Ah, the happy American family gathered around the shimmering, spruce-fragrant tree, singing carols, reading the Christmas story, sharing frosted cookies in the shape of jolly old St. Nick, creating another lovely memory of yuletide bliss. Peace on earth and peace throughout the house.



Norman Rockwell could have painted this tender tableau.



But for many families, it’s not exactly “tiny tots with their eyes all aglow” or “sleigh bells in the snow.” It’s more likely “Grandma got run over by a reindeer.”



Like the dysfunctional Thanksgiving get-together, the Christmas family gathering has every possibility to turn wacky, wild and weird.  And maybe those times make the best of family memories, providing comical anecdotes to tell and re-tell, even at crazy Uncle Lester’s funeral.



Some years ago, the Louisville Sentinel newspaper sponsored a contest for the wildest Christmas gathering. The following true tale won first prize:



“As a joke, my brother Jay used to hang a pair of panty hose over his fireplace before Christmas. He said all he wanted was for Santa to fill them. Sadly, every Christmas morning, although Jay's kids' stockings overflowed, his poor pantyhose hung empty.



One year I made his dream come true. I put on sunglasses and went in search of an inflatable love doll. They don't sell those things at Wal-Mart. I had to go to an adult bookstore downtown. If you've never been in an X-rated store, don't go. You'll only confuse yourself. I was there an hour saying things like, ‘What’s this thing?’ and   ‘You're kidding me!’  Finally, I made it to the inflatable doll section. I wanted to buy a standard, uncomplicated doll that could also substitute as a passenger in my truck so I could use the car pool lane during rush hour.



Finding what I wanted was difficult. ‘Love Dolls’ come in many different models.  I settled for Lovable Louise. At the bottom of the price scale, calling Louise a doll took a huge leap of imagination.



On Christmas Eve, with the help of a bicycle pump, Louise came to life. My sister-in-law was in on the plan and let me in during the wee morning hours. Long after Santa had come and gone, I filled the dangling pantyhose with Louise's pliant legs and bottom. I also ate some cookies and drank the glass of milk on a nearby tray. I went home and giggled for a couple of hours.



The next morning, my brother called to say that Santa had been to his house and left a present that had made him VERY happy, but had left the dog confused. She would bark, start to walk away, then come back and bark some more.



We all agreed that Louise should remain in her pantyhose so the rest of the family could admire her when they came over for the traditional Christmas dinner. My grandmother noticed Louise the moment she walked in the door. ‘What the (expletive deleted) is that?’ she demanded.



My brother quickly explained, ‘It's a doll.’



‘Who would play with something like that?' Granny snapped.



I kept my mouth shut.



‘Where are her clothes?’ Granny continued.



‘Boy, that turkey sure smells nice, Gran,’ Jay said, trying to steer her into the dining room. But Granny was relentless. ‘Why doesn't she have any teeth?’



Again, I could have answered, but why would I? It was Christmas and no one wanted to ride in the back of the ambulance saying, ‘Hang on Granny, hang on!’



My grandfather, a delightful old man with poor eyesight, sidled up to me and said,



‘Hey, who's the naked gal by the fireplace?’ I told him she was Jay's friend. A few minutes later, I noticed Grandpa by the mantel, talking to Louise. It was then that we realized this might be Grandpa's last Christmas at home.



The dinner went well. We made the usual small talk about who had died, who was dying, and who should be killed, when suddenly Louise made a noise that sounded like my father in the bathroom in the morning. Then she lurched from the mantel, flew around the room twice, and fell in a heap in front of the sofa.



The cat screamed. I passed cranberry sauce through my nose, and Grandpa ran across the room, fell to his knees, and began administering mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. My brother fell back over his chair laughing so hard that he wet his pants. Granny threw down her napkin, stomped out of the room, and sat in the car.



It was indeed a Christmas to treasure and remember.



Later in my brother's garage, we conducted a thorough examination to decide the cause of Louise's collapse. We discovered that Louise had suffered from a hot ember to the back of her right thigh. Fortunately, thanks to the miracle of duct tape, we restored her to perfect health.



I can't wait until next Christmas.”



Now, that, my friends is a Christmas memory to cherish. So, I think I’ll run my own contest for wildest family Christmas. I’ll share the winning entry in a December 2014 column.



Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.