Dodging the Christmas Bullet

Years ago, I was faced with spending my first Christmas away from my family. Rescue appeared in the form of a nice Marine I was dating. We’ll call him Joe, in case he’s reading this, twenty-five years later. Joe came from a big family in upstate New York, and he invited me to spend Christmas with them. Great! I’d fit in perfectly and they’d love me.

Being sweet, Joe insisted on buying my plane tickets. Being not-too-bright, he booked the cheapest deal available, which meant two days before Christmas, I flew alone from South Carolina, through Atlanta, and into Buffalo, where I was stuffed aboard a small puddle-jumper into Schenectady. This took all day, and I was boarding planes that got progressively smaller and flying into cities that were increasingly colder. When I landed in Schenectady, it was about ten degrees. As if that wasn’t bad enough, a flight attendant spilled vodka on me, and I changed into the one extra piece of clothing that was in my carry-on bag, which was a black mini-skirt.

Imagine me trying to run across a snowy tarmac in Schenectady wearing high-heeled boots, a black mini-skirt, and a Be-Dazzled jean jacket, looking like an escapee from Santa’s Island of Misfit Hookers.

It got worse. His uber-religious family was horrified that I wasn’t wearing church clothes for midnight mass (just an hour after my plane landed), Joe dragged me to the mall on Christmas Eve to buy presents for all fourteen of his nieces and nephews, and one of his sisters gave me a Bible wrapped in a giant fluffy pink cover that looked like a lacy cake with my name embroidered on it and spelled incorrectly.

And then, just when Awkward Holiday Moments couldn’t have descended into any further madness, it happened. On Christmas Day, in front of the tree.

Joe got down on one knee, in front of his entire family, and presented me with an engagement ring.

Gentlemen, when you go to propose to a young lady, do NOT do it in front of your entire family. Because much like a cornered wildebeest, she could quite possibly vomit all over your mother’s Martha Stewart–inspired living room.

Yep. I was THAT girl. The one who upchucked after a combination of stress, pilfered communion wine, sleep deprivation, a giant sausage and kipper breakfast, and the horror of publicly being asked to marry someone I only vaguely knew while his extended family looked on, grinning at me.

I don’t remember my exact answer. To avoid any further humiliation, I muttered something about “Oh let’s talk about this later,” and beat a hasty retreat to the safety of the guest room. It was all a blur after that, and a few days later I was back in Charleston, not officially engaged, but still in possession of a ring.

I’m happy to report that I dodged a bullet. A few months later, Joe got injured in a training exercise and was sent to a hospital where he fell in love with – and dumped me for – a trauma nurse. I, in turn, pawned the ring for a hundred bucks and bought my first typewriter, which was far more useful.

In retrospect, Joe probably dodged a huge bullet too.


  1. You lucked out, he missed out, you firecracker, you. ;)

    Great post! Just the right amount of embarrassment!


  2. Dear oh dear! I'm amazed you stuck it out for a few more days... I'm so glad it worked out the way it did. How much more awkward if this were about your husband! The fake name wouldn't help so much...

    Loved this, Patti!

  3. I didn't think it was possible to make me feel better about the holidays, but you did it. ;) At least Joe can be remembered as a great story. Thanks for sharing!


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