It all started a year and a half ago, when Mom asked me what I wanted for Christmas and I suggested a soft pink cardigan or a pale pink turtleneck. At first, Mom was positive about this idea. It gave her a challenge without its being an overwhelming challenge. Mom is a good hunter-gatherer — determined, even relentless. But she is not a connoisseur of obscure challenges. Metaphorically speaking, she does not want to hunt and gather rare black truffles at the base of an oak in an ancient French forest with the help of a trained pig. Her style is more the metaphorical equivalent of hunting and gathering Cambazola with the help of a trained daughter. As it turns out, however, finding pink sweaters is the metaphorical equivalent of black truffles, and in fact even your very well trained pig has no idea to where to find them.
Some weeks later, Mom called me to talk about the secret purchases she had made for my Christmas present. I could tell that she was frustrated. “Audrey,” she said, “what size sweater do you wear?”
I was surprised that she would ask, particularly since she does not trust me to know my own shoe size and denies it hotly when I do claim to know it. But I was casual, unexcitable. “Medium,” I said.
“Yes, but would you say a large medium or a small medium?”
“I’m sure it will fit just fine, Mom,” I said.
“Oh good, I hope so,” said Mom. “Because your sister does not like things that are snug. She won’t wear them. What if this is snug? Will you wear it anyway?”
“Yes,” I said. It is no good my being wishy-washy about these things, because Mom still remembers the yellow loafers that she gave me in high school, that I hated, and the record album she gave me by some man whose girlfriend left him at the altar and then all his relatives died — not that it surprised him, he said; he was used to it — that I also hated. Actually, at that time, it did not bother her if I did not like my gifts. It kind of worked out to her advantage. “You don’t like it?” she would say. “Can I have it?” But later she got more sensitive about these things and kept a suspicious eye on me in case I didn’t like things that she had worked hard to find. This gift was a case in point. So was the next one.
“And another thing,” she said. “I searched all over town for this second gift because I know you like this color and it was the only one I could find. I hated it, myself, but I had to go to a hundred stores to find it. It was on sale, so I can’t take it back. Do you think you’ll like it?”
“Yes,” I said, “I’m sure I’ll like it.”
“Good,” she said, “because I hate it. I told the saleswoman so. I said, ’I hate this, don’t you?’ and she said, ’Well, hate might be a strong word. But if you hate it, why are you buying it?’ and I said, ’Because it was the only one I could find and I’ve been all over town, so I am just going to buy it. My daughter wants it. She had better like it, because I went to a lot of trouble.’”
Given the heavy allusions to color, I assumed it would be a pale pink turtleneck or cardigan, but it was not. It was a snug button-up sweater in a deep coral color. It was very nice but only a particularly resentful shopper could have called it a cardigan or a pale pink. It would be like finding some acorns under a bush and saying, “These look like truffles to me. Well, I am going to say they are truffles. I am tired of hunting and gathering all over the forest, and this pig has not been much help.”
I did not mind not getting a pink turtleneck or cardigan. I understood that they don’t grow on every bush. If it was not to be had, it was not to be had, that’s all. I cultivated a resigned, almost spiritual attitude towards the whole thing. But I was not prepared to find, this Christmas, that Mom had given Barb a pink turtleneck.
It was Mom herself who told me about it. “I gave your sister a pink turtleneck,” she told me over the phone, from Barb and Joe’s house. “I don’t think she likes it.”
“Well, send it to me, then,” I said.
“It’s a mock turtleneck,” said Mom, as if this altered the facts significantly. It was like saying, “I couldn’t find any black truffles. All I could find were white truffles, so I gave them to your sister.” The very word “mock” had, to me, a kind of mocking sound.
Barb was surprised to have the newly acquired pink turtleneck wrenched from her grasp, but, after a moment’s hesitation, she agreed to give it up. “It’s true that I don’t wear turtlenecks,” she said. “But I like the shirt. Still, you can have it.”
So I waited for it to arrive. I waited and waited. It did not arrive. This did not really surprise me. People tell you all the time that they are going to send you things, and then they never do. Being not unaccustomed to lies, misrepresentations, and the resulting sorrow and suffering they bring, I probably could write a much better feeling-sorry-for-myself song than that singer I told you about. But I think I must be more stoic about these things than he was. You just have to gird your loins and soldier on.
As Cheech and Chong would say, it doesn’t pay to misunderestimate other people.
Finally, I checked with Barb to determine the whereabouts of my new pink mock turtleneck. She didn’t have it. “Mom took it,” she said. “She told me, ’I’ll take that. Here, I’ll pay you for it and you can buy something else instead. Here is your $4.80. I got it on sale.’” I was surprised that Barb got paid at all. I never got paid for my yellow loafers or my record album about the sorrows of that man whom everybody left at the altar or died on. I suppose I should have felt sorry for that man, but I really just could not work myself up to it. It seemed to me that he might have had it coming to him. He seemed like that kind of guy.
I think I may have hinted, earlier, that, over the years, Mom has become a little more sensitive about the matter of gifts that the recipient might not consider perfect. Whereas it used to mean nothing to her if you happened not to like yellow loafers, particularly if she herself wouldn’t mind having a pair, she now looks ascrew, as she would put it, at anyone who does not passionately desire and hotly defend their property rights to, say, the pink mock turtleneck that they have just received, particularly given that practically everyone else is dying to have that very turtleneck. I think Barb may have detected the eensiest bit of resentment on Mom’s part. But she gave up the turtleneck gracefully, no doubt feeling that her sister deserved it more than she did, and you really could not argue with her, there.
After that, I waited some more, but still the pink mock turtleneck did not appear. I checked with Mom as to the whereabouts of my pink turtleneck. She had it, she said, and she was going to keep it. I protested, pointing out that it had been promised to me by both Barb and Mom. “Barb made me take it,” said Mom. “She didn’t want it, I guess. She almost forced it on me. Plus, she made me pay her $5.50 for it.” Not content with this subtle inflation of the price, she also inflated the size. “It won’t fit you,” she told me. “It comes down almost to my knees. There is no sense in my sending it to you.”
I suspected that resentment over the return of the gift had taken hold of her, because if the pink mock turtleneck came down to her knees, what did she herself want with it? I sent her a firm email. It is easier to be firm in email than in real life, I find. “I have gotten taller and fatter,” I told her, “so it will fit me wonderfully. If necessary, I will wear it only on days when I am extra tall and extra fat.” I also threatened to tell her minister. “He does not look lightly on false promises about pink turtlenecks, that much I know,” I said. “I will have him read aloud the part in the Bible on this, on Sunday. The whole church will find out about your hypocrisy on the pink turtleneck question, and how this violates Biblical standards.”
It is hard to hit exactly the right note of outrage, firmness, and Biblical authority; I wanted to be gentle, so I added kindly, “I do not mean this as a criticism. I hope you will be inspired by it to lead a better, more fulfilling life.” Then, in case I had been too subtle, I threw in various references to important events in which I had looked rather nice in pink.
Finally, in case the religious pressure had not worked and a scientific point of view would be more persuasive, I had the Institute for Total Science send Mom and Dad objective, scientific data testifying that I needed a new pink turtleneck that was longer than any of my present turtlenecks.
It may be that this scientific pressure is what did the trick. According to a recent email from Mom, she is sending me the pink turtleneck, at no small expense to herself. But I think I still detect some degree of resentment, because she told me that she first boiled it four times to get it down to the right size. If it is now the intended medium size, it is possible that it will be rather snug.
It has been the decided and settled practice of my family to approve strongly of any story that features them personally and to find wanting any story that fails to at least mention them. In the past, there has been little if any preoccupation with the question of facts, if by facts one were to mean, literally, “facts.” Barbara is the exception to both these rules, since she dislikes stories that feature her and also objects to stories that do not include detailed lists of facts. Of course, given that she prefers stories that do not include any reference to any situation in which she may have played any part whatsoever, she has no real way of knowing whether these seeming facts are, in fact, really “facts” at all.
In a profound break with precedent, Mom has denounced the pink turtleneck story. This is in spite of being its star. Her objection was not to the story as a whole so much as to the part about my allegedly having asked for a pink sweater. “In November of 2001,” she wrote me in a legalistic-sounding email, “you said ’coral,’ not ’pink.’” This insistence on the precise, legal facts would be more persuasive if Mom had said “October 2000,” since it was not during the shopping season before this Christmas but during the previous shopping season that the whole sorry tale began to unfold. However, to insist on this point would get me into dangerous waters, as facts have never really been the strong suit of my newsletters. It would be awkward to begin to point self-righteously to the few facts of which I am confident, as this might invite unwanted scrutiny of other, more iffy facts. When Tom and Annika wanted to know exactly what percentage of the story was true, I told them 73 percent, although I am not absolutely certain which 73 percent that would be.
Also breaking with precedent, Ivan and Barbara demanded to know more about the pig. When I pointed out that the pig was fictional and was, in any case, marginal to the story, they said that what they objected to was this very marginality. Just as we are getting to know the pig, just as we are getting to really care about the pig and want to know more, they said, the pig disappears. What happens to the pig? Nothing happens, I told them, because the pig is not really part of the story. This explanation being deemed more offensive than the original marginalization of the pig, I have had to review my facts. The fact is that the pig is very happy and has a closetful of purple sweaters. Neither of us actually looks all that good in pink.
From the Friends of Freddy website
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