5.)  “Undertaker grants a wish” — I’m sorry, but this one really brought a question to my mind: who is “Undertaker”?  For some reason I kept thinking of a pro wrestler, or maybe a champion killer bronc on the rodeo circuit.  But on second thought, it sounds a little like a title of a children’s picture book. 

6.)  “Free socking music” — Do people need background music for fistfights?  Does it enhance the experience?  Come to think of it, there was music in the background on those old Roy Rogers movies while he was duking it out with the bad guys!  Or maybe someone needs soothing music while he folds his laundry and matches his socks.


Writing Grants Galore!


I have been learning a few things since I embarked on the freelance writing route.  Did you know that there are wealthy people out there who are just dying to pay me to do things and go places that churn their butter (but don’t churn mine)?  I’m talking about grant money for writers.

Some grants are quite specific, and I would not qualify in the slightest.  They go something like this: “The Reebok Foundation is awarding a $5,000 grant to three women under twenty-five who have a desire to write biographies of current great basketball players.  To qualify, the writer must have lived on government assistance for at least two years and not be able to afford Reebok athletic shoes.”

My family should be very grateful right now that I am a homebody to the core, because there’s a rich someone who wants to throw money my way to sit in a cabin in West Texas and have nothing more strenuous to do than write whatever I’d like for three solid weeks.  I imagine the rules allow for a few strolls through the countryside each day (to improve the flow of inspiration).  I could get into that, especially if they’ve got a horse all saddled and at my disposal.  I could don my Stetson and chaps (purchased with my grant money), mosey on over to the local cattle ranch and gawk at the longhorns, chat with a tumbleweed here and there, and hunt rattlesnakes and fry them for dinner.  It sounds like fun.  I’d settle back in the evenings with my Sons of the Pioneers music in the background (that is, if the cabin had electricity) and I’d start my illustrious career as a western writer.  Just call me Lady Zane Grey.

There’s a grant that will let me live in a mansion somewhere out East for a couple of weeks.  I would have to share it with a few other writers, but hey, with dozens of rooms at our disposal and a front lawn the size of my home town, who cares?  I’m sure we could all stay out of each other’s hair.  We’d probably have to put up with sharing the butler at mealtimes, but I’m good with that.  We would all be useful to each other, too.  Other people’s eating quirks are very inspirational.  My own eating quirks are very inspirational.  An etiquette-based mystery could emerge from the depths of my grant-motivated brain — Who Stole the Vichyssoise? 

I would jostle the aplomb of my fellow grant winners with lively table conversation: “Escargot’s OK, but have any of you folks ever sampled bratwurst?  No?  Make sure your next grant settles you in Wisconsin for a week or two.  You haven’t lived until you’ve had a brat — succulent little section of piglet, nestled in a bed of meticulously aged cabbage … artistically surrounded by cheese curd rosettes ….”  At that point I’d be grabbing for my hankie, overcome with emotional memories of the cuisine back home.

There are residencies to be had with prestigious colleges.  Author in Residence.  Sounds good.  All I’d have to do is hobnob with the students, tell them cool anecdotes about my buddy Edna Ferber and the big bestseller that got away, and drop a few political harangues here and there.  I suppose I might have to do a lecture or two on the similar writing styles of Kurt Vonnegut and Charles Dickens, and I might have to write something, but hey, none of that would be difficult.  The hard part would be living somewhere other than home-sweet-home.  I could probably bring the family along, but the bratwurst — what about the bratwurst?

There are some grants that aren’t at all attractive — unless you are an Indiana Jones wannabe.  How many people really have a yen to go to Tehran to write?  If I did that, I might end up being Lady Jane Grey instead of Lady Zane Grey!  I’m known for being sensible and not losing my head here in Wisconsin, but I’d be certain to do something taboo there, and … well!

Postscript: I’m getting some questions from folks who seriously want to get writing grant money.  C. Hope Clark has a couple of wonderful weekly e-mail newsletters that will tell you what you need to know.  Sign up at Funds for Writers.

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