Merry Stressmas: It's That Time of the Year

Storyteller Kevin Kling finds that Christmas in his family usually includes some type of family disaster. But for Kevin, that's okay: Those are the things that seem to keep the family talking and remembering.


And we couldn't let this festive season pass without hearing from storyteller Kevin Kling.

KEVIN KLING: The best holiday stories are like a good wine in that they grow out of stress and like a fine wine, they get better with age. In my family, a single phrase opens a story like a door to a cross between an Advent calendar and a haunted house, each portal harboring a ghost of Christmas past.

There was the year of the salad dressing, when my sister's new husband, eager to make a good impression on our family, leapt up at the Christmas dinner table to dress the salad. Unfortunately, he hadn't checked to see if the cap was on the bottle, so as he smiled and shook the bottle the family looked on with horror as Italian salad dressing flew over his shoulder and all over the new curtains.

The year of the peaches happened decades before my birth. During Prohibition, my grandfather had made some of his famous home brew and left it to ferment in the cellar. During Christmas dinner, while the preacher sat at the table, some of the bottles began to explode. Everybody knew the sound and what it was but my grandfather, without batting an eye, looked at my grandmother and said there go your peaches, honey. A catchphrase in our family ever since.

My first memory is the year of the TV dinner. As kids when we went to the grocer store, my brother and I usually sat in the car while my mom shopped. She'd crack a window and we were fine. Actually I enjoyed hours of enforced boredom sitting in the car, staring out the window, looking at the car next to us with a kid looking at me. But this year was a huge shop and it was ten degrees out so we got to go in, pleading the whole time to go down the cereal aisle for Lucky Charms.

As mom loaded up the shopping cart, we hung off the opposite sides, stretching out our arms and singing the Hawaii Five-O theme song. Suddenly I got a terrific idea for a science project. If I jumped off, would my brother's weight be sufficient to topple the cart? Well, the answer was yes. Quite sufficient. He lay in the aisle under a metal cart and all the fixins, screaming in pain. My mom said no, Stephen, no, no. Look, look. You're fine. And your turkey is fine, see? My turkey? Yes, yes. Your turkey. See here? He carried the frozen turkey the rest of the way to the checkout counter, hiccup-crying my turkey.

Two weeks later when the time came to thaw the turkey, it was nowhere to be found. Who'd have taken the turkey? Turns out my brother had. He figured if somebody broke in the house for his turkey, the freezer was the first place they'd look. So he'd kept it under his bed. Now all of a sudden that smell made sense. Also the fact that every night for the past two weeks I noticed he slept with a loaded bow and arrow in his bed. I kept thinking any of those nights my dad could have popped in to check on us only to be plugged by my brother.

So that was the year we ate TV dinners.

Finally, last year was the year of the dog. Now, we have this Dachshund named Faulkner. And Dachshunds were bred to hunt badgers, which are known to be fierce. At first I felt sorry for the little Dachshunds - until I owned one. Now I pity the badger.

Last Christmas, I brought Faulkner to our family gathering, and there was food on the dining room table so I warned everyone to watch out. At home we call him a counterterrorist. Suddenly, Faulkner made his move. Quick as a flash he was on the table, right to the bowl of my sister-in-law's famous oatmeal cookies. Faulkner quickly deduced if he started eating cookies, he may get one or two down before I collared him, so with his face he smashed all the cookies to tiny bits then inhaled the entire supply. It took only seconds, but was so violent and swift nobody had moved. Nobody spoke of the incident the rest of the day and I was ashamed. Faulkner seemed pleased. I mean, it couldn't have gone better.

The next day as more family arrived, my brother turned to a cousin, pointed at Faulkner and said you see that dog? You couldn't believe what that dog can do. Then he recounted the story with a pride reserved for an honor student. The rest of my family joined in, adding color and details. They patted him like see, and I can touch him. Overnight, Faulkner had achieved legendary status in a story that would be recounted time and again. And I was reminded how love thrives in audacity. It's why so many girls in high school fell for the wrong guy. It's also why a good holiday needs a bit of tragedy.

This week I'm visiting my family and I know something will happen. Oh, yes. It will happen. But until then, I'd like to wish everyone a Merry Stressmas and a very Happy Holler Day.

BLOCK: Kevin Kling collects and tells his family stories in Minnesota.

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