I write something for my family every year.  This is the essay I wrote last Christmas which was read at our family dinner.  Some of it is true, some is semi-true, some is patently false and some is unashamedly plagurized.  Some names have been changed to prevent further embarrassment to the innocent.

Dear friends and family:

You’re probably all surprised to receive our annual Christmas letter this year, what with all the misfortune our family has suffered. In fact, you’re probably saying to yourselves “I doubt if we’ll be getting our annual holiday missive from Joyce, what with all the tragic misfortune her family has suffered this year.”…” but you can sleep peacefully tonight knowing that I’ve managed to find the time to write what I hope will be a reassuring and uplifting letter to brighten your holiday season.

For those of you who haven’t been privy to our continuing sagas, let me just start out by saying Don’t worry about us!  We’re Lanscombes, and, if nothing else, we at least have a good lawyer in the family who has taken on Al’s current medical malpractice lawsuit. When we rang in the New Year on January 1st, 2006, everything seemed to be going our way. All the children and grandchildren were doing fine in their various educational and work pursuits, and everyone was practically glowing with good health.  Al and I had celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary the previous year, and we had just gotten back from a wonderful Golden Anniversary trip to the wilds of Alaska, where Al had the opportunity to fulfill one of his life’s ambitions:  To photograph polar bears in their natural habitat.  The picture he took of the mother polar bear with her young was truly inspiring and I’ve enclosed a copy for your entire family to enjoy. I don’t know about you, but I find it really picks up my spirits when I’m feeling blue about how things ended up!


Yes, the year was starting out great, and things went along just fine until that fateful day in April when Al was the victim of a horrible industrial accident at work. All of you who’ve known Al all these years can attest to one fact: He is nothing, if not incredibly safety-conscious, and this has served him and his many dozens of employers well over the years. And while one does not like to use the phrase “job-hopper,” Al has “been around the block” as far as his work history! In each and every job, he has been a faithful employee and diligent about adhering to strict safety procedures. Sadly, these safety procedures were not in place when John, our son, demanded that Al lift and carry a heavy and cumbersome roll of wire from one place to another in his place of business,  J.L. Electric Company, where Al had toiled tirelessly and cheerfully for many years. Unfortunately, Al was not wearing his custom-made back and kidney truss at the time. It had been sent out to our local “Truss-U-Up” store for some minor adjustments and general disinfecting, so Al was left essentially helpless and vulnerable to just the kind of accident he had when he lifted that roll of wire. To his credit, he had gotten it about halfway off the floor when his supportless back and kidneys gave out and the whole roll landed on his right big toe, crushing it beyond recognition, and causing Al to pee himself in the process. After the paramedics whisked Al off to the emergency clinic, our daughter Karen heaved a sigh of irritation (which is her usual emotional state) and phoned the company’s Workmen’s Comp carrier to report the injury of her father.

I’ll spare you the obviously gory details regarding the various medical procedures Al has had to endure these past few months, but the end result has been the sad loss of  Al’s big toe; the toe he liked to refer to as “The Commander Toe”. Unfortunately, it commands no more because Al now lists horribly to the right in his gait. It seems that the loss of the right “Commander Toe” has resulted in an inability to steer himself in the correct direction, and periodically I will find him in the back yard walking around in circles, unable to walk a straight path down to his little room in the barn where he whittles small animals out of scraps of wood and drinks beer out of an old insulated coffee mug all day.   And here is the crux of our problem:   We strongly feel that Al wouldn’t have lost his big toe if he hadn’t been forced to use that terrible Workmen’s Comp doctor he was referred to. Anybody in his or her right mind would have known instantly that this doctor was suspicious just from his name – Dr. Hussein. Now, I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking, “Hold it a minute, Joyce. You are not a bigot!”, and you’re right. I believe everyone has the right to be given a chance to prove themselves, regardless of whether their last name is the same as the brutal dictator we just unseated, and whose execution by hanging we secretly would like see televised. But you see, the man’s name was not his only problem. The real problem was his thick accent, which made his speech sound as garbled and unintelligible as a small retarded child.  Everyone reading this probably already knows that my hearing is, shall we say, “not up to par” in spite of me having the most expensive and up-to-date Deaf-No-More hearing aids that money can buy! In fact, unless you’re standing right in front of me, enunciating every syllable as clearly as possible in the loudest voice you can muster, I just don’t hear much of anything at all! These days, with the huge numbers of immigrants manning our 7-11s and fast food counters, I’ve discovered that it’s nearly impossible to understand a word of what most of what our new, non-native speakers are saying most of the time – which makes for some pretty interesting conversations, and with me purchasing things I know I didn’t ask for in the first place. I try to keep a sense of humor about it, which I think is best, don’t you?

After the initial accident, Al was placed on a regimen of heavy pain medication, which kept him in a perpetual state of stupefaction. It wasn’t really much of a problem to have him sitting around like a zombie day in and day out, but the constant drooling was starting to make things pretty soggy around our house and I spent a lot of time hovering around him with a roll of Bounty paper towels, trying to catch what seemed to be buckets of spit flowing from his open mouth. It was my job to take him to his appointments with Dr. Hussein every other day. Just getting Al out to the car was a whole ordeal, in and of itself because the sight of the flowers blooming in my gardens would cause him to perk up and he’d try to wander off to be among the multi-colored blooms, as if he were on some kind of crazy LSD trip – just like those hippies we saw back in California in the 60’s! Oh the fun they seemed to be having! 


Sometimes I’d have to stand by the open car door and wave a few colored streamers over my head in an effort to distract him from his strange, drooling obsession with the flowers. He’d catch sight of those streamers and would stagger and lurch over towards me, and I’d push him in the car as quick as I could and fasten his seat belt so he couldn’t get out. It was so funny! He couldn’t figure out how to unfasten his safety belt, and he’d moan and drool and moan some more before giving up and going back into his usual zombie-like stupor. Then I’d drive him into town; shove him out of the car and into the doctor’s office. As I previously said, I couldn’t really understand a word the doctor spoke, but after examining Ed’s crushed and mangled toe, he always said the same two words over and over:  “Bapea” and “Bato, “ while shaking his head and looking rather grim. Then he would shove more pills at Al, and the receptionist would make another appointment for two days later. After a few days, it was obvious to me that Al’s toe wasn’t getting any better. In fact it seemed to be much worse-looking. Now, I’m not a medical person, but after raising 3 clumsy, accident-prone children, I know what an infected wound looks like and Al’s toe was harboring some kind of wicked poison. It wasn’t so much that it looked bad – there’s no way a crushed and mangled toe can look good – it was the smell that was especially worrisome. There’s no way to put this delicately: Al’s toe smelled like urine.  At first I wondered, in addition to the constant drooling, if Al wasn’t also urinating on himself! I doubted that because even though he may have been as drugged up as a downtown crack whore, Al always seemed to manage to get himself to the bathroom when he needed to go.  However he continued to smell just like a bus station urinal day in and day out. One day, after a couple of miserable weeks of smelling this smell and using up several cans of Glade Room Spray, the realization began to dawn on me that the smell was coming from Al’s toe!   The very next day, Al had his usual appointment with Dr. Hussein and I was determined to get some answers regardless of the communication snafu. I left Al propped up in the waiting room as I went in to talk to the doctor.  In my loudest and clearest voice I said, while holding my nose, “THE TOE HAS BAD SMELL. DO YOU UNDERSTAND?”   To which Dr. Hussein replied with his usual “Bapea, Bato.”  I tried again – “TOE SMELLS VERY VERY BAD! TOE SMELLS LIKE PEE-PEE.” Dr. Hussein gave me a big smile and, nodding his head furiously again said, “Bapea, Bato!!”   Now, maybe you, dear friend, had already figured out Dr. Hussein’s strange patois and if so, then hats off to you!  However, it took me several frustrating visits and several more smelly days before I was able to put two and two together:   The words Dr. Hussein were saying in his rudimentary English were “Bad Pee” and “Bad Toe”  On our last visit, the doctor added one more phrase to this recapitulation: “Cutof Bato,” while making a chopping motion with his hand.  I had spent enough time around our dear doctor by now to understand that he wanted to amputate Al’s right Commander Toe. 

Needless to say, a few days later, after fruitless pleading with the horrible Workmen’s Comp insurance lackeys to change doctors, Al’s toe was removed.  I’m embarrassed to admit that I was somewhat relieved.  No longer did my house smell like an overripe bum had been sleeping in it,  and after a short stay at rehab,  Al was able to get off the pain medications.  Although Al still needed a push in the right direction every so often, things were beginning to shape up again around the old homestead.   That is until we got some more very bad news.   The so-called “Risk Specialists” at the cut-rate Workmen’s Comp outfit used by J.L. Electric Company made a surprise decision to deny Al’s claims based on the fact that he was not wearing his back and kidney truss at the time of the accident.  Our litigation against the insurance company is pending and I’m not at liberty to say much more about it at this time, but the end result has meant financial difficulties for everyone, including our son John, who had to sell his business, J.L. Electric Company back in September.  Even though Al’s accident was technically John’s fault, we Lanscombes bear no bad feelings for our own.   Pam, John’s wife, has stepped right in and taken over the legal aspects of our case.   Amanda, our dear granddaughter who recently graduated from massage school,  has been slipping us a few dollars every once in awhile, which has really helped out a lot what with Al now needing a specially made shoe for his deformed right foot.

Sometimes I worry about Amanda’s chosen profession, especially now that she’s also started giving these so-called “Passion Parties”. I’m not exactly sure what goes on at these parties, but as far as I’m concerned, giving massages and having sex toy parties just isn’t what nice young ladies should be doing with their time.  Still, I’m thankful for the extra cash.   Tim, our other son, has fired up his woodworking skills and is experimenting with a wooden toe prosthesis for Al, which he hopes will be ready by Christmas. 

So that brings us up to the present.  I suppose that most families would have fallen apart by now, or deteriorated into utter dysfunction, – much like those families you see on Cops or that Jerry Springer show –but not us.  We may blame each other occasionally for our misfortunes, and sometimes that blame might be justified (like in this case) but we know that deep down, the only people we can really rely on is each other.   And that’s worth more than anything.

Merry Christmas!


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