Some holidays you can laugh about now, but at the time … well, sometimes you laughed then, too. Once again this year we offer holiday horrors to help you appreciate just how nice it is to be boring and normal.

A White Hen Christmas

“My husband Randy is a lot of fun,” observes Beth Austin, “sometimes to the detriment of getting things done.” But she can’t blame the entire fiasco on him. How could she? After all, this was the woman who, on one of her first Thanksgivings after getting married, decided that instead of pouring the fat from the turkey into a Crisco can like her mother always did, she’d pour it down the sink instead. But that wasn’t entirely her fault either. Her husband poured Drano down the sink, which didn’t loosen the clog, but did weaken the pipe enough so that when he resorted to a metal snake, he punched a hole in the pipe.

Beth thought, “I can cry and cancel … or I can open the champagne.” A friend from down the block offered her sink, “the vegetables got washed, more or less, and we had a fabulous time.” The champagne, she admitted, was critical.

By the time the White Hen Christmas rolled around years later, Beth was much more experienced. She knew on Christmas Eve, that with her parents coming for dinner the next day, they should definitely go grocery shopping. But Randy wanted to wander around Andersonville, soak up the atmosphere, sample the Swedish meatballs. “We can go shopping later,” he said. “The Jewel’s open till midnight.”

Not the one near their house, they discovered much too late. Not any Jewel. Or Dominick’s.

Beth realized, “We have no protein source.” So she sent Randy to the only available alternative … White Hen. “Get anything edible,” Beth instructed. Randy came home with a cauliflower, a canned ham, and some Swiss cheese.

Beth thought, “I can cry … or be creative and move on. Maybe we’ll start a new tradition.”

So after opening the gifts Christmas morning, she started assembling a cauliflower, Swiss cheese and ham casserole. She called it “Cauliflower Ham Gratinee.” She mixed together the butter, milk and flour for the white sauce, but it didn’t thicken. Odd. More flour. Still didn’t thicken. Well, no turning back now. She assembled the casserole, baked it and brought it to the table.

“It tasted really … odd,” she recalls, “really sweet. I realized I hadn’t asked myself the critical question: ‘Is this flour or is this powdered sugar?'”

Surprisingly, everything turned out all right. “They ate it,” Beth said. “My dad would eat anything. My mom is from Kentucky, so she’s used to things being sweet. And my sister likes to complain.”

Best of all, in the intervening years, whenever Randy is tempted to procrastinate, all Beth has to do is sing, “I’m dreaming of a White Hen Christmas …”

“I get excellent results.”

In spite of these notable holiday snafus, Beth insists she takes the holidays very seriously. In college, for instance, she used to dress up like a Christmas tree (“brown tights, green leotard?#34;I was a dancer”) and wrapped lights around herself. Real lights. She’d sit near outlets so she could plug herself in.

Like we said, serious.

‘Santa’s dead!’

Mary Anne Brown, executive director of Hephzibah, flies to Florida every year for Christmas. One of the main reasons is the last time she stayed in town. Brown, who has been with Hephzibah for 30 years now, used to organize a Christmas Eve outing with the children in the residency program?#34;the ones who come from some pretty difficult family situations. On this particular Christmas Eve, they took the kids to St. Edmund for church services, then to a board member’s house in River Forest for dinner. The house was a beautiful Victorian, Brown recalls, with lights and decorations everywhere. Very atmospheric. To add to the atmosphere, Brown arranged for a horse and buggy, driven by a retired lawyer dressed as Santa, who rode up to the house to deliver presents.

It was a beautiful setting and the kids were thrilled?#34;until a car coming from the opposite direction ran into the carriage. The horse reared up, neighing wildly, and its front hoofs landed on the hood of the car.

“The kids started screaming, ‘Santa’s dead! Santa’s dead!'” Brown recalls. “They thought the driver was drunk. Of course, some of them are very sensitive to that issue in their own families.”

The owner of the horse and buggy appeared out of nowhere yelling in a foreign language. Several police squad cars arrived soon after, lights and sirens awhirl. The hostess sat on her front steps weeping.

“So my husband led the kids in singing ‘Jingle Bells,'” Brown said.

They took the kids home, and Brown called the staff to alert them to the trauma and warn them of possible meltdowns. Fortunately, everyone?#34;including Santa and his horse?#34;were unharmed.

“The worst thing is my husband and I woke up at 3 a.m. and started laughing uncontrollably. We kept saying, ‘Did that really happen?'”

The next day, she recalls, the kids didn’t utter a word about the incident. “It will probably come out in therapy when they turn 40,” Brown observes.

The next year, the Browns started going to Florida.

“That story pops into my mind every time someone asks, ‘What do you do with the kids at Christmastime?’ I tell them, ‘We keep them close to home and let Santa come down the chimney where he belongs.'”

Too cool to stay warm

Long before Steve Saraceno started his web-design, interactive media company, Purple Monkey, he and a college buddy worked as bouncers at The Snuggery, a bar on Division Street. The night of the company’s holiday party, they decided they were too cool to dress in anything other than their lightweight bouncer jackets. When they emerged from the party?#34;somewhere north and west of the Division Street district, sometime around 4 a.m.?#34;Steve tried to start his car (an old Cutlass, he’s a lover of classic autos), but it was frozen. Back then you put more water than antifreeze in the radiator (if you were a broke and somewhat cheap college student), so they were stuck. And didn’t know anyone. And didn’t know where they were. So they started walking … for miles … in cowboy boots … with no gloves or hats.

“We were dumb,” Steve recalls, “but cool.”

Cold, too. And no one was in the mood to help them. He recalls one nervous driver who let them warm their hands at the exhaust pipe, but wouldn’t open the door.

So they kept walking. Steve remembers passing Graceland Cemetery, which is a little spooky at 5 a.m. in late December, and he thought, “I’m going to die.”

This was, of course, the era before cell phones (mid-1980s), and they had no change to make a call. They passed two 24-hour gas stations that were completely locked and dark. Finally, they found a Red Line el station and waited on the platform. And waited. And waited. When their salvation finally arrived, a voice sounding like a blend of Isaac Hayes and Barry White oozed from the speakers, saying, “Welcome, you’re on the Love Train.” One of the passengers was badly disfigured.

“It was one bizarre thing after another,” Steve recalls. “I was a little flipped out by then.”

The sun was rising as they reached their fraternity house on the IIT campus. Fortunately, someone was home.

We hope your holidays are disasterless, but if not, look on the bright side: Someday you’ll have a good story to tell.

This “Christmess” misadventure took place 20 years ago. I wasn’t involved this time, but a friend shared the episode with me. So graphic was the incident that I share it with you without fear of exaggeration. Pretty much in his words, this was it:

“I’ve forgotten the subject but I may never forget the Christmas dinner during which my demonstrative and passionate Uncle Arnold held forth in a heated argument with his brother-in-law, Larry. (Probably politics and the Reagan administration.) Waving away Larry and Larry’s argument, he stood and stated his unequivocal stance to the seated assemblage of relatives near, distant and indifferent. He accentuated each point of his argument with his closed right fist thwacking his open left palm. During the tirade, his wife, aka my long-suffering Aunt Sadie, anxious to get on with the Christmas dinner and unable to open a bottle of salad dressing, chanced placing it into his left hand. Absently, Uncle Arnold took it and went on about trickle-down economics, brandishing the bottle with each point. Unfortunately?#34;and unbeknownst to Aunt Sadie?#34;her last attempt to unscrew had been successful.”

Four seconds can be very little time, yet it can be an eternity depending on what havoc may be wrought. A wiser storyteller than I might close down shop at this point. Yet lacking self-control and wanting badly to tell of disaster …

“Uncle Arnold grabbed the bottle, fairly ripped it free of its already loose cap, and continued his anti-Reagan rant, punctuating it with a rainbow of oil thither, an arc of vinegar yon and?#34;at one point?#34;a colorful halo of oregano and diced tomatoes. Maddened and excited by a skillful point made by brother-in-law Larry, he lost it and scattered nearly the entire bottle over family, friends, children and pet dog, Julius. He sprinkled, he doused, he wetted, he baptized.

“Chastened, Uncle Arnold finally sat down with his oil-soaked family and quietly, almost obediently, the moist gathering ate their Christmas dinner. Somehow, there was an air of old Napoli about it.”

?#34;Bob Sullivan

How I learned to hate ‘The Bomb’

“My family always spent Christmas day with our Oak Park cousins, the Smilanics, at my grandmother’s house on the 1100 block of Rossell. One Christmas day about 1965, deep in the midst of the Cold War, Santa had brought my older brother Tom a gift called the ‘Atomic Bomb.’ It was a large, black, hard, plastic wind-up bomb with a timer for playing hot potato. The bomb was to be tossed around a circle of kids. If you were caught holding the bomb when it ‘exploded,’ you were out of the game.

“As our parents had coffee after dinner, the kids retired to Gramma’s den for a trial run of Atomic Bomb. Shortly after the game started, my brother caught the exploding bomb square in the mouth, knocking out one of his permanent front teeth. He ran from the room, blood pouring from his mouth.

“In those days before class action lawsuits, my father came in the room cursing, demanded the Atomic Bomb and threw it in the garbage. The ride home was a bit frosty, with my dad saying things like, ‘I swear, you damn kids can’t be left alone for one minute without …’ Later, Tom was fitted with a false front tooth by Dr. Lepek, the dentist who lived next door to Gramma. Dr. Lepek did not believe in using novocaine, but that is a different story.”

?#34;Jack Crowe

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