My wife is a lovely person. She reads every word I write. The last time I wrote a light, humorous commentary describing her few imperfections, she raided our mailbox and mugged the mailman (depriving a magazine of a great story). As I say, she’s almost perfect. But who’s perfect? They say that even Saint Francis of Assisi occasionally had fried pigeon as a lunchtime snack.
My wife’s fault is her generosity, especially at this time of year. We have a huge family: kids, grandkids, even great-grandkids – and the usual battalions of gift-hungry aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, etc. And none of them entered the world through immaculate conception. In short, they all have birthdays. And graduations. And they celebrate every holiday known to man, including Abraham Lincoln’s cousin’s birthday. Then there’s Lag b’Omer, which only three rabbis in Sefad understand, handsomely celebrated with gifts from my wife.
In my wife’s lovely hazel eyes, if Sammy, the grandchild, gets a B in Sandpile 101 or an A in Arithmetic 101, guess what: Sammy gets a present from his grandparents, who must now dine on peanut butter and orange marmalade sandwiches.
So, now we get to the point. My wife’s constantly giving away the store. Even our Proverbs say that if you’re eating kosher peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, don’t buy your neighbor a rib steak. Or something like that.
Again, back to my wife. She was born without the basic selfishness gene for self-preservation. Worse, my fate is linked to hers. I once did an accounting: 40 gift-potential relatives plus friends, of which she has many due to her give-it-away gene. Now multiply by events – birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, illnesses. (“Uncle Henry has a cold, we’ll buy him a new bathrobe.” Me: “New robe? How ’bout a hanky?”)
I have a few weapons in my arsenal, too. A fleece-lined coat for Joey? It’s on sale, says the wife. Fifty bucks! “Guess what he did the other day,” I tell her. “Oh, I promised not to tell. Oops! Did I give it away? He said, ‘You seem to be putting on weight.’” Due to Joey’s misdemeanor, we compromise on a remote controlled toy car. Cost: $11.95. Joey will never know how close he came to a genuine fleece-lined coat. In like manner, we negotiate the entire list one by one. I’m very creative about the behavior, and sometimes the remarks of the subject.
The wife and I have this small economic disparity to negotiate. I love the clink of a quarter falling into our dresser change drawer; she loves the cha-ching of the cash register. The former, income; the latter, outgoing.
She’s particularly bad with kids’ gifts. I cite experts on adolescent psychology who warn us about the dangers of materialism. How ’bout when he grows up, makes $30,000 a year and because of your annual over-the-top gift giving, wants a $400,000 house – and Fannie May approves the loan, contributing to the U.S. default rate and my taxes?!
I do all I can to moderate her mania. I even lecture the kids on the popularity among their peers of Walmart shirts. And I tell the tale of the loner, the outcast who showed up at school in a pricey JoS. A. Bank shirt resulting in extreme loneliness. Result: “Grandma, would you give me one of those Walmart shirts next year?” A lesson for his adult life. I even quote Dickens, as well as the Bible. Mr. McCawber of David Copperfield – with the wisdom of Frederick Hayek – said, “income, 100 pounds; expenditure, 110 pounds. Result: misery. Income, 100 pounds; expenditure, 90 pounds. Result: joy.”
I’ve worked on this character flaw of hers for years. I guess I’ve been successful. For our 50th wedding anniversary, she gave me a pair of socks. Though I must admit, Jimmy, our first grandchild – upon graduating from high school, a feat shared by several hundred thousand kids – was gifted with a used (just a little) Honda Civic. I’m lucky it wasn’t a Lexus.
Ted Roberts is a freelance writer and humorist living in Huntsville, Ala.