Mine, like any family, has its mythology. There’s one story in our folklore that we call The Legend of Tanglewood Mall, wherein lives were lost and all hope was despaired of.

Let me preface this by saying that before I understood the cause/effect relationship that dairy products had on my system, my innards were capable of producing some pretty offensive smells.

But my dad, my dad—maybe it’s because the surgeons lopped off a hunk of his intestine when he got colon cancer in ’86, I don’t know, but my dad’s lower digestive system can emit noxious fumes that I can only compare to…I’m searching here…week-old carrion omelet?

Back to the legend.

The Tanglewood Mall is a two-story, indoor shopping center in Roanoke, Virginia, and like others you’ve seen, the second floor is all balcony. That is, you can peer down on stores, fountains, and kiosks on the ground floor.

Well, after an impressive plate of bacon at a brunch buffet that morning, Dad let loose a cloud of stench, which, legend has it, sent innocent shoppers flinging themselves over the balcony railing and plummeting to certain death, nonetheless a more pleasant fate than the olfactory assault of my dad’s farts.

No remorse from my father after the fact.

This year, The Fambly, because of in-law scheduling and whatnot, was to celebrate Christmas on the 27th of December. And in the run-up, I found myself at the old homestead in the mountains of North Carolina, alone with my dad. For three days.

That’s hard enough because he’s a registered Grumpy Old Man and pathologically incapable of maintaining a space. Seriously, after one upbraiding, a few years ago, about not at least wiping down the kitchen, he argued, “I did wipe down the kitchen!” to which my brother replied, “With what? A porkchop?”

That will tell you about the state of the house. And every time I get up there, I start skating across the floors on Clorox wipes and scrubbing down cabinet doors, but it’s just so demoralizing because no matter how much you try, it’s only going to look sort-of clean, and the moment you leave it under my dad’s stewardship, the whole place will start collapsing in on itself again.

So on the 25th of December, still twenty-four hours before anyone with whom to commiserate would arrive, snow was falling in great fluffy flakes, threatening to incarcerate us in the house. The old place is in the middle of nowhere and lacks internet access. This is our “entertainment system”:

Yep, that’s a 13-inch color television set and a VHS player. I’m not sure what those rabbit ears are.

Needless to say, Dad and I were going a little stir-crazy.

Dad decided he wanted to go to town to buy Pledge. His version of cleaning is spritzing lemon-scented furniture polish around to convince people’s noses to deceive their eyes. (When I told my mom this story, she added, “And vacuum the center of the room.”)

Remember, it was Christmas Day so everything was closed, but in an effort not to sink an ax into each other’s chest, a la The Shining, we piled into my Outback and drove to Boone in the blowing snow. Some of the convenience stores were open, but we made a wide loop searching for something better, and on the way to Blowing Rock sat a Walgreen’s, open 24 hours.

Even on Jesus’ birthday.

God bless capitalism.

Walgreen’s was hopping. Dad shuffled toward the cleaning supplies aisle, and I wended my way through the store, looking for a few last stocking stuffers. When we had both found what we needed, we headed to the front of the store.

I had already paid for my stuff, and Dad was just taking his receipt when the little hairs in my nostrils curled upward in revolt; my eyebrows flexed involuntarily. There was no mistaking, my dad had let one go in the check-out line. I backed toward the sliding doors, and when he turned toward me, I scowled at him.

He chuckled.

“Dad!” I said. “How could you?!”


I hissed, “It’s Christmas!


I tried to reason with him: “That poor cashier has to stand there until his shift ends!”

By this time, we were in the car. Dad was tearing up and slapping the dashboard.

I appealed to his sympathies: “The Mexican guy behind you looked like he was reconsidering his life choices!”

No use. Dad quaked with laughter all the way home.