Debacle de Noel

A Christmas story as told by my youngest daughter Kimberley Hunt Johnston

One Christmas Mom decided she was going to make a Buche de Noel. For those of you who don’t know what this is – I will save you the Google search and say it is translated as a “French Yule Log” – a very fancy Christmas cake that looks like a log and apparently takes three days to make. Mom spent the requisite three days getting this thing perfect and it was literally all we heard about the entire week. The anticipation for this cake was more than what most children feel in the lead up to Santa’s arrival. The fat man had slipped down the charts this particular year and had been replaced by a log.

We all sat down to Christmas Eve dinner – Mom had made an absolute feast – French onion soup (just called onion soup as we were living in France) with home-made bread and perfectly melted cheese on top, roast beef, potatoes, broccoli in butter and breadcrumbs, French green beans (again- just beans) with toasted almond slivers and perfectly roasted carrots. While it was all amazing, our stomachs thought of nothing but the Buchede Noel. But we had to wait until after the candle-light service at the American Church in Paris to indulge. We filled our entire Hunt-family pew, sang lovely Christmas hymns and dreamed of our chocolate Yule Log waiting in the middle of the dining room table, tempting us home.
The service ended and we walked back to our apartment, humming the tune of Silent Night as lights twinkled in the bare trees that lined the Parisian avenues. We huddled under our winter coats and fought over who would get the first slice of cake. It was decided we would cut it evenly (my middle sister would be the judge of fairness in size) and then all partake together.
We climbed the winding staircase to the house, and once unlocked rushed through the door and into the dining room, jostling for a space near the chocolate wonderment. My brother stopped dead and tilted his head a bit to swing his skater hair out of his eye and get a better look. He swore. My sister and I ran into the back of him and peering around him saw what he had seen… The Buche de Noel was unrolled on the table, all of the chocolate had been licked off by our runt of a dog, Muffin, who was consequently now stuck on the table.

My sister turned to go get mom and I reached to get Muffin off the table when a moment of genius struck. WAIT! My brother shouted and then barked out orders: Kimbers, leave Muffin there and go distract Mom and Dad, Laurie – go turn on the record player and the big speakers.  Greg dashed off to his room on his secret mission. He raced back and threw on Bob Seger’s 45 “Shakedown” and moved the needle to the chorus with the lyrics “Break down, Shake down… YOU’RE BUSTED!” and turned the volume high enough to warrant a visit from Mom to tell us to Turn. It. Down.
When she swept into the room, she found the three of us dancing around like it was party night at the insane asylum, hands outstretched in jazz-hands formation, pointing our shimming fingers towards a now violently shaking chocolate-covered Muffin. Mom’s eyes grew bigger and bigger and she jerked her hands to her face to cover her gaping mouth and suppress the scream we were all doing our best to keep her from.

Even Muffin seemed to know that all of our dancing, and shimming and song-playing was not going to save her from the wrath of a chef scorned… so she shook even more violently, looked up and mom with her big brown eyes and then vomited all over what was left of the cake. This coincided with the end of the 45. We stopped dancing. We stopped breathing.

We all stood there waiting to see which way this was going to go.

Mom’s eyes narrowed in anger, all focused on Muffin. She pulled out an accusing finger and gesticulated to the dog. But before she could get anything out, all of the anger drained from her face, as she looked around at all of us kids, registered the humor in the situation and burst out laughing. We joined in, tentatively at first and then Muffin let out a loud fart and it was all we could do to remain standing.

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