Wednesday, October 15, 2008

That Hideous Family Tradition

Family traditions are a great thing to get started, but some are best left in the back of the family closet. Our family had one tradition that was great fun, but it was kept a deep, dark secret most of the year. It all began of course, with Dad receiving Christmas gifts from an ethnic employee, a Mr. Not-to-be-Named, which all tended to be tacky, poorly made, and hideously ugly. It was a kind but unnecessary gesture for Mr. Not-to-be-Named, and probably part of his ethnic culture. But we had to admit that we looked forward to opening the Not-to-be-Named present every Christmas with a high degree of irreverent glee, wondering what the new monstrosity would be, and how Mom was going to find the words to express her thanks in the obligatory thank-you note afterwards. I have never known my mother to lie, but I also never read those thank you notes!

The tradition that developed from these gifts started with the internationally-famous-monument-replica-in-a-glass-box. The glass had some decorative painting on it, and the monument inside was cheap to say the least. We howled with laughter, but that was just the beginning of many more kinds of howling. It disappeared into the deep recesses of a closet and was not seen again for years.

The next time it surfaced will probably never be remembered accurately for sure, but it did rear its ugly head at some unwelcome moment. Maybe it was at a wedding, or a baby shower, but it arrived in an exquisitely wrapped package with some loving note written on the card. With nervous fingers the excited recipient probably slid off the bow and requested scissors or a knife to detach the tape without tearing the lovely paper. With great anticipation the giftee reverently lifted the lid expecting some thoughtful and expensive wonder. The camera was ready to record the event. And then the look of surprise, quickly becoming disgust, as the honored receiver realized he or she had been duped, and a tradition was born!

There were only a few rules for the tradition. The replica had to stay in the family. It must always be given without suspicion—to be caught was tantamount to a disgraceful backfire. The giver was allowed to make alterations on the gift to enhance the hideousness. The internationally-famous-monument-replica underwent some serious redecorating. First it was paint fluorescent orange. The next giver added a small King Kong figure to one of its architectural features. Then small flags were perched on its corners. Finally the electronic geniuses in the family made those flags twirl at the flick of a switch, and lights began to flash. There seemed to be no end… But sadly there was. The glass box broke and was discarded. Next the replica itself began to disintegrate. I remember sadly disposing of its remains myself and officially informing the rest of the family of its demise.

But the replica was not the only precious thing in circulation. There was also the Black Plaque, not to be confused with the black plague—although many of us felt plagued by it on more than one occasion. On the Christmas morning it first arrived, even as we took it out of the box, tacky pieces of colored tile were falling off of it, and the garish colors only clashed all the more with the crummy gold-leaf medallions and the phony stone gems. It was an item intended to be hung on the wall but would have best been dropped in the garbage can. We did neither with it. Mom quietly put it away somewhere and wrote the obligatory thank you note.

This eyesore went on to appear at the most unexpected, inappropriate, and unappreciated moments. It started out as a Christmas present to the least initiated and newest family addition--a fiancé. It has been a wedding present, anniversary present, birthday present, and maybe even a baby shower present. When these precious moments had all been desecrated by its intrusion, it began to be simply left behind in some conspicuous place when visiting family guests made their quick departure, sort of like some obscene calling card.

Conspiracies were engaged in. Since the most suspected family members were always the ones to have last received it, those members often slipped it secretly to an unsuspected party who did the ghastly honors to the next innocent victim. People began making inquiries of its whereabouts before extending invitations. Threats were made by both those who possessed it and those who feared receiving it.

I know that once I slipped it in my sister, Janis’s, knitting bag before she left my home. She must have wondered at my lack of composure in saying good-bye. As she hugged me, she held her bag in one hand, the round shape of the plaque showing quite obviously through the canvas sides of it. I thought for sure I would be caught—something that must never happen. She did get out the door, mentioning that she might even knit on the drive home, when she was not taking her turn at the wheel. The door shut. The motor started. They were gone, and so was the plaque. I was safe at last. I must admit that I think I did a sort of a naughty little victory dance at having achieved this daring feat. I heard later that Janis didn’t knit on the way home, but went to a meeting later in the week, taking her knitting project along to work on. She actually discovered the plaque in a public place. I could not have asked for a more victorious coup of chagrin.

Now at this moment I must say how disappointed I was to have served certain relatives of mine a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner recently, only to find that my thanks was repaid after all their departures by the disgusting appearance of the BP in our bathroom. Now I am not going to name names or point fingers, but the suspects are obvious.

Just the morning before all of their arrivals, I asked my beloved spouse if he knew of its whereabouts. We were nervous because the plaque had been out of circulation for a few years, lying somewhere in ambush. Even as a write I recall with something less than fondness, how pieces had fallen off the BP during its very brief reign above our toilet. It had been broken in two, but was expertly repaired with duct tape. A cheap wristwatch has joined the crummy gold medallions on its surface, just below a picture (not flattering) of yours truly which is glued in the center.

Adjectives begin to fail me as I try to express my feelings for this piece of sentimental-family-hysteria-passed-around. However, I must admit that ugly as it is, it has made our family one full of good-humor, clever in plotting and executing plans, and devilishly wicked in our designs to mar dignified family landmarks with its appearance. Hideous as it is, it has brought us happy memories of times when the ultimate goal was to pull off the prank with as much shock value as possible. Let me end this episode with a hearty thanks to Mr. Not-to-be-Named for enriching our family life, and a warning to all my beloved family: We don’t have skeletons in our closets. We have BP’s. So beware! I’ve got it now!

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