I was listening to a young coworker gush about her boyfriend and the engagement ring she expected to receive in the near future. I innocently managed to crush her enthusiasm by asking, “What’s his family like?”
Her smile faded as she pondered a suitably polite response. “They’re special,” she finally offered with what could have been an embarrassed smile or a grimace.
Apparently not done crushing her dreams, I advised her to think carefully. “It’s a package deal,” I said, “You think you’re marrying him but you get his parents, his siblings and their families. Forever.”
I feel qualified to give this advice because I did not heed it when I got married. Collectively, my in-laws are a carnival, and they call me “The Oddball” because I went to college, have a job, volunteer and am an upstanding citizen (their words, not mine).
It’s not that they’re unkind to me; they just don’t know what to do with me. They tend to wander through life, bending the law as much as possible and working very hard at getting something for nothing — all the while complaining that life’s unfair, an opinion that gets stronger and louder with each fresh can of PBR. So, I guess my nickname is apropos … and a compliment.
I feel compelled to note that my husband is nothing like his family. I believe he was adopted (something his family denies) but since I brought it up they do eye him suspiciously from time to time. I’m not sure if it’s because he’s gainfully employed or because he married me but they’re definitely puzzled.
My father-in-law is a dear, and he seems to like me, although I think it’s because I bake him cookies and never ask him for money — both of which are unheard of with the rest of the family.
My mother-in-law is my favorite, not because we have a great relationship, but because she’s so creative in expressing her feelings about me through gifts.
>> Before I go on, let me establish a few key points about our gift-giving. Regardless of the occasion, my father-in-law gives everyone $20 and my mother-in-law gives another gift. We give them very nice gifts we know they want. I’m not hard to buy for, and I send a very nice thank-you note whenever I receive a gift. And I’m not complaining about this; I’m amused.
The first gift she ever gave me was the Christmas after we were married. She presented my husband with a beautifully-wrapped box of his favorite candy, which is neither inexpensive nor available near their home. She handed me an unwrapped refrigerator magnet in the shape of an angel. “It reminded me of you,” she said sweetly.
I noticed the angel had a chipped wing, and the glitter had flaked off the one side.
Since my birthdays generally go unrecognized, the next gift-giving occasion was the following Christmas. My husband received a gift box of pastries and nuts. I received a bag-holder. It’s a tubular piece of pink and orange cloth sporting yellow ducks. It’s open at the top and has a cloth handle so you can hang it up. The bottom is elasticized, and its purpose is to have plastic grocery bags stuffed into it for safe-keeping.
While my grocery bags have never been in much danger, it’s one of the most useful things she ever gave me, and I think of her every time I have to deal with old bags.
The following Christmas, my husband received a very nice new shirt, and I received my absolute favorite gift: a perfume sample, a used perfume sample.
“It smelled so good I just wanted you to have it,” she said. “I only used it a few times.”
I suppose it’s good it was used since I’m allergic to perfume.
The next Christmas was nothing short of scary. My husband received an air compressor, and apparently out of ideas for me, she suggested I go into her closet and choose one of her blouses for myself. I was stunned. I’m nearly 40 years younger, eight inches taller and not nearly as blessed in the “girls” department. The verbal tap dance I did to get out of that one should have won me a choice position as a presidential spokesperson.
>> As I reminisce about my gift-impaired in-laws, a good friend calls. “You’ll never believe what my mother-in-law gave me for my birthday,” she cries.
“Oh, whatever it is, I bet I can top it,” I reply.
“A clock,” she says. “Made out of a toilet seat! A toilet seat! And she wants me to hang it on the wall!”
You know, I think I’ll go call my mother-in-law and see about choosing that blouse.
/ Tess Michaels, a.k.a. “The Oddball,” lives in the Greater Akron area. By day, she works, volunteers and upholds the law. By night, she prepares for the next day of doing the same.
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