How a Christmas extravaganza turned into a tipsy nightmare

How a Christmas extravaganza turned into a tipsy nightmare

By Davison Cheney, KSL.com Contributor | Posted - Dec. 9, 2011 at 8:34 p.m.



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SALT LAKE CITY -- I am not sure if my mother’s neighborhood Christmas extravaganza should be considered a wonderful holiday family memory, or a nightmare classified alongside having one's fingernails pulled off or water boarding.

Neither. Or maybe both

My step-mother Norma Lou loved a party. Not to "party" the verb, but a "party", a lovely, uplifting and spectacular noun kind-of party.

And Norma Lou loved Christmas.

As far as I am concerned, “Do you love Christmas” will be the first question asked of us in heaven when we reach those pearly gates. Its answer will, no doubt, not only determine our future address, but whether or not we can have any mail forwarded.


Gramma Ruby was proud of her British heritage which was a little baffling to the few of us who were paying attention because she was Swedish. She protected her once-a-year-brush with rum fervently.

In Norma Lou's second year of marriage to my dad — the first Christmas being spent deciding whose family holiday traditions to follow — Norma Lou decided to host the grandest holiday party anyone had ever seen. And at the heart of the party there was to be a talent show featuring the best of the south side.

There would be puppets. There would be exhibits. There would be Sister Magleby, the neighborhood opera singer and her all-encompassing vibrato. Of coerce, there would be little kids being not so gently urged for 20 minutes to recite “The Night before Christmas,” each line having to be whispered in their ear, each sentence cut into child-sized bits.

A living nightmare if you ask me, if not for what came shortly after.

My gramma Ruby, visiting us from Idaho, was relatively new to cooking but had fallen deeply in love. She did not consider her every-day, come-to-the-table fair as cooking. Cooking was from a book and she was starting to amass a few. There was no holiday recipe or concoction that she could not master. Eggnog for the masses, however, had her thrown for a loop.

Not the eggnog itself. She could make with her eyes shut — which may account for several of her recipes — but the unique dilemma it presented her to make it without the alcohol of her ancestors.

The origins of eggnog, its etymology, and the ingredients used to make the original eggnog drink are often debated. Not in front of gramma Ruby however. For her, eggnog would always be “egg’n’grog”, and it was made with rum. Nothing else would do.

Gramma Ruby was proud of her British heritage which was a little baffling to the few of us who were paying attention because she was Swedish. She protected her once-a-year-brush with rum fervently.

Norma Lou said no, of course, to rum at the neighborhood Christmas festivity. Many of those to be in attendance were Mormons — we ourselves were Mormons — and there would be no concession made to anything that would take the attention off the show and her lovely home.

As expected, gramma Ruby showed up with a tanker of the stuff, and Norma Lou, always gracious, set it aside under the guise of getting more ice. She quietly instructed me to find a home for it, which meant to get rid of it. And I did.

The weather outside on party night was delightful with a light snow fall and no wind. Norma Lou was baffled that my father would not knock a wall out of the living room like Bing did in “White Christmas” so we could all watch it snow peacefully from the comfort of the sofa.

When the show started slightly after the snow started, my sister opened with a medley of holiday Christmas favorites featuring the letter “R”. My brother was forced to recite the “Ride of Paul Revere,” which he made Christmas-y by sporting a beard and holding a candle. He made it funny for the rest of us by burning the lower end of the beard with said candle.


Grandma Ruby, being not all that charmed with the talent on display, found her egg-grog in the snow bank, thought the setting lovely and began to serve it.

Guests, those not enthralled at the antics of a trio of church leaders yodeling, or the mayor’s wife reciting the story of the little drummer boy in pig Latin, could look around, grab a plate of holiday yummies, or talk a walk around the floating candles in the pond banked by snow drifts.

The very same snow drifts in which I had hidden the “egg’n’grog”.

Grandma Ruby, being not all that charmed with the talent on display, found her “egg’n’grog” in the snow bank, thought the setting lovely and began to serve it.

There are events from that year I remember with equal clarity. I remember that someone took a shot at the president, that the Olympics went on without the red, white and blue that year, and that our high school almost won the state basketball championship.

I also remember that the second act of Norma Lou’s holiday music extravaganza went far better than the first half, and that brother Jensen, who had volunteered to take folks on hay rides, had to be driven home himself after downing several mugs of "egg'n'grog" and cutting several new paths through the field.

Norma Lou's neighborhood Christmas extravaganza will be remembered by all of us, including a few carolers who had to sleep it off.

In spite of that fact, I still love Christmas.

Cheney writes, often humorously at davisoncheneymegadad.blogspot.com

Davison Cheney

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