Gunches on the Road
A North Dakota Christmas
Some people are dreaming of a white Christmas. I’ll take rain.
Last year the Gunches spent Christmas Up North.
I got to explain. My mother-in-law Ms. Larda might look like any other old lady, but she caroused around the block a few times when she was young. Her first husband was a Lollapalooza, a Italian boy with a roving eye. Other parts of him roved, too. Those parts was roving with a lady named Bimbette when Bimbette’s husband came home unexpected. Lollapalooza leapt for the balcony, miscalculated, and plunged three floors in his fedora and boxer shorts. This left Bimbette with some explaining to do, and Ms. Larda a tragic widow with four little Lollapaloozas. First thing she did was flush Lollapalooza’s entire wardrobe down the toilet. A year later, she married the plumber, Gomer Gunch, who had come to New Orleans from North Dakota to visit and stayed for the food. The kids all took the name Gunch because it was easier to spell. And before poor Gomer passed on, of Ms. Larda’s wonderful cooking, they produced Gloriosa, the family beauty, and the last of the Gomer Gunches of Frostbit, North Dakota.
A year ago, Gloriosa got a legal letter saying that twelve Gunch gravesites in Frostbit would revert to the state on Jan 1, unless she went there and laid claim or sold them, per her great-great-grandpa’s will.
Gloriosa has married rich and don’t need more money, but she gets a brilliant idea. The entire family can experience a white Christmas. She will sell the plots for enough to fly us all up there.
She makes a reservation for us all at the Buttered Toast Lodge in Frostbit. We will occupy the whole place.
We get there the day before Christmas Eve, me and all the Gunches, looking like fat mummies in the warmest clothes we own, which ain’t warm enough.
Right away, I notice Ms. Larda is glaring at the tourist map. “They got an unhealthy obsession with rear ends in North Dakota,” she says. “Looka all these places. White Butt. Black Butt. Camel Butt. Even Young Man’s Butt.”
“It’s ‘butte.’ Pronounced ‘beaut,” I say.
“Yeh? Why not name them ‘asses’ and pronounce them ‘ahhhsses’? Means the same thing,” she says.
I don’t argue. I am looking out the window and there ain’t no snow. Just rain. Like home, only colder. Santa is bringing the kids little red sleds tomorrow. This will be a problem.
It gets worse. Ms. Larda finds out what Ruth and Ethel, the two old ladies who run the place, are planning for Christmas dinner. Turkey stuffing made from sliced bread and celery. White gravy made from butter and flour. Boiled potatoes.
She tells me to call my gentleman friend Lust — he is flying in late, because his bar business is hopping right now —tell him we got a emergency, and to bring a quart of oysters, some French bread, and a bunch of other things.
On Christmas morning, Lust turns up with it all, just like Santa Claus.
We still don’t got snow, but we can see a lot of it on top of them butts with the nasty names. So we borrow Ethel’s old VW van, pile in with kids and sleds, and go there. Thank God Ethel dug out something called “snow pants” for the kids, pocket warmers for us, and sent hot chocolate in a lot of thermoses.
Ms. Larda stays at the lodge with Ruth and Ethel, all chopping and sautéing and mixing and nobody making white gravy.
We slide on sleds; create a Mr. Bingle out of snow; make the kinds of snowballs you throw, and throw them; find out that shrimp boots, even with three pairs of socks under them, ain’t the same as snow boots, and freeze our butts off on that butte.
We come home to hot gumbo. Oyster dressing. Stuffed mirlitons. Creamed potatoes with deep brown gravy. Bourbon pecan pie.
Ruth and Ethel said they never ate so good in their lives. And we never knew about hand warmers or snow pants in our lives. So we all helped each other.
That’s what it’s all about.