Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

I’m leaving for Napa in a couple of hours, and expect posting to be fairly light until the New Year wherein the Hag will turn four years old.  (Not me, of course, as I rapidly approach the half century mark, but my eponymous blog…)

I’ll be seeing my brother, Butts, tomorrow so I though I’d put up something he’d like…..

—–Something about the holidays….  They always bring back old memories, which for me means mostly unpleasant memories of my crazy grandmother, Etta, who managed to ruin Jesus’ Birthday every year until she died, and always in unique and memorable ways.  Christmas was tough on Etta; she hated the effort and expense of having everyone over even though her house was always spotless and she was only serving snacks.  Worse, she actively and vocally disliked her daughters’ husbands and had concluded that her grandchildren were rapidly turning into worthless, insolent layabouts, with poor posture to boot.   When one of us would sit to play a piece on the piano, we immediately would be told, loudly, to “sit up straight and act like a white boy/girl.”  This sort of thing always helped to make Christmas merry.

With seven grandchildren, Etta realized early on that buying all of us gifts could end up costing real money if she weren’t careful, so she was.  Each child received $7 for birthday and Christmas, often in the form of a deposit slip to our savings accounts (she made us all get them with her as trustee), so opening presents at her place wasn’t much, but having already spent $98 dollars that year on a bunch of dirty-pawed parasites, she wasn’t about to spend eight or so more bucks on a Christmas tree, so she seldom had them.

One year, though, Etta got an idea.  She had a 20-foot Holly tree in her yard that she wanted to remove that spring, so why not cut the top off and use it for a Christmas tree in the meantime?  After all, the price was right. In retrospect, of course, there were many reasons not to do so, which were especially clear to my older brother, my sister and I, who were roped into helping her execute her addlepated scheme, and emerged all the bloodier for it.  Funny thing was, that compared to the soul-crushing ordeal of decorating a Christmas tree with Etta, the puncture wounds weren’t so bad.

All of her lights and ornaments, which we found for her with no small difficulty in her hoarder-esque and spider-filled basement, dated from the prewar era, and were as scary and bedraggled to us as they were priceless and wonderful to her, so we were constantly threatened with physical harm and/or lawsuits (Etta was, at least rhetorically, litigious when litigiousness wasn’t cool…), were we to be so “clumsy” or “awkward” as to break anything.  So we strung the ancient, cloth-covered light strings, fortified as we now were with so many Bandaids, and I confess that by the time we got to the ornaments it became obvious that we were hurrying, like bar backs after last call, to get the hell out of there.  Unfortunately, Etta noticed this, and directed us all to sit down, look at the tree, and “make a study of it.”   Like we were f*cking Michelangelo or something, when our David was a piece of thorny yard debris that might or not explode into flames at any moment.  My brother Andy, who has always been the opposite of rebellious, almost rebelled at that point but he didn’t, annoyingly as usual.  Somehow, we got done and got out of there, but I think I’ve blocked the memory after that.

That Christmas Eve, after Etta had run herself ragged opening a can of olives and laying out crackers, and thus was in a more than usually bad mood, everyone did marvel, between Etta rants, at the beauty and ingenuity of the holly tree, which did look pretty good if you were a few feet away.   Unfortunately, my stepdad and uncle got a little drunk, the only reasonable thing to do when one is faced with an evening at Etta’s, and must have, if memory serves, broken something or other, so they remained in even lower esteem than normal for the rest of the year (although as far as I know she didn’t sue them…).  The good news, for the rest of us anyway, was that that was Etta’s last Christmas tree.  Deck the halls, Baby.

—December 2010


  1. Kendra says:

    Oh, how I do love your Etta stories! There was so much more to your Grandwitch than I ever knew. Now that she’s gone and can’t hurt anyone anymore (physically or psychologically), you have turned her into a source of morbid mirth. (The gift that keeps on giving…)

    Have an angst-free holiday!


  2. mikeinportc says:

    Merry Christmas/Winter Solstice/Festivus/Etc celebration, CH, and all. :)
    I remember your tale of the Christmas Holly. It’s still funny, and think of it periodically .
    This year, at work, it was decided to build five (5′H x 2.5′W) pillars , and have large (24″) containers on top of them. Once they were in place, it was decided to fill them with pyramidal holly (‘Red Beauty’) with surrounding plants, to be changed seasonally. Guess who gets to do the changing ? I think of Etta and her holly tree, every time I do it . :) )))) Just got pincushioned yesterday, putting some others to bed for the winter. ;)

    • cocktailhag says:

      Yeah, I knew it was a little recent to be new to most people, but look, it brought out Kendra, who had the unique experience of being pulled down the stairs by her hair by Etta, and in her own house, to boot! Etta had a way of touching people’s lives….
      As I recall, Etta’s tree was in glorious fruit at the time, but the charm of the color red was somewhat lost on me.

  3. Teddy says:

    Merry Solstice, dear Hag.

    The only stories I’ve ever heard about cutting down yard trees for the indoor Tannenbaum end with the animals — squirrels, rats, raccoons, it varies by the storyteller — rushing out, drawn by Xmas snacks and cookies, to raid the home they’ve been trapped in. These stories sometimes end badly for a beloved family pet, and they lack Etta.

    Hey, those olive cans don’t open themselves! Hope your travels are safe and your manger is holy….

  4. cocktailhag says:

    Yeah, let’s punch some holes in that manger.
    Unlikely, given an over abundance of chaperones.

  5. Teddy says:

    Oh, no! — an overchaperoled Yule? The worst kind….

  6. nswfm says:

    California welcomes you, CH! Merry Christmas!

  7. Ché Pasa says:

    And a Merry Merry to you and yours out there in (what I’m told is) the wet and the chill of the Napa Valley.

    Stay warm and dry and keep the insights and stories coming!

  8. RUKidding says:

    I heard it was raining buckets in NorCal over Xmas – got phone calls from my pals who bitched at me as I regaled them with tales of sunny Fun Diego! Sorry the weather was bad, but at least we got snow in the Sierra, which we need (and not just for skiing).

    Happy Festivus, CH, and enjoyed your airing of Etta grievances! Yes, some of the worst people in our lives do end up giving us an abundance of good stories to tell later on when we’ve recovered from their bile & such.

    The holly tree story is pretty funny.

    Happy New Year! May 2013 be lucky for us all.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Glad you hadn’t heard it yet; those who remember those days are fewer and farther between, sadly, but that doesn’t make it too much less fun. Happy New Year to you, too, RUK.