I find it a very curious thing that the phrase "hell of a" seems to be suitable to describe both good and bad things.
It was a great party. We had a hell of a time.
We sold the house eventually. But we had a hell of a time.
I certainly hear it more commonly used as in the first instance, but I imagine that this is a regional thing. But I wonder which sense came first. What is the etymology of the phrase?
And, with this in mind, how should I interpret a sentence with very little context?
We had a hell of a time when we visited my parents over Christmas.