Christmas Eve, 1981

Getting into the “spirit of the season,” at age 85, I thought I might go back to the best Christmas story ever, which transpired on Christmas Eve of 1981 (okay, maybe not the best one ever – the original is pretty good too). This story appears in my first book, Reckless But Lucky. Check out the book for many more hilarious shenanigans and daring adventures. 

A hilarious, adventurous blockbuster narrated from the point of view of my teenage son, John. The events of Christmas Eve, 1981 still stand out in my mind.  I was fifteen at the time.  It wasn’t until a year later that my father revealed all of the facts.  What happened was the beginning of the end of my childhood innocence.  At that time, I would never have imagined that such happenings could occur, and even less that they could be contrived.

Looking back on the evening now, I’m sure that all of the participants remember it as one of their more interesting moments, except maybe Uncle Arnie.

We all had to admit that it was an inspired plot.  All of the successful ingredients were there: innocent tourists in danger, stolen vehicles, naked women, a suspected rapist, policemen, firemen …. but I’m getting ahead of my story.

It all started out with my Dad’s family reunion, the first in five years.  I realize now that the family couldn’t hold them any more often than that, because they can handle only just so many.  The previous reunion included accidental and arranged fully-clothed dips in the swimming pool, a live, wild skunk in the boys cabin, snakes in a bedroom, a bull charging the official photographer and who knows what else.

The Christmas 1981 reunion was held in south Florida at my Grandma’s and Grandpa’s place.  There were lots of us and we all stayed in the same motel near the beach.  I was surrounded by aunts and uncles and nieces and nephews, with people coming from Texas, California, Connecticut and Pennsylvania.  None of us kids were older than twenty and with so many bubbly teenage gals and young jocks, we were a pretty wild bunch.

My parents flew east from California.  They were joined by my sister, Lynne, a sophomore at the University of California in Santa Barbara.  My brother Bill was a junior at Haverford College in Philadelphia.  He got out late and flew down.  I was in Fourth Form (tenth grade) at Hill School, a prep school near Philadelphia, and was picked up by my Uncle Arnie and Aunt Marge in their “Minnie-Winnie” (Winnebago).  We had a heck of a good time on our trip down to Florida.  I love Uncle Arnie, as he’s such a funny character.  Outrageous would describe him best, and he told one great joke after another.  He kept us laughing most of the way.  I was the only guy among three stacked broads, two cousins and one of their friends, and we really thumped around.

Arnie likes to play little practical jokes, but it got out of hand when he decided to take on our whole family.  I had a ringside seat to the final events, and it was great fun watching Uncle Arnie squirm.

Things started out quietly at our little motel.  We had three adjoining suites and loafed in the sun, played volleyball and soccer, found petrified shark’s teeth at the beach, swam in the ocean, used Grandma’s pool by their retirement village clubhouse and just had a super time.  Our natural exuberance might have been a bit noisy at times, but nobody complained.  When we got tired of the sun, we played electronic war games with a TV hook-up that Uncle George had brought along.

Uncle Arnie started the trouble the first day when he did three things.  He was on a roll.  The first was that he walked in on me when I was soaping up in the bathtub and told everyone he found me playing with myself.  I was furious.  The second thing was that he caught my fully dressed brother Bill off guard in the corner of the apartment yard and soaked him with a hose.  The third event was the clincher, as he tossed a bucket of ice water on my dad while he was in the tub.

To digress a bit, Uncle Arnie certainly deserved revenge on my dad.  There had been a number of episodes over the years, starting with my Uncle Arnie pleading on bent knees on his wedding day.  He and Aunt Marge had hidden their car so it wouldn’t be marked up and strung with cans as they dashed to their getaway after the reception.  Dad had sniffed out their plan and had lifted my aunt’s diaphragm from her suitcase.  He whispered this bit of information into Uncle Arnie’s ear just before he started down the aisle.

Everybody thought Uncle Arnie was nervous about getting married when he uncharacteristically sweated and stumbled through the ceremony.  In truth, he was thinking about that missing diaphragm.

Dad secretly followed him to the car when Uncle Arnie made a sudden disappearance during the reception, checking on the truth behind Dad’s whisper.  Dad passed on its location to his waiting colleagues and that car was done over in triplicate.  Uncle Arnie didn’t even seem to mind, though, after his pleadings were rewarded.  The last thing we saw of him, as he drove away through the crowd with my Aunt – tin cans bouncing – was his waving of the reclaimed diaphragm out the window.

Another time my dad sent my Uncle Arnie and Aunt Marge a baby pet skunk that he had found.  They assumed that it was deodorized, but found out differently, under trying conditions.

There’s a problem with trying to get revenge on my father. He has a genius for the dramatic practical joke.  I went to Dad’s twenty fifth-college reunion with him.  Dad was treated like a legend by his small-college classmates who had asked him to be the speaker and explain past events, still cloaked in mystery.  He accepted the blame for shutting down the campus movie theater during a love scene with a released large bag of moths clogging the light source. He acknowledged his undertaking closure of the college chapel following the hanging of a stinky and large road-kill turtle from the high rafters.  He explained how the upstairs dining room was closed down after a cow was led up the stairs for an overnight sojourn, then refused to come down.  There were water traps and exploding “torpedo” fireworks foisted on the fiery Dean of Men.  There were flying squirrels and skunks and snakes and buckets of water and shaving foam fights in the dorms, not to mention large-scale panty raids.  .

To get back to my story, let me tell you how my brother and I and Dad felt about Uncle Arnie’s actions.  We wanted revenge.  My brother Bill was in love with chemistry and specialized in making bombs and obnoxious clouds of smoke.  He had chemicals that made you piss blue when put in a glass of milk.  On this trip, Bill had brought along powder for making smoke bombs.

I was willing to go along with anything.  Dad said not to worry, that something would turn up. This was not a case for ordinary revenge.

The first thing that happened was unexplainable.  As it turned out, my dad had arranged it as a diversion but he didn’t tell anyone else.  There didn’t seem to be any motive for it and there weren’t any suspects.  Uncle Arnie’s Winnebago disappeared.  It was there at my grandparent’s apartment when we all went out to a Christmas Eve dinner at a nearby restaurant, and gone when the first people came back.

I didn’t find out about it until later that evening, since Dad and Mom and my brother and I and a couple of our cousins went straight from dinner to the airport to pick up Aunt Phyll, my father’s sister who was flying in from Connecticut.

When we got back to the apartment at about 9 pm, everybody kind of assumed that Dad was responsible.  The argument went “the keys were on the table in the apartment.  Somebody had to come in to get them. If they were going to steal the Minnie Winnie, why wouldn’t they take the cameras and other things that were lying around?”.  The atmosphere was softened with my dad’s convincing denials.  After all, he had been surrounded by reliable witnesses ever since the van had last been seen and his innocence seemed certain when he suggested calling the police.

One of my cousins began to whimper.  All of her clothes and money were in the van.  “Why would someone take it?  How could they get away with it?  Where will we sleep tonight?”.  It took half an hour before Uncle Arnie was convinced that this wasn’t funny business by my dad, or my brother or me.  The police were notified and arrangements were made for the guys to sleep on the floor and the girls would take our beds.

Dad and Mom went off to sleep.  Uncle Arnie and Aunt Marge stayed up, drinking coffee and discussing this strange turn of events.

It was almost eleven when the phone rang.  The police had just found the van, right next to the police station.

Pandemonium broke loose, and everybody took off for the police station.  Everybody, that is, but Dad and Mom.  Dad said he was too sleepy and that he and Mom would sleep off their jet lag.

What a scene it was at the van.  There were five cops, including two young rookies.  They were bug-eyed as our bevy of young beauties exploded out of the car.  The older cops were furiously dusting down the van for fingerprints, so nobody could touch anything at first.  When we got inside, we found that nothing was missing, including a spare set of keys. The van would be returned tomorrow.

When we got back to the apartment, spirits were high.  The case was solved and Uncle Arnie had left the cops a bottle of brandy for “Christmas cheer”.  They seemed to have had a better time than any of us.  We all agreed that we had made their Christmas Eve.  As it turned out, it wouldn’t be the last set of cops that had their Christmas Eve made, and firemen, too.

At this time of our happiness and celebration, no one suspected that Dad was involved.  The truth was (and Dad didn’t tell us this until a year later when he mailed the original keys to Uncle Arnie along with “Christmas Eve Greetings”). Dad had given twenty-five dollars to a young man that played volleyball at the beach with us, along with a set of keys.  He asked him to drive the van down by the police station and leave it there as a joke.  He was to wear plastic gloves, which Dad provided, so there would be no fingerprints.

During the celebration, Dad came sleepily out of his bedroom to observe the night’s merriment.  I saw him whisper something in my sister Lynne’s ear before he retired, yawning.

Lynne liked Dad’s idea and rounded up her girlfriends. She proclaimed that they were going to take a midnight swim at the beach. The girls were enthusiastic to go, and some of the guys, too.  Lynne refused our request, saying that the girls wanted to be alone.  We guys knew that they would be skinny-dipping and decided to sneak down there ourselves. It was within easy walking distance.

The girls talked Uncle Arnie into driving them down to the nearby beach, and as soon as they left, we guys took off.  It was only a quarter of a mile with our shortcut.  Uncle Arnie was to come back in an hour for the girls.

As we suspected, the girls had taken their clothes off and were having a grand time jumping and frolicking and “mooning” the moon.  Lynne had led them down the beach a way, so we were able to sneak up and grab their clothes, hiding them under some bushes.  Then, in our bathing suits, we descended on the girls.

They were furious, and, neck deep in water, demanded their suits back.  We poked fun at them and denied taking their suits for quite a while, until finally, by the tone of their voices, we realized that it would be in our best interest to return the clothes.  We had gotten maximum mileage out of our little prank.  The problem was, that we couldn’t find the clothes. They had disappeared.  About then, Uncle Arnie came ambling up for the girls.

During these ribald, good times at the beach, Mom continued to innocently sleep in her bed at the apartment, never realizing that her husband wasn’t in bed with her. Everyone knew that she didn’t and wouldn’t lie, so she was the perfect, though unwitting, alibi.

While Mom slept, Dad had been busy.  Earlier that day, shortly after he had made his arrangements with the young man on the beach, he talked to one of Grandpa’s neighbors, a volunteer fireman.  With the appropriate bribes, fifths of whiskey around, a late Christmas Eve practice session was arranged, and if any trouble were found, all would be ready.

I need to explain something about the beach where the girls were swimming.  It was actually under the jurisdiction of the police department in the next town.  When an anonymous phone call was urgently placed about a stolen red Buick, it was to that police department. They, of course, wouldn’t recognize Uncle Arnie, and would be more serious about their intentions toward a suspected kidnapper and rapist.

The second anonymous phone call described a man in a red Buick who was threatening a group of naked women swimming at the beach. This call was placed just as Uncle Arnie nonchalantly drove up to the deserted beach in his red Buick.  Uncle Arnie didn’t see Dad hiding nearby, with his cables and powders.

It took a bit of a walk before Uncle Arnie found the girls, in the water and still arguing with us guys.  Uncle Arnie started out pretty mad, but we were eventually able to convince everyone that nobody knew the present whereabouts of the clothes.  Uncle Arnie made the guys take off for home and told the girls that he would get in the car and they could jump in the back and he would drive them home.  He was wise-cracking and getting quite a laugh out of the whole scene, half turning away and promising “no-peekies!”.

In all of the excitement, Uncle Arnie didn’t notice that the car was in a different position.  Dad had backed it around and up against some staked-down railroad ties that had been put there to mark the perimeter of the parking area.  After adjusting the car, Dad slipped the girls’ clothes he had taken from under the bushes into the trunk.  He then wrapped some steel cables around the underside of the car frame, securely attaching them to the railroad ties.  It would have taken a bulldozer to pull loose.  Lastly, Dad put piles of brother Bill’s special smoke powder on and under the rear wheels, including a liberal offering to all of the nearby concrete, since once the powder is activated, it tends to extend it’s action.  Dad was right in imagining a spectacular display once the powder was ignited by the spinning rear wheels.

Despite our dismissal by Uncle Arnie, we guys didn’t go home.  Instead we waited nearby, hidden, in greedy anticipation of those gorgeously unclad girls making a break up the beach for the back of Uncle Arnie’s car.  We weren’t disappointed.  I can still see that race in my mind’s eye, those lovely bouncing boobs and buns reflecting the moonlight.

What happened next was, in our ignorance, totally unexpected.  The timing was perfect. Just after the girls jumped into the car – with Uncle Arnie mockingly holding his hands over his eyes – a police car turned into the parking lot.  Uncle Arnie tried to sneak away with his load of naked girls. His wheels spun as he went nowhere.  Smoke started to rise around his tires as the police car moved suspiciously toward him. They noted that it was indeed a red Buick, and their red lights spun as furiously as Uncle Arnie’s tires.  At the same instant a big fire truck rounded the corner, so that now two squealing sirens joined voices, an ear-splitting ruin of what had been a quiet, humid night with nothing but cricket sounds and the soft lulling of the surf and the blissful murmurs of the rescued young maidens.

Huge clouds of indescribably putrid smoke began to obscure the entire rear of the car as Uncle Arnie desperately attempted acceleration.  The police spotlight probed through the smoke at the same time that the fire hoses began their penetrations.  Gallon after incredible gallon of water splashed on the car and its occupants.

The rear door flew open.  It was a most remarkable scene.  Smoke and water everywhere. Sirens screaming. Lights flashing. Policemen shouting. Naked women rushing.

Things didn’t really get much better for poor Uncle Arnie.  Until later – much later. The trouble was, Arnie’s explanations and denials weren’t initially very convincing.  It was hard to believe that these things just “happened”.  It took all of us and a good dose of Christmas charity by the cops before Uncle Arnie was released, still wet and grumpy – this before he crawled into his bed full of sand!

When we got home, Dad was still sleeping off his jet lag and the girls were pondering Uncle Arnie’s innocence.  Why had the police found their clothes in the trunk of Uncle Arnie’s car?

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