I can’t deny that in some quarters the family I grew up in has been called dysfunctional. (My family has also been called worse – say, true to our Italian roots, crazy, drunk & loud – but let’s not forget that the first word in dysfunctional is “fun.”)
Two heartwarming Ricki C. family Christmas stories:
1) In 1969 I was a senior in high school and my second girlfriend ever was a cute blonde majorette. I attribute that fact solely to the power of rock & roll. In mid-1968 I was a shy, socially retarded, book-reading geek who had never even spoken a coherent sentence to a girl, let alone dated one. Then I joined a classmate’s rock & roll band and – courtesy of the six-string piece of wood hanging around my neck at basement parties & sock-hops – I became a local version of a rock & roll star, hence the cute, perky, blonde majorette girlfriend. (Frankly, I was in way over my head.)
One Saturday night in December I wound up at said girlfriend’s house, playing board games with her mom & dad and two little sisters. I have to admit, when mom & dad and little sis starting pulling out Candyland, Game Of Life and Clue I had serious, serious doubts about the evening. My own little family had never played a board game in its entire existence. From the time I was five years old and could hold my own cards, we had played various card games – poker, euchre, gin rummy – and we played for money, always. There was no Crazy Eights or Go Fish for this little Ricki C. Cash changed hands regularly, and I learned young that no money was gonna be given back just because you cried or because you didn’t know how to gamble a hand to a successful conclusion. There were no backsies in our household.
Anyway, that Saturday night with my girlfriend’s family turned out pretty great: we played charades and five or six different board games. Cookies & hot chocolate were even served. Everybody was laughing and having fun, nobody yelled at anybody else, nobody threw down their cards and called another family member a goddamn cheater, it was really quite festive and charming. I remember thinking very clearly at one point, “I bet this is what it’s like at the Cleavers, or Donna Reed’s, or the family on Father Knows Best’s house.” I realized at that exact moment that there actually were families like the ones I had previously thought were only made up for television. It was an eye-opening moment, a definite epiphany.
By New Year’s Day, the majorette had dropped me like a live grenade for a hippie piano player who could play that Simon & Garfunkel album “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary & Thyme” all the way through, so consequently my career of familial board-game playing was extremely short-lived. To this day I find myself thinking about that Saturday night every December. It’s a warm and comforting memory, a night I was a member of a sitcom family.
2) Christmas Eve, 1976, my extended family – my mom, my sister & brother, my sister’s husband, various aunts, uncles & cousins, etc. – were all in my sister’s basement on the West Side and everybody was wicked drunk. It was a rager. Even by our rather alcoholic standards, that night was especially out of control. Oddly, though – since virtually EVERYBODY was drunk on their ass – it was a pretty congenial gathering. People might have been yelling & slurring, but they were yelling & slurring in a really genuinely friendly, familial manner. (I’d certainly witnessed fistfights in the family when we were less drunk than that night.)
Anyway, at one point the ping-pong table got turned on its side and my brother-in-law was preparing to throw the brand-new, and – I might add – really, really sharp steak knives he and my sister got for a present that night AT MY SISTER, who was standing up against the overturned ping pong table, holding party balloons in her hands AND HER MOUTH. I fully admit I was also totally drunk that night, but I was seemingly the only person at the party sober enough to realize the knife-throwing act was really not a good idea and I told my brother-in-law, “Hey Jim, come on, nobody wants to go to the emergency room on Christmas Eve, let’s cool it.” Jim laughed, waved me aside, took another drag on his cigarette, said, “I’ve got this,” and raised the first knife to throw.
“I’m really not joking, Jim,” I said, backing up to where my sister stood – smiling & posing like the lovely knife-thrower’s assistant she was right at that moment – and said, “Come on, Dianne, this is enough.” Just at that moment – THWACK!!! – a steak knife thumped into the ping pong table right next to my head. “Goddamn it, Jim,” I yelled as I whirled around, “I told you not to throw this.” “And I told you to get out of the way,” he yelled back as I pulled the knife out of the table in case I needed to use it against him to stop that particularly dangerous little game.
All of a sudden Jim and I realized we were faced off against one another with knives in our hands on Christmas Eve and we both busted out laughing. Everybody cheered, nobody got stabbed, nobody wound up in the hospital. Just another heartwarming Cacchione family Christmas. – Ricki C. / December 13th, 2014
(Pencilstorm welcomes endearing Christmas stories like these from our contributors, or just from our readers. Send them in, we'll print the best ones throughout December.)