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The Christmas Plunger Incident

December 19, 2011

To: Martha, From: Santa

From Wonkypedia, the encyclopedia that’s free for a reason

For other uses of “Christmas Plunger Incident”, see Christmas Plunger Incident (disambiguation)

This article relies on references to primary sources or sources affiliated with the subject, rather than references from independent authors and third-party publications. Please add citations from reliable sources.

The Christmas Plunger Incident took place on the morning of December 25th, 1978, when Martha Abbott opened an oddly shaped, poorly wrapped holiday gift given to her by her husband, Winn Abbott. The gift in question turned out to be a simple plunger, yellow-handled with a black rubber cup, of the variety commonly used to unblock toilets.


Winn and Martha Abbott were married on May 22nd, 1971. It was Winn’s first marriage, Martha’s second after an initial attempt was scrubbed due to a slight misunderstanding over the paternity of their son Brendan, then just an infant.

While a kind and loving father to his adopted son, Winn Abbott soon proved himself a less than ideal helpmate to his wife.  Drink was thought to be the main problem. It is often said of people in the grips of alcohol addiction that they “struggle with alcoholism,” though for Winn there was no struggle; he gave himself to it whole-heartedly.

In the years that followed, the toll of Winn Abbott’s dependency mounted. His career prospects plummeted, losing consecutive jobs as manager for a machine parts manufacturer, then as a middle school mathematics teacher, and finally landing as co-manager of a convenience store. He was quarrelsome with his wife and disinclined to come home at night, choosing instead the company of old high school and college friends at a bar called the City Line where, it is rumored, a stool was permanently reserved in his name. On the evenings when he stayed home, he would frequently fall asleep while seated on the toilet and could not be woken up, a problem in a house with one bathroom. Martha was forced to send their son Brendan outside to the backyard in order to empty his bladder before bedtime. This “pathetic display of indignity,” according to statements Martha Abbott made in papers filed for divorce, “was the second-to-last straw.”

The Incident

The Christmas Plunger Incident took place in the family home of Martha’s older sister, Barbara “Babsy Tits” Gill (1), in Chicopee, Massachusetts, where the Abbott family (including Martha, Winn and Brendan Abbott, aged 10, their only son) traditionally spent the Christmas holiday.

Others present that morning included “Babsy Tits,” her second husband Jim Gill, daughters Karen (aged 15) and Beth (aged 8); Nick and Flo McConnell, parents of “Babsy Tits” and Martha, grandparents to Karen, Brendan and Beth; and Maurice “Mo” Bronsky (friend of “B.T.,” godparent of Karen, former college roommate and current drinking partner of Winn), showing off his young, new bride, procured via mail order, whose name no one present could pronounce or later remember.

Christmas morning started normally enough, with a reasonable amount of festivity and cheer. There was coffee and cocoa with peppermint extract and rock candy; there were pastries and soufflé and German stollen dusted with powdered sugar. Johnny Mathis warbled from an 8-track. Here and there people drank a Bloody Mary, a profane choice for such a holy morning depending on who was asked. Children circled the tree like a bullying mob, gleefully trashing the carefully presented tableaux of gifts, tossing aside the wrap and the boxes and the treasures once concealed.

When all the presents were believed to be opened and thoughts were turning to clean-up and preparation for Christmas dinner, Winn Abbott surprised his wife with a final gift he’d produced from a secret hiding place, suspected to be the trunk of his Mercury Grand Marquis.

Martha Abbott accepted the gift with a mixture of curiosity and excitement. While everyone around her looked on, she weighed it in her hands and shook it by her ear, wondering aloud “what on earth can it be?”

Any warmth she had felt for her husband quickly dissipated when the wrap was torn away and the true identity of the gift was revealed. It came as a shock to Martha since “plunger” was neither a considerate gift nor an item on her Christmas wish list. In fact, the Abbott family already owned a plunger in passable working order. Adding insult to injury, Winn Abbott had left the price tag on, irrefutable proof that he’d not even sprung for a top-of-the-line model.

Reactions to the Incident

There would be many points-of-view expressed in the moments immediately following The Christmas Plunger Incident, much conjecture as to what in the world was he thinking?

The apologists in the group defended the gesture on merits of practicality. “A plunger is handy,” they said. “You’ll thank him later.” It should be pointed out that the apologists’ ranks were few and exclusively male and both were more or less ejected from their own marriages within the year for reasons only tangentially related to their opinions about the plunger.

“Maybe he had a coupon,” offered family patriarch Nick McConnell, a man who kept his money in his mattress and intimately understood the liabilities of unchecked thrift.

“Babsy Tits” Gill’s position was characteristically succinct: “He’s an asshole.” In this opinion she evidently had her supporters.

Martha Abbot’s reaction was more visceral than the rest (2). She descended upon her now estranged husband in a fury, wielding the plunger as a weapon and clubbing him with it in a manner reminiscent to witnesses of an Inuit hunter clubbing a seal. Only when she attempted to impale him with the handle’s butt-end did onlookers intervene to pry the two apart.

The Aftermath

In the days following the Christmas Plunger Incident, relations between husband and wife grew unusually cold. Martha and Brendan drove about town visiting local retailers, collecting the cardboard boxes which they would soon use to pack their belongings.

Realizing he’d taken his trademark insensitivity one offense to far, a wounded Winn Abbott strove for forgiveness. He cut back on his drinking, brought home flowers, and set an alarm before his evening constitutional, to prevent bathroom oversleeping.

Unfortunately, his efforts at redemption were too late.  On January 20th, 1979, Martha Abbott and her son Brendan officially completed their separation from husband and father. They moved several hours away, to a brownstone apartment in the historic, former whaling center of New Bedford, Massachusetts, leaving Winn with little but his vices and the last Christmas gift his wife had given him, a medal of Saint Jude, the patron saint of lost causes.

See Also


(1) The sobriquet “Babsy Tits” was given to Barbara Gill by her first husband, Timothy “T-Bird” Gill, and kept alive by her brother-in-law Winn Abbott long after “T-Bird” went to prison for tax evasion, much to her chagrin.

(2) There has been some disagreement whether Martha Abbott’s assault on her husband was a part of The Incident or a result of it. The author contends that the “plunger beat down,” as it has come to be called, was not a part of The Incident proper, but a response to The Incident by its principal victim. Those with differing opinions can post their own Wonkypedia articles under the provisions and protections set forth in the policies of “disambiguation.”


Abbott, Brendan (2011)


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