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Bertha’s Family Update

By Vance Avis

Featuring:

Bertha's Christmas Gift Exchange

 

A Note from Vance

 

I wrote Bertha’s Family Update during the 2006 Christmas holidays and it was widely distributed around the Internet in a series of 4 emails I sent out December 14, 20, 22, 2006 and January 31, 2007. It is a humorous account parodying those letters sent out at Christmastime telling everyone about the previous year’s family events. The characters I created, Bertha and her extended family, are meant to portray a wide range of views that are a cross-section of the views held by the great diversity of people living in the good old U.S. of A.

 

Bertha tells about the goin’s on in her oft weird family in a laidback folksy manner that she finds matter-of-fact normal. I wanted to reproduce Bertha on my website before Christmas 2011 because I invented a new type of Christmas gift exchange and I wanted to give people who haven’t yet tried it a chance to do so. I’m sorry I’m so late doing this, but I’ve been busy converting my website to something more unique and fun, and I thought I could get that done and feature Bertha in it before Christmas, but I could not, so here’s Bertha without Bertha's Christmas Gift Exchange Blog that I had hoped to include so people who have tried my gift exchange idea could: Please tell us your experiences with Bertha's Christmas Gift Exchange so we can all make it better.

 

I invented this gift exchange because I hate that gift exchange used by so many where people get to take presents away from others. Christmas is a time of giving, not taking. Here is the gift exchange part extracted from below. I added some stuff inside square brackets to help clarify the rules. If you’re going to read the short story anyway, go ahead and skip this:

 

Our Gift Exchange:

 

We have an unusual gift exchange, one of our own creation. We didn’t want to bother with drawing names or numbers. And many of us hate the idea of taking someone’s gift away from them. It just isn’t in the Christmas spirit of “it’s better to give than receive.” So we do just that. Our whole gift exchange is based on giving to others. We also had another motivation. In the old way of doing it, most of us would end up with gifts we had no use for and didn’t want. Then there would always be those few people who ended up with exactly the gifts they wanted, and boy would they gloat. It was sickening, especially at Christmas, a time of giving, not gloating. So what better idea than for those who gloat, and everyone else of course, to give their gifts away to someone else. That way, no one has the gift they want, and everyone is happy because no one is gloating.

Everyone, including the kids, brings at least one wrapped gift. Most people bring two, so some people end up with two gifts they don’t want. Traditionally, Uncle Lech starts it off because the first person doesn’t get a gift right away and Uncle Lech is a nice person. (He also knows that great things come to those who wait, and he knows how the gift exchange works since he devised it.) So Uncle Lech goes over to the gift table, picks out a gift, and gives it to someone. That person unwraps the gift and then picks out another gift from the gift table. Without first unwrapping the second gift, that person must choose one of the two gifts to give to someone else. The person receiving the gift continues the process and so on until everyone has a gift. [—including Uncle Lech, and that ends the first round. A round ends when each person has received one and only one gift that round. The last person to receive a gift the first round begins the second round by taking a gift from the gift table, since there are gifts still left on the gift table. She then gives one of her two gifts away. The person who receives that gift now has two gifts before taking another gift from the gift table.]

There are always gifts left on the gift table, so now some people start to have two gifts. The rule is that the person receiving the second gift can unwrap it first, pick a gift from the gift table, and then choose which of the three to give to someone who has only one gift. When all the gifts are distributed from the gift table, the rules change. Then when someone is given a gift, she must keep the gift she is given that round and give away the gift she received the previous round. When the second round ends, the fun starts and the rules get more complex and a little murky. The person who last received a gift [keeps that gift and gives her other gift away.] gives one of her two gifts to someone. The person receiving the gift gratefully accepts the gift, keeps it, and then cheerfully gives away her other gift to someone or her two other gifts to two different people if she has two (all in the spirit of Christmas giving). The people receiving gifts then give their other gifts away until all people have been given gifts during this round, then it begins over, and so on.

[A round always ends when each person has received one and only one gift that round. However, because there are more gifts than people, when a round ends, some people will still have to give their gifts away. They begin the next round by giving their gifts away simultaneously, and maybe even to each other, which means they must also now give away the gift they were keeping during the previous round. But remember, a person can receive only one gift in a round. And remember it’s Christmas and the spirit of lovingly giving gifts prevails when settling disputes— but if that slips somebody’s mind, Uncle Lech will step in and decide.] After some shenanigans last Christmas, Uncle Lech added the rule that this is not the time or place to be giving presents to your own kids or your spouse.

Note that there may be many people giving gifts simultaneously, which is what makes it all so special for me. On the other hand, it can get very noisy and confusing and keeps escalating the longer it goes on. So when a critical mass of confusion is reach, determined by Uncle Lech, Uncle Lech shouts, “Stop!,” and that ends the gift exchange. (And Uncle Lech never gloats!)

 

 

Bertha’s Family Update - Short Story Version 2007-01-31

 

January 31, 2007

Vance Avis

 

Introduction: This parodies those letters people send out with their Christmas cards every year to update everyone on what has happened with their families over the past year. My dream goal for “Bertha’s Family Update” is to have it serialized and use it to make nonpartisan humorous political commentary mixed in with down-home family humor.

 

 

Bertha’s Family Update

Vance Avis

 

© 2006, 2007 Vance R. Avis

 

 

 

December 14, 2006 Update Email

 

Bertha here and it’s that time of the year again – ho, ho, ho, tipsy relatives, and, yes, yes, yes, what you all look forward to – my update on the go’ins on in my family over the past glorious (NOT) year. (Just toss this in the round/oblong/whatever file if you just don’t quite have the holiday spirit yet for my hodgepodge of the cantankerous, the weird, and the downright sinful mix God bore me into without never askin’ my permission. Oh, I forgot; Nephew Ronnie taught me how to use the Internet and stuff, so this is eee——mail, so just hit the delete button.)

Horrible as it is, I have to start with very sad news. We lost our dear Great Grandpa Bartholomew, or Gramps Cantankerous, which we shortened to Tankerous, as we all liked to call him. He was 94 this last September and reckoned he had a few more good, uplifting years left before he had to hit the Viagra. But who would have known – a spry, healthy, and vibrant dirty old man, full of life before our very eyes one moment and gone the next to the great unknown. I wasn’t there when it happened because I was writin’ this letter, I mean email, to y’all. But when I got the phone call, it saddened my heart. Now I gots the hard task of telling you what I know.

This morning, the clan of Tankerous and Sammy, who most of you know as my worst half (that’s a play on the better half thing … ah poop, when you gotta explain a joke, it just ain’t funny, and this here’s a serious letter/email, so I best be on with it. Anyway, he’s my husband – at least he thinks he’s my husband, until I tell him our marriage license got blended in with his morning’s juice ‘cause I love him so much I wanted to hold it close to me and it slipped.) And who else was in the clan? Oh, how could I not forget – I mean forget – Sammy’s beautiful begonia-tattooed sister, Flower. Then there were her two kids, the ever too cute to believe (what her mother says) Little Flower, and the big, baby boy, Scoop. Scoop was so big when he was born, before he came out, the doctor actually thought we might get two scoops instead of one.

So this morning, the clan of Tankerous, Sammy, Flower, and kids set out for an outing at the zoo. They were all standing there in front of the orangoutang cage, watching them pick their noses and other body parts, and laughing their bellies sore ‘cause it looked exactly like what Uncle Squeebody does when he’s been more than 5 days without a bath. As they were laughing and laughing and one of them joked about dying laughing – well, let me just say it must have been Tankerous’ time to go – because Sammy turned around to point out to Tankerous how much the big, fat orangoutang in the corner looked like … and, I was right, it must have been Tankerous’ time to go ‘cause he had to wee-wee so bad he had just up and gone – nowhere in sight. And when Tankerous has to go that bad, he kind of waddles. Flower commented on how much she wished she’d had her camcorder pointed in his direction when he left ‘cause she could have made a bunch of money sending the tape to those energized bunny people.

Well, Sammy, Flower, and the kids just stood there bewildered, looking all around, trying to figure out where he might have gone and what to do next. After a few minutes, Little Flower suggested that when she lost her pet cricket, Rugby, she found him under a trashcan. Nobody wanted to offend Little Flower by saying out loud what they all thought of that suggestion, so they just stood there in silence, not knowing what to do. Finally, one of them (it might have been baby Scoop) suggested that doing anything was better than nothing, so they went ahead and took Little Flower’s suggestion and went about looking under all the trashcans – until they could figure out something better to do. Just so they didn’t look stupid, they all kept calling out, “Here Rugby; here Rugby.”

Finally, one of them got the brilliant idea (I just know it wasn’t Sammy) to ask some of the people around the area if anyone had seen an old man waddling by and looking really desperate. A few people wanted them to demonstrate the waddle, which fell into Sammy’s area of expertise, because luckily he had worn his too tight briefs this morning. (YES! Finally something to convince him to do his own laundry.) Some people smiled sympathetically and said if they’d seen someone desperate they would gladly have given him money – only Scoop had the nerve to blurt out “wee-wee, not money.” One little boy said he was eaten by a lion, which caused his mom to pull him quickly to her side and tell them that he’d been afraid of the lions all day. Nonetheless, they all walked away with sheet-white faces and blank stares, especially after baby Scoop uttered in this deep voice that frightened them, “You never know.”

They finally called me to tell me we’d lost Tankerous. I suggested they check the nearest restroom and females who look like they’d been recently accosted. Well, they sent Sammy and Scoop into the nearest restroom. (Scoop was needed to peek his head under the stalls.) Then they called me back. I asked them how far they were from the orangoutangs. They reckoned a little over a quarter of a mile. I suggested they check the restroom nearest to the orangoutangs.

On the way there, they ran into a lady who looked like she’d been accosted. As soon as they mentioned a waddling, desperate-looking dirty old man, she started sobbing and relating this story about a man from a deep, hidden Amazon rainforest, who’d been raised by orangoutangs and forced to survive by eating insects he picked from his skin, and who’d been blinded with confusion by the bite of a spider so rare not even National Geographic had photographed it, and who desperately needed a kind stranger to hold him and guide him into the women’s restroom because one snap of the powerful jaws of a giant, killer tree snake had taken his manhood and that thing guys use to hit the urinals, and he was so embarrassed and just needed her to be with him in the women’s restroom, and when she started helping him he kept saying how he could feel his manhood growing back and that she was working a miracle with him and …

Well, the lady was now sobbing uncontrollably, so they called me back. I told them that I had repeatedly warned Tankerous that orangoutangs don’t live in the Amazon and sooner or later someone would be on to him. The lady then suddenly stopped sobbing and told them firmly, “When you find him, do me a favor. Give him a hard kick in his growing manhood!”

I told them to go back to the orangoutangs and stay put so Tankerous can find them, and I’ll call Aunt Hildie and send her over there. Aunt Hildie is the diviner in the family. She once divined the location of Uncle Squeebody’s dentures in the town’s sewer system when he accidentally flushed them down the toilet.

BAD NEWS! An hour has passed since I wrote the stuff above, and I just got a phone call from Sammy. Aunt Hildie is there and is saying that Tankerous was eaten by a lion! I’ve got to leave for the zoo immediately. I’ll write more tomorrow.

 

December 20, 2006 Update Email

 

Bertha here again. Sorry for the several days delay in telling you about Tankerous being eaten by a lion. It takes a long time to get a scatological exam of a lion’s poop, and, of course, you have to wait for the poop before you can do it. But here’s the whole story.

When I got to the zoo, they all kept repeating, like crazy people, that Tankerous was eaten by a lion. So I asked Aunt Hildie if that is what she divined to be true. She told me that a small boy’s voice told her that Tankerous was eaten by a lion. I then asked her if Sammy or Flower had told her about the little boy they ran into who said Tankerous was eaten by a lion. Aunt Hildie was surprised to hear that, so I explained to her that his mom told them he’d been afraid of the lions all day. She immediately set about to redivine Tankerous’ location.

Well, it didn’t take her long to connect to a creature who had apparently taken over Tankerous’ body, which was now being “transported” to places unknown. We were, to say the least, awash with disbelief. Aunt Hildie then explained that the creature was from a deep, hidden Amazon rainforest and had been raised by orangoutangs and forced to survive by eating insects he picked from his skin and had been blinded with confusion by the bite of a spider so rare not even National Geographic had photographed it and desperately needed a kind stranger to hold him and guide him into the women’s restroom because one snap of the powerful jaws of a giant, killer tree snake had taken his manhood and that thing guys use to almost hit the urinals.

“Well, well, well, where have we heard that before,” I said to the group. Everyone gave me a blank stare and silence and then Aunt Hildie hesitantly said, “You just heard me say it.” Now it was my turn for the blank stare and silence. Then baby Scoop saved the day and yelled, “Tankerous!” “Yes!” I said. “That’s a technique Tankerous uses to pick up women!”

So I told Aunt Hildie to divine where he was heading right now. But the best she could do was that he was being led past a building with birds by a blonde who must workout a lot because she had extraordinary chest development. Sammy said he knew right where that was, so we all headed over there. As we approached the aviary, Aunt Hildie stopped us and said she should have explained that the birds were on top of the building. So I told her to divine again where Tankerous was heading. She said he was now being led by the blonde and a brunette with incredible, Olympic legs past a building surrounded by birds. Again, Sammy knew right where it was. As we approached a building surrounded by pigeons, Aunt Hildie stopped us again and said the birds were in water. So I again asked her to do her divining. This time Tankerous was with the blonde, the brunette, and a red head with a designer butt and being led by the three into HELL!

I questioned Aunt Hildie, “Into hell?” She said she saw fire and a smoky inferno and half-naked women. Since Tankerous had now been gone almost three hours and was a big boy and could find his way home, we left. When I got home, I opened the front door and walked into a house full of burning incense. And sitting at the dining room table, playing strip poker, were Tankerous, a blonde named Boobles, a red head named Astoria, and a brunette named Inbetween.

But enough of Tankerous for now. I have a feeling his three new girlfriends will show up in this family update more often than I care to divine. My next topic is Nephew Ronnie, who has a problem. He’s the really, really, really sweet and nice and intelligent and darling guy who helps me with my computer stuff and makes me write those nice things about him as payment – oops, he wants me to add as his “only” payment so that you don’t think he coerces more out of me. And he also wants me to write that everything I said is true and comes from my heart. I just told Nephew Ronnie to vamoose so I can tell you about his problem.

Nephew Ronnie is X years old – he made me solemnly promise not to tell his age, so I’m just going to delete the “X years,” which was his idea anyway, and write that Nephew Ronnie is old and is still a virgin. Nephew Ronnie explains that he is waiting for the right girl, whom he also claims to have found in the form of someone he calls “the Candy Shoppe girl.” I asked him for a name so that I didn’t have to keep typing “the Candy Shoppe girl,” but it seems that he only knows her name from recalling it on a nametag she was wearing when he purchased candy from her. (I did question him on the “purchasing candy” part, but he vehemently and indignantly explained to me that it really was candy, the stuff with sugar, and she really does work in the Candy Shoppe and is a very nice girl and nothing sleazy is going on.) I asked him what she looks like and I got a poem. (Ronnie can be kind of weirdly sentimental.)

 

A bewitching laugh, and a voice that sings,

A bright smile soars high, and the descant rings,

– The Candy Shoppe Girl, with eyes of beauty,

And long curly hair, a brunette cutie.

 

Ronnie is stubbornly determined to wait for the Candy Shoppe girl even though he seems to lack the necessary skills to connect up with her. To say that he is socially inept is disingenuous to the complete botch-up he is when it comes to even being able to talk to her. The poor girl has given Ronnie direct eye contact at least twice and all he could manage to do was to look away. Why did he do that? Not even Ronnie knows. It has become like a reflex reaction he has when a girl looks at him. And he hates himself for it. (Uncle Lech thinks he must be subconsciously checking out her boob size before making a commitment, but Ronnie insists he is not that shallow. Uncle Lech responds by saying we aren’t talking about how shallow he is.)

But Ronnie is still adamant about waiting for the Candy Shoppe girl, hoping that sometime he will get it right. (What’s that saying, “When cows fly …” Actually, I think that’s the saying that ends with, “Get out your umbrella,” but you get the idea.) Ronnie was hoping beyond hope that they would get together before next Valentine’s Day. The poor guy is about to give up on Christmas and New Years, and Valentine’s Day is a long ways off, but he’s lovesick for his Candy Shoppe girl and is determined to hang in there. However, certain members of the family think that Ronnie needs to get laid now, namely Uncle Lech and Cousin Smooch. (We often honor our family members with nicknames that reflect their abilities.) So Lech and Smooch set about to go to the Candy Shoppe, get the girl, bring her back here, and lock the two of them together in the tool shed with a nice little mattress and candlelight. I nixed that idea, because Ronnie would not want Cousin Smooch or Uncle Lech talking to anyone that he wanted to remain on talking terms with.

So, instead, Cousin Smooch and Uncle Lech created a sort of Candy Shoppe girl clone. They picked a “close” (meaning subject to interpretation) friend of theirs from the local pub and pool hall, Pool-Stick-Um Ethel. Now, based on Ronnie’s poem, Pool-Stick-Um looks nothing like the Candy Shoppe girl, so they needed to disconnect the tool shed from electricity and board up the window and cover over several cracks, giving Pool-Stick-Um the perfectly dark environment she needs to work her magic.

Before continuing with my story, you need to understand that Pool-Stick-Um has a reputation. She has never failed to “win” the “heart” (symbolic for all body parts) of any guy she has presented her overly voluptuous self to. And to “legitimatize” their effort like a reality TV show, Lech and Smooch rigged the tool shed with a hidden microphone. After all, with Pool-Stick-Um’s significant reputation at stake, wagering on the outcome among the pub’s regulars had become big money.

Here’s where the story gets particularly interesting – as I write this, the outcome is unknown. At this very moment, Pool-Stick-Um is in the tool shed and Uncle Lech is sending Ronnie into the tool shed to get a pickax to fix the toilet. You would, of course, think Ronnie would get suspicious, but Uncle Lech once fixed the bathtub with a shovel, so Ronnie will believe anything.

Okay. I’m at my computer where we are all gathered around listening to what is happening. I will follow this as best I can. “R” is for Ronnie; “P” for you know who. Smooch has now slipped over to the door of the tool shed and has closed it and is padlocking it tight, which we can hear.

 

P: Hi, Ronnie, it’s the Candy Shoppe girl.

R: What? Who?

P: Your Candy Shoppe girl, on the bed with nothing on but bra and panties. I would have removed them also, but I wanted you to have some fun.

R: You don’t sound like the Candy Shoppe girl.

P: I’ve been sick, but I’m well now, except for my voice.

R: Prove to me you’re the Candy Shoppe girl.

P: How? You don’t believe me? How could you not believe me?

R: Let me count the ways! But if you’re really the Candy Shoppe girl, then you will be able to conjugate the verb “to lie.”

P: Laid, laid, laid, laid, laid.

R: That’s not correct!

P: It’s how I do my conjugating!

R: Okay, answer this. When I was talking to you in the Candy Shoppe and ask you to recommend something, what did you suggest?

P: Candy.

R:  That’s not correct.

P: What do you mean it’s not correct? The Candy Shoppe sells candy. You think I would recommend a hotdog?

R: You recommended a candied apple!

P: Well if you wanted the type of candy, why didn’t you say so!

R: Okay, here’s a question with a specific answer – in fact, here are two related questions: Other than the candied apple, what did you put in the bag with it and what did you not have to put in the bag that I requested:

P: The receipt and napkins.

R: What do you mean, the receipt and napkins?

P: Those are the specific answers to your questions.

R: I don’t remember if you put the receipt in the bag.

P: Well, I do!

R: And you remember that you did not put napkins in the bag?

P: Is that a trick question?

R: What do you mean?

P: Obviously, you want me to say “yes,” then you’re going to say I’m wrong because you’re trying to trick me into saying “no.” But if I say “no,” then you’ll say I’m wrong because I remembered the receipt and you didn’t so I can’t very well say I don’t remember the napkins.

R: What are you talking about? … Okay, skip the napkins. What was the second thing – the thing I jokingly ask you if you had and you laughed and agreed that the Candy Shoppe should have that but they don’t, of course. What was it?

P: I don’t remember.

R: I’M OUT OF HERE! UNLOCK THE DOOR! I’M WAITING FOR MY CANDY SHOPPE GIRL!

 

Cousin Smooch just unlocked the door. … So, great! I bet on Ronnie. Big payday for Bertha! Next time I’ll tell you about our dog, Bark.

 

P.S. As Ronnie was going out the door of the tool shed, Pool-Stick-Um yelled back, asking Ronnie what the answer was. He hollered back to her … – Oh, heck, I’ve gotta leave some suspense for next time.

 

December 22, 2006 Update Email

 

Bertha here to break the suspense of what Ronnie jokingly asked the Candy Shoppe girl if the Candy Shoppe had to go with his candied apple, the question that stumped Pool-Stick-Um.

And the correct answer is: dental floss.

It has been a horrible day for Pool-Stick-Um. Some of the orneriest guys at the pub bet heavily on her. Her reputation is now shot, and it’s all over town that she got tripped up by dental floss. But on the bright side, I made a bundle of money, and Ronnie is still lovesick for his Candy Shoppe girl and hanging in there. But the whole event did get Ronnie thinking, so he asked me in confidence (please don’t tell him I told all of you), what if he does get together with the Candy Shoppe girl, does a bra snap or hook or clip or buckle or tie or Velcro or rivet or what?

It’s now time for a new subject, and there’s none fonder to my heart than the sweet, little dog we have. Her name is Bark, which we now kind of regret. We named her when she was just a tiny puppy and would get lost in the strangest of places under the furniture. No one could find her. So little Niece Nel suggested we name her Bark so she would bark whenever we called her name and then we could find her. It’s a little like naming a kid “Scrumptious.” When they’re cute and little and “scrumptious” and giggle at whatever they’re called, the name is lots of fun. But when puberty and high school hit, that’s when they let you know it wasn’t a good idea.

Well, poor, little Bark has had to endure her name now into adulthood, and it has caused her some degree of neuroses. Everyone loves to play with Bark, and she loves everyone and loves to play. But a simple, enthusiastic “Come here Bark” of course elicits a spontaneous bark from Bark. And of course, the person calling Bark often doesn’t want her barking, which elicits a spontaneous “No, Bark,” which of course elicits more barking and more “No’s” until poor Bark feels she can’t do anything right.

I cuddle her on my lap all the time and tell her how much we love her, but sometimes I still get the impression she feels a little like an outcast. But she has now found a compatriot in outcastdom – baby Scoop. Baby Scoop was almost born an outcast. He was a very, very big baby and began talking much earlier than anyone else in the family. In fact, my brother-in-law, Flower’s husband, Cactus Flower (no, I’m not joking), swears that ten days after his birth, Scoop looked up at him and said, “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” The problem is that Scoop was having a hard time saying the “x” and had to keep repeating it so many times that Cactus Flower had to pee in the middle and didn’t get back until Scoop was on the “lidocious” part, so no one knows if he actually said the whole word.

The first time Flower brought Scoop into this house, Bark immediately took to him and Scoop took to Bark, and they’ve been bosom buddies ever since. They take turns pushing each other in the baby carriage. And they never fight over things – whichever one is riding in the baby carriage gets to wear the little bonnet.

And Bark looks out for Scoop when there’s something they are doing that Scoop isn’t quite adroit enough to do. For example, baby Scoop loves to help dry the dishes, but he still has a hard time not dropping them. But Bark is right there waiting to catch any dish Scoop drops. So it’s quite an assembly line – Flower washes the dish and hands it to baby Scoop to dry. Baby Scoop dries it but usually ends up dropping it. It is then caught by Bark, who hands it to Niece Nel to wipe off the dog slobber and put it away.

There’s a knock at the door. I’m so excited. My son is coming home for the holidays. Be right back.

I’m back but have to cut this short. My son and his wife and two kids are here. As I said, I’m so excited. Sometimes I feel like I was a really bad mother. But my son always assures me that everything worked out just fine, so I shouldn’t feel guilty. He’s a college football coach and married the cutest girl at his high school, the head cheerleader. My son was the strongest and meanest player on his high school football team. He led them to the state championship. I was so proud of him while feeling so guilty. But he tells me that if things had been different, he would have ended up being a scrawny, boring accountant and would have married a prissy girl who knits little hearts on their pajamas and makes them wear them to bed every night.

 

Merry Christmas to everyone, in case I don’t get a chance to email again before then.

 

P.S. My son’s name is Scrumptious.

 

January 31, 2007 Update Email

 

Bertha here and finally, finally, finally, I have time to sit back down at my computer and tell you all about our Christmas. I know it’s long over for almost all of you, but for me, it’s still not over. I had 52 relatives over for Christmas, including 19 kids. And 14 of them are still here, probably until the “spring thaw.” It would take a book to tell you everything, so I’ll just give you a few of the highlights.

Everyone had a great time. The only glitch was a minor one. Uncle Squeebody read the BYOB on the invitation and showed up at my door with a bathtub. (It was an inflatable one he had blown up just before knocking on our door, which is apparently why he seemed so winded when I answered the door.) The problem was that he had exceeded his usual time between baths, which is 5 days, by about 20 days, because he thought it was a communal thing. So we rushed him off to the bathroom for his bath and did a quick load of laundry.

 

Our Gift Exchange:

 

We have an unusual gift exchange, one of our own creation. We didn’t want to bother with drawing names or numbers. And many of us hate the idea of taking someone’s gift away from them. It just isn’t in the Christmas spirit of “it’s better to give than receive.” So we do just that. Our whole gift exchange is based on giving to others. We also had another motivation. In the old way of doing it, most of us would end up with gifts we had no use for and didn’t want. Then there would always be those few people who ended up with exactly the gifts they wanted, and boy would they gloat. It was sickening, especially at Christmas, a time of giving, not gloating. So what better idea than for those who gloat, and everyone else of course, to give their gifts away to someone else. That way, no one has the gift they want, and everyone is happy because no one is gloating.

Everyone, including the kids, brings at least one wrapped gift. Most people bring two, so some people end up with two gifts they don’t want. Traditionally, Uncle Lech starts it off because the first person doesn’t get a gift right away and Uncle Lech is a nice person. (He also knows that great things come to those who wait, and he knows how the gift exchange works since he devised it.) So Uncle Lech goes over to the gift table, picks out a gift, and gives it to someone. That person unwraps the gift and then picks out another gift from the gift table. Without first unwrapping the second gift, that person must choose one of the two gifts to give to someone else. The person receiving the gift continues the process and so on until everyone has a gift. [—including Uncle Lech, and that ends the first round. A round ends when each person has received one and only one gift that round. The last person to receive a gift the first round begins the second round by taking a gift from the gift table, since there are gifts still left on the gift table. She then gives one of her two gifts away. The person who receives that gift now has two gifts before taking another gift from the gift table.]

There are always gifts left on the gift table, so now some people start to have two gifts. The rule is that the person receiving the second gift can unwrap it first, pick a gift from the gift table, and then choose which of the three to give to someone who has only one gift. When all the gifts are distributed from the gift table, the rules change. Then when someone is given a gift, she must keep the gift she is given that round and give away the gift she received the previous round. When the second round ends, the fun starts and the rules get more complex and a little murky. The person who last received a gift [keeps that gift and gives her other gift away.] gives one of her two gifts to someone. The person receiving the gift gratefully accepts the gift, keeps it, and then cheerfully gives away her other gift to someone or her two other gifts to two different people if she has two (all in the spirit of Christmas giving). The people receiving gifts then give their other gifts away until all people have been given gifts during this round, then it begins over, and so on.

[A round always ends when each person has received one and only one gift that round. However, because there are more gifts than people, when a round ends, some people will still have to give their gifts away. They begin the next round by giving their gifts away simultaneously, and maybe even to each other, which means they must also now give away the gift they were keeping during the previous round. But remember, a person can receive only one gift in a round. And remember it’s Christmas and the spirit of lovingly giving gifts prevails when settling disputes— but if that slips somebody’s mind, Uncle Lech will step in and decide.] After some shenanigans last Christmas, Uncle Lech added the rule that this is not the time or place to be giving presents to your own kids or your spouse.

Note that there may be many people giving gifts simultaneously, which is what makes it all so special for me. On the other hand, it can get very noisy and confusing and keeps escalating the longer it goes on. So when a critical mass of confusion is reach, determined by Uncle Lech, Uncle Lech shouts, “Stop!,” and that ends the gift exchange. (And Uncle Lech never gloats!)

 

Some of the Gifts Received:

 

Uncle Lech loves to make the presents he gives people. This year he came up with another classic, as he always does. He got a beat-up, old stroller at a swap meet, straightened the bent frame, cleaned it up, put a hole in the bottom of the seat, and mounted a hospital potty pan under the hole. Unfortunately, the only ones who thought it was really cool were Bark and baby Scoop, so they got it by default and are now pushing each other around in it. Neither of them is very good at emptying the potty pan without spilling, so Niece Nel does it for them.

Uncle Lech also got a second stroller at the swap meet, which he fixed up and put caterpillar tracks on it so it would go over steps easily. Everyone with kids wanted that one, so they’re still fighting over it. In the meantime, baby Scoop and Bark use it to go up and down the two-step stairs going into the laundry room. They also give rides to some of the smaller kids, which makes my two sweet outcasts feel like they fit in perfectly.

And then there’s the pop-up toaster that dances back and forth on the counter while it’s toasting … and at random intervals when it’s not toasting – obviously the brainchild of some male engineer who has never spent time in the kitchen. Cousin Mertle ended up with that little gem. The first night she had it, it woke her up at 2 AM, dancing and singing, “I’ve got happy feet and an urge to mate!” After that, you’d think she would have just unplugged the little rascal before going to bed. But Cousin Mertle lives alone and is very lonely, so she moved it to her nightstand and left it plugged in. 

Among the joke gifts was a box labeled, “Cozy Sleeping Bag.” When you open the box, inside is a plastic bag that is breathing in and out and snoring. Unfortunately, whoever received that gift forgot to take it with them when they left. Cousin Mertle saw it, liked it, and now leaves the box open next to her in her bed at night while the toaster dances and sings.

But the favorite joke gift of everyone seemed to be the ballpoint pen with 5 built-in ringing sounds. So when someone brags about how small their cell phone is, you just secretly press the button to activate the ringer, then whip out your pen, take off the top, which stops the ringing, and answer your call.

There were also some unusual but practical gifts. Cousin Susie is very creative when it comes to sewing and making her own clothes. She took three of her old Christmas tree skirts and in big bold letters sewed the word “PONCHO” onto each of them. Everyone loved how bright and colorful and Christmassy their “new” ponchos were. I seemed to be the only one who asked.

 

Update on Ronnie and the Candy Shoppe Girl:

 

Ronnie told me that Pool-Stick-Um smiled at him recently. I told him that he has to decide how horny he is. He says he’s about a 15 on a scale of 1 to 10, but Pool-Stick-Um requires at least a 20. Unfortunately, Ronnie botched stuff up again with the Candy Shoppe girl over the holidays. And he just doesn’t think he will ever meet someone else as intelligent and with such a wonderful personality – someone he feels he can really enjoy being with. I suggested to him that he get a collie since they have great personalities even if they can’t conjugate the verb “to lie.” And I told him to keep his spirits up because you never know how things will turn out in the end. He said he already knows how things will turn out in the end – he has diarrhea so often from being sick over losing her that things have turned out in the end to be hemorrhoids. He’s considering a drastic change is his life and wants my opinion:

 

1)   Join a monastery and spend the rest of his life making Gregorian chant DVDs.

2)   Move to a simple one room, unheated, no-plumbing, no-electricity shack deep in the woods and write a song about living in a simple one room, unheated, no-plumbing, no-electricity shack deep in the woods.

3)   Die, (Do standup comedy, and).

4)   Overdose, (Go to the Candy Shoppe, buy all the chocolate stuff there, and)

5)   Jump off a tall bridge, (Look at trees and watch birds)

6)   Take a bullet to the head, (If he’s doing a bulleted options list and has to pee,)

7)   Be the subject of a public hanging, (Have his portrait done for the Museum of Worthless Artifacts, and)

8)   Take a bath with a turned on hairdryer, (Go to the local beauty salon, pick out the hottest babe there who dries hair, and)

 

I told him to do the last one because baths are very relaxing. He told me he already rejected that one because he can’t have sex with one girl when he’s in love with another. He wanted to know if there are other guys with this quirk. I told him that I don’t know of any on planet earth. The poor guy just can’t seem to let go of the Candy Shoppe girl. I suggested to him it could be a problem if she has already let go of him. He knows that but hopes she hasn’t and insists she is the only one who can save his life. Since we’re now talking about life saving, I’m a little worried, so I offered a compromise - skip the sex and just go for the bath.

He wanted to know if a standup comedy routine about a guy who can’t let go of a girl would be funny. I told him it might be if the girl hasn’t gotten a restraining order. I asked him what it would take for him to let go of her. He said he just needs to know with certainty that she doesn’t care for him anymore. I told him that I don’t even know with certainty if Sammy is the man I married. I keep thinking that on one of our trips to Atlantic City he may have gotten switched.       

 

Have a great year y’all. I’ll probably send periodic updates during the year just so I don’t have to tell you everything during the Christmas rush at the end of the year.

 

Bertha signing out for now.

 

P.S. If you don’t want to receive these emails, just add old Bertha to your spam list, which is what I had for lunch.