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Cover Story

Nightmares of Christmas


In the spirit of Ebenezer Scrooge, we bring you our annual Christmas issue. In years past, we gathered our collective Christmas favorites — stories about memorable gifts we received, festive albums we listened to and holiday movies we viewed — to share with our readers as a sweet Cityview tradition. This year, though, our Christmas issue has turned a dark corner into the dripping, back-alleys of our minds. These terrible, tragic, embarrassing and awkward tales are too taboo (or incriminating) to admit to, so the stories had to be left semi-anonymous. Once you read these “Nightmares of Christmas,” you’ll understand why. But this we promise: They’re all true.


What happened to Crusty?

Despite it being more than two decades ago, the date Dec. 20, 1990 will remain emblazoned in the back of my mind as though it were my birthday. In a sense it was, I suppose, as it was the night I was introduced to Mad Dog 20/20 and Schnapps. We called the mixture “Bad Medicine.” In hindsight, we were half right. Bad? Yes. But its medicinal value? Eh, not so much.

UntitledRegardless, there we were, the six of us, at my buddy’s house, taking advantage of his parents being out on the town for the night. As young adults in our early 20s, we probably should have been a bit more grown up, but with high school still fresh in our rear view mirrors, we couldn’t help ourselves. The beer cans quickly began stacking up in the kitchen sink, the cards set aside for poker became flying projectiles into the fireplace (it was a contest, thus justified) and the small cabinet above the refrigerator was opened to reveal a goldmine in liquor bottles, two of which were the aforementioned elixirs. The result was what my grandpa used to call an “air raid,” a circle of participants passing a bottle around, taking a swig, then handing it to the next person until the bottle had been emptied. The “raid” continued until the enemy (your stomach) “blew up.”            

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Three or four raids in, and our host, Scooter, turned the stereo up and grabbed a dance partner — the Christmas tree. The 6-foot pine didn’t last long, and neither did Scooter, who tripped while dipping his prickly dance partner, smashing bulbs and decorations alike. On a normal night, we’d have scattered in fear. But not that night. No, we egged him on between our tears of laughter. Yes, he ripped open every present under the tree, most of which were not his own. Yes, we gave him duct tape to put the wrapping paper back on. And yes, he redecorated the decimated tree with beer bottle wrappers.            

His dog, Crusty, sat silently in the corner the entire night, occasionally being a target for a pretzel, but for the most part, he was ignored. That is until Scooter remembered his furry family companion had a special trick we needed to see — whenever the dog was tickled on his stomach, he would pee — straightline-style. Before we knew it, Crusty was a celebrity being held up to do his thing on windows, in plants, on the head of a passed-out brethren (sorry, Mattie) and anywhere else until the well ran dry.            

We left that night with the house in shambles and Crusty lying on Scooter’s head. Years later I learned that his parents were out-of-their-minds upset. God bless him for not throwing us under the bus and naming names. I never heard a word about the dog, though.         

I wonder what happened to Crusty?

– Darrold Z., Boone


Christmas dive

The first Christmas after I’d lost my mom, my dog and my long time partner, I wasn’t up for much. I could barely remember a holiday without any of them. Several kindhearted friends and some folks I barely knew had asked me to spend the day with their families. I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to do less, so I told them all that I was going out of town.             139404109

That wasn’t so much a lie as overly wishful thinking. I didn’t even really mind when travel plans didn’t pan out. I wasn’t going to be good company. I figured I’d just cook a turkey for myself. Then that idea became depressing. Without even a dog around, I’d end up cooking all day to produce one meal plus a lot of stock. So I forgot to buy a bird. Then on Christmas Day, Facebook friends posted photos of their feasts, and I started salivating for turkey.            

I couldn’t go places where I might run into someone who might mention seeing me to the folks who thought I was out of town. So I drove to a part of the city where I was pretty sure no one would know me. All I found open was an old dive bar that seemed appropriate for my mood. Inside, hardcore barflies seemed as cheerless as I. Moreso, as it turned out.              

“Blue Christmas” played over and over. Everybody had a bitch or two — mostly about family, lawyers and the DHS (Department of Human Services). One guy said his wife had run off with his brother. If he found out where they were, he planned to kill them as a Christmas present to himself. Two different women said they couldn’t contact their children, even on Christmas, because the DHS had given them to their wife-beating husbands.          

After a few rounds of drinks, I no longer gave a shit about blowing my cover. I invited all my new best friends to Prairie Meadows for turkey dinner — on me. There were no takers. Everyone looked away and quit talking to me. I realized that I had turned into the people I’d been hiding from. Worse, I’d violated the unwritten bond that indulges melancholy souls.            

“You’ve had too much to drink, son,” the bartender said to me. “It’s time for you to go back where you belong, wherever the hell that is.”

– James D., Des Moines


A six pack from Granny

152541961Sometimes gifts, thoughtful as they may be, can be incredibly awkward to open. Twelve years ago, I found myself spending the first Christmas with my husband’s extended family. We weren’t married yet, but I was about four months pregnant at the time. As if being the unwed mother who barely knows the baby-daddy’s family wasn’t awkward enough, I was handed a gift from his grandmother. Touched by the sentiment, I smiled and unwrapped the lovely package under the watchful eyes of a room full of near-strangers. I couldn’t help but chuckle and discreetly show my other half what his grandmother had so thoughtfully bought for me. It was amusing right up until his mother insisted from across the room that I show everyone the gift. I was left with no choice but to hold up, for everyone to see, a six-pack of maternity underwear. Sexy? You betcha.

– Marcia C., Newton


Grandma did NOT get run over by a reindeer

In most families, Grandma is a cookie-baking delight famous for spoiling her grandchildren, especially on Christmas, which was the case for a married couple I know. That is, until a couple Christmases ago.  101787624       

The wife-half of this pair is known for being an exquisite cook. So every Christmas she would take on the responsibility of preparing the turkey for the family dinner at her husband’s grandma’s house. The year of 2010 was no exception, and she spared no expense or effort in making it the most memorable turkey dinner the family would ever share.          

The family gathered for grace, eager to bite into the juicy, cooked-to-perfection bird my friend had so lovingly prepared. Moments into the meal, a jagged bone for which fowl are so infamously known, caught in Grandma’s throat. Her face turned hues of red, purple and blue as my friend attempted to wrap her arms around the large woman and perform the Heimlich maneuver in vain. Grandma collapsed at the table and died.             

Witnessed by all — the old woman’s legacy of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren — Christmas will forever be tainted by that haunting memory, and my friend will never cook the holiday turkey again.

– Adrianne W., Adel


Portrait of cute elegant redhead girlDripping goo

My grandparents were known for their great gift-giving, so each year my brother and I would eagerly await the arrival of our Christmas presents in the mail. But as Grandma got older, her mind began to slip. We started receiving odd items like games and toys for kids much younger than we were. The greatest gift had to be the year she sent a box filled with little, brown bags packed with unidentifiable “snacks,” each with its own unique odor and dripping goo seeping out the bottom. We checked the box twice to make sure she didn’t wrap her cat. Not even Aunt Bethany’s gelatin cat food mold could compete with the grossness of this holiday treat.

– Kendra S., Waukee


It’s not the thought that counts

The first year I attended Christmas with my then-boyfriend, now-husband’s family, it was truly a nightmare. Upon arrival I was introduced to several of his great-aunts. One began to shriek while commenting that my strong odor was giving her a migraine. I was horrified and embarrassed, thinking to myself that I wasn’t even wearing perfume. How could I smell so repulsive? She later informed me that what she smelled was the Pine-Sol that had recently been used on the floor. “Great,” I thought. “She seriously thought I came to Christmas scented like the holiday tree?” His other aunt took me by the hand and started telling me how she can speak to the dead. She asked me what I did for a living, and as I began to tell her, she interrupted me and curtly informed me that a Roman slave wanted to speak with her. She then proceeded to speak to thin air for several minutes before wandering away. I was left standing there, scratching my head.            

123092348At dinner I realized my darling boyfriend hadn’t informed his family that I was a vegetarian. Each dish was chock full of meat, including dishes that normally do not contain any trace of meat. The stuffing, the Jell-O, the pie, even the salads had an odd mix of meat and organs. I kept quiet and tried to eat without bringing any more attention to myself.         

After dinner it was time to open presents. I tried really hard to get thoughtful gifts for each family member, even the ones I’d never met. My boyfriend’s mom had given me a list when I asked her months earlier what people would like for Christmas. I had found this rather odd, as the list contained details of exact brands, quantities and dimensions. I used the list as a guideline but veered from it if I saw something I thought would be better. As each member of the family opened his or her gift, they proceeded to tell me what was wrong with it. The top-of-the line wallet given to my future father-in-law was dubbed too large for his pocket, and he requested I return it and “get the right one.” The lotion given to a sister was held in horror because it wasn’t a scent she liked. Such critical analysis continued down the line. I was trying hard not to cry as I collected the gifts I’d been asked to return. My husband, realizing his family’s insanity, was horrified and insisted we leave early. It’s amazing that I married him and have gone to Christmas at his family’s house since. Merry Christmas, right?

– Paula E., West Des Moines


Where there’s smoke…

I was 12 years old, and my best friend Patty lived down the street. We spent as much time as possible together. Our favorite holiday was Christmas, which was right around the corner, and we were very excited to decorate our houses and receive presents.          flame flare

Patty and I were quite the snoops. We were curious to know what we were getting for presents. We would even take scissors and cut the tape on the boxes, peak inside to see what they were, and then tape them back together.            

Both of our mothers knew this, but we denied it. So our moms thought they would teach us a lesson — no presents under the tree. This put an end to our sneaky ways. Mom told me she hid all our presents at Patty’s house.           

It was Christmas Eve, and Patty’s house looked a bit like the National Lampoon’s Christmas with all the lights. We picked her up for church, and her family followed in their car.            

As we were driving home and approaching our neighborhood, we saw fire trucks everywhere and wondered whose house was on fire. We could see smoke. As we got closer and started around the corner, we realized it was Patty’s house!              

As you might imagine, we didn’t find any presents when we returned home, as they were all at Patty’s house — or what was left of it. The parents sent all the kids to my house as they sorted out everything with the fire department.            

My parents came home and told us that Patty and her family would be staying with us for a while and that we would be having Christmas at our house. However, there would be no presents. There was some good news, though. Our moms hid the presents in the laundry room, which was detached from the house. The fire never spread to the laundry room. So Christmas was saved, and we did receive presents after all.

– Monica G., Norwalk


Doggone it

It was my first Christmas in Iowa, and I had been slaving away in the kitchen all week. I wanted to really impress my fiancé and my new extended family.             

As my niece was playing with her new toys, and everyone else was relaxing in the living room sipping warm cider, I was in the kitchen finishing up our extravagant lunch.            Untitled2

I pulled the turkey out of the oven to let it rest and continued setting the table. I knew I had some time before I needed to start carving the turkey. So I sat down with the family and relaxed by the tree, sipping cider. After 10 minutes or so, I continued as planned and proceeded to the kitchen to check on the turkey. What I found was not a happy sight.         

As if he were a human, there was my Doberman puppy, standing on his hind legs, eating ravenously away at the bird. There was no saving the turkey, but we enjoyed yams, salad, green bean casserole and desserts. The main course became chicken tenders. That’s all we had in the house since everything else filled up the fridge.            

My dog spent the rest of the day in the garage. We can laugh at it now. Not so much then.

– Betsy W., Des Moines


Sleigh bell socks wringing

On Christmas Eve a few years back, I got up early to go shopping for some last-minute pet presents on the South side. That alone should have spelled trouble. I had to be at work in an hour, and I was going up a hill when my car slid just enough off the road to get stuck in a mud slick. It was 34 degrees and slushy with a nice drizzle coming down. I rocked my car — reverse…spin-drive…spin-reverse…spin-drive…spin; I even tried putting my floor mats under the wheels for traction. Nothing worked. I went through my phone looking for a ride, but no one was available, and, of course, my cell phone battery was near dead. I called work and informed them of my situation before my phone died. With no money for a tow, I started walking home.             

In freezing cold weather and a brisk Christmas Eve rain, I walked from Southeast 14th clear to Ankeny. I stopped in a fast food restaurant near the Capitol Building on the way to wring out my socks and warm them up with the hand dryer in the bathroom. By the time I got home, my coat was soaked through, and so were the nursing scrubs I wore under the coat… and everything else I wore under those. It took me hours to get home, but I was so happy to be there.

– German G., Altoona


157611514Don’t let Grandpa draw you a picture

Two years ago, my great-grandpa drew a picture of my aunt and uncle’s cat knocking over the Christmas tree, and they all laughed about how horrible it would be only to find out when they got home that the cat DID knock over the tree, spilling all the water out, ruining presents and warping the floor.

– Andrea D., Des Moines


Christmas all ablaze

When I was 8 years old, my hair caught fire during Christmas Eve service at church. I didn’t even realize it until my dad started smacking me in the head.

– Morgan L., West Des Moines


Sometimes Christmas trees really bug me… literallydv031020

When we moved from the upper Midwest to central California, we continued our tradition of going out to cut down our own Christmas tree. In shirt-sleeve weather, we went into the foothills and got a nice Frasier Fir (a whole new type for us). When we got the tree home and brought it inside, it looked lovely. But two hours later, the family room was full of bugs (gnats, flies, etc.). Our neighbors laughed at us and said: “You must not be from around here. Don’t you know you’re supposed to hose down your tree first before you bring it in the house?            

Who knew that in California bugs didn’t have the good sense to die by early December like they do here?

– Bill M., Windsor Heights


The Grinch who ate Christmas

What could be in those cheerfully-wrapped boxes crowded under the Christmas tree? It was mid-December, and my brother, sister and I wanted to know. Our four-legged family member, Chauncey, helped us out. One night we piled into the big, green station wagon with our parents to drive around to see Christmas light displays. Chauncey was left home and took that opportunity to do some investigating. We came home to find the Christmas tree tipped over and boxes chewed open, damaged presents on display. Our guilty-acting dog let us know that we (thankfully) hadn’t been robbed. It wasn’t funny at the time and meant a last-minute scramble for replacement gifts, but we all laugh about it now. We joke that Chauncey, mad that he’d been left home alone (that dog loved car rides) or because his sentry post had been taken away when the sofa was moved from the window to make room for the tree, had taken revenge.            

Or maybe he was just trying to get the popcorn we strung on the tree. CV

– Kathy E., Des Moines

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