Holiday traditions are wonderful things.

But during this past season, our household upheld one peculiar tradition that’s quite unwelcome. Maybe it’s more of a coincidence than tradition, but either way, it’s almost expected during the holidays.

Things can break at any time of the year, but when it happens during the holidays, it’s especially aggravating, not to mention memorable.

I found myself at the hardware store a couple of hours before closing time on Christmas Eve, looking through the assortment of plumbing parts on display. Just as I was asked if I needed help, I spotted what I was looking for.

I explained that it seems that something in the bathroom always needs fixing whenever the holidays arrive. This has become routine enough that I keep a supply of parts on hand, so I had dipped into that supply earlier in the day to fix a toilet that wouldn’t shut off without jiggling the handle. What’s more, without warning, the tank would periodically run briefly.

A new flapper and seal did the trick, and it turned out to be so easy to install that even I was able to handle the chore. My mission accomplished, I decided to visit the hardware store and replenish my inventory. After all, you never know when the other bathroom will need attention.

I approach DIY home repair tasks with apprehension, because I’m not very handy around the house. Often, I do more damage than good, which results in turning what would have been an easy repair for a professional into an expensive project — after I give up and call.

Declaring this particular holiday plumbing issue a “Christmas tradition” is stretching the truth. The toilet had been running for several weeks, but it was easy enough to ignore until the time neared for company to arrive.

It could have been much worse, because it has been. There was the year when the kitchen sink backed up just as family from out-of-town was about to arrive.

In other years, appliances decided to get in on the fun. How well we remember when the thermostat for the kitchen oven quit working on the night before Thanksgiving. Fortunately, we were able to commandeer church and office kitchens that weren’t being used, and our traditional turkey dinner went on as scheduled.

Such situations can seem like disasters when you’re going through them, but after you manage to figure out how to work around them, they become holiday “war stories” to be retold for years to come.

Fixing problems at home during the holidays is exasperating enough. But when you’re traveling around Christmas, the hurdles loom larger.

Last weekend, during the broadcast of the annual Cotton Bowl, the announcers talked about memorable games held there in years past. Our daughter, who with our grandson was here for a visit, was watching when the announcers talked about the 1979 Cotton Bowl game between Notre Dame and Houston. That contest is remembered as the final college game for future NFL quarterback Joe Montana, who led the Irish to a come-from-behind victory in icy, sub-freezing weather.

That day was memorable for us, too, because we were returning from a visit to North Carolina with our 3-month-old daughter. We landed at DFW Airport on New Year’s Eve with the expectation of making the three-hour drive to Brownwood and being safely at home before midnight.

So much for plans. Our suitcases were delayed, but the airline promised they would arrive on the next flight from North Carolina in two hours. While we waited, the winter storm moved in, and we managed to secure one of the last available rooms at the airport hotel. We decided that was good fortune, because if we had been on schedule, we likely would have been on the highway when the ice storm hit.

Families create lots of good memories over the holidays, but even frustrating times can make for good stories. When there are clouds, you just have to look for the silver linings.


Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at