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Christmas Stories


My favorite holiday memories aren’t from when I was young and don’t involve presents, a tree or eggnog. In fact, what became a much anticipated tradition for me didn’t involve visits to extended family, either.

Nor did it include dead bird feasts with side dishes that were never seen at any other time of year (oyster casserole?), the pomp and ceremony at church (culminating in a candle light Christmas Eve service) or the choice schwag from Santa.

It wasn’t until I went off to college, and later found work in cities far away that Christmas became a holiday I truly looked forward to. My friends, too, were scattered from coast to coast, and one year we got together an evening after Christmas and before New Year’s in the basement of the house I grew up in. It was a low-key affair with lots stories—some old, some new—and an abundance of laughter.

We got together again the next year and the next, and then mom and dad divorced, but dad got the house so the Christmas gatherings continued. Kurt Vonnegut would have called my dad a grandmaster Bokononist whose events were a karass waiting to happen. Forget six degrees of separation, my dad, Rufus, averaged three from most folks. You could easily find a connection to him with only one or two other people if you lived or worked within 500 miles of Independence, Missouri.

His unlikely connections, endless stories and ribald sense of humor endeared him to my friends. So much so, that as the Christmas gatherings continued, the stories traded were increasingly told by my dad about my friends and vice versa.

A perennial favorite of the gang—first told in tag-team fashion by my brother and his friend—became an instant classic thanks to its brutal hilarity. I won’t repeat it here, but suffice it to say that it involved my youngest brother, David (college age at the time); his good friend, Brendan who was crashing in our basement at the time; my dad; my dad’s best friend, Bob; Bob’s daughter; Clem the plumber; a sump pump; and some condoms.

Over the years, that story was, at one time or another, told by each of the players involved (sans the daughter and the plumber)—and there were years when two or three were on hand. With each telling, the story got funnier.

These annual Christmas parties became reunions. They weren’t big affairs, but the stories and laughter grew epically. And what I have come to cherish most about those parties were the stories my dad told and those told about him.

Over time, my friends took my dad up on his offers of a place to stay if they were ever in town and he, too, would visit them. And because Dad could be counted on to throw down Potlatch-style—offering thick steaks, good Scotch and cigars as his way of saying thanks for the hospitality—his visits were prized events.

The Christmas reunions ended when he died in July 2000. An arrhythmic heart beat brought him down one morning on the patio as he was enjoying a cigar with his chickory coffee.

The subsequent memorial service saw most of the Christmas reunion gang show up, most of whom drove in from Colorado. My two younger brothers—busy connecting with other friends over the holidays—and mother didn’t understand that Rufus’ friends were now my own .

Their suspicion, and perhaps jealous resentment, lasted about halfway through the first story about Dad and by the end, my brothers and mom were laughing as hard as the rest of us. The raucous laughter rolled into the evening with the reunion gang taking turns telling story after story. It was Christmas all over again.

To this day, I have a hard time remembering exactly what gifts I gave and received on a particular holiday. But the stories and friendships born in my dad’s basement during those gatherings will never die, if for no other reason than their being so damn funny.

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