Where Hallmark leaves off and our own half-baked sentiments must do

Austin American-Statesman, December 25, 2010

Read this article online...

We've all gotten those letters we can't finish — either because they're too long or too full of news of young Ella's nauseating excellence. People are far more interested in hearing of one's failure, misery, suffering and humiliation.

Reconnecting with those we care about is part of getting into the holiday spirit. We want to hear how family and friends are doing and to share how we’re doing.

But we’ve all gotten those letters we can’t finish — either because they’re too long or too full of news of young Ella’s nauseating excellence. No. People are far more interested in hearing of one’s failure, misery, suffering and humiliation.

The Inglis Annual Report is in its 18th year and written with a section for each family member and pet. I used to beg family members to write their parts, sometimes on my knees. When that failed, I resorted to threatening — and was promptly laughed off. So I gave up.

Rather than associating Christmas with all sorts of rich wonder and meaning, I use my section to get even with those who have committed heinous domestic offenses — usually spouse Ian.

One year, Ian promised me he’d write his section. When I opened his document, it was 4,218 words of “ALL WORK AND NO PLAY MAKES JACK A DULL BOY,” followed by “Merry Christmas.” What transpired after that was a real-life scene from “The Shining,” only I was Jack with the scary eyes and baseball bat, and Ian was Shelley Duvall.

A perennial is Ian’s propensity to explode his coffee by rewarming it in the microwave … or his habit of wandering around the house for the two minutes it takes to brush his teeth with the Sonicare. That’s apparently far too long to stand still. Cleaning teeth twice daily at 31,000 strokes per minute will leave tiny white spots of dried toothpaste all over the leather furniture, glass doors/windows, cabinetry, counters and floors — invisible to Ian, but seen clearly by those not selectively visually impaired.

Then there’s the year our youngest son, John, returned after a 90-minute workout soaked with sweat. “Good lord. How far did you run?” I asked. “Not far,” he answered. “I always end up at the same place I start.” Thus demonstrating why he was a philosophy minor at Texas A&M.

I skewer myself, too. Like the year Ian and I became empty nesters. In an uncharacteristic romantic gesture for Valentine’s Day, I tried making Emeril Lagasse’s “effortless” four-layer Classic Black Forest Cake. I spent serious cash on the ingredients and utensils, including an elevated cake turner, which I drove all over town trying to find. The batter did not rise. So I threw that one in the trash and made a chocolate cake from a reliable recipe.

I cut it lengthwise for the four layers and put the prepared cherries in between. But when I poured on Emeril’s elaborate sauce, in very slow motion the cake, cherries and filling began to fall apart and down from atop its elevated perch and onto the counter in chunks large and small, despite my frantically piercing it with wooden skewers.

Now Burton, on the other hand, always writes his section. Therefore, he is my favorite child and will receive 100 percent of my vast fortune upon my death. Here’s his 2008 contribution about selling his truck:

“I sold my ’94 Chevy pickup, which I bought new and drove just short of 300,000 miles. Sure, it had some crumple areas, no AC, power NOTHING, a little trouble getting into first, AM and FM radio out of three speakers, one leather seat that had been replaced twice, a charming patina of work-related dings, a gleaming polish on the metal floor and clutch pedal where the rubber had worn away, dog hair from two dogs, hand-stitched upholstery improvements, great tires and, most of all, history.

“I had driven that truck nearly to Guatemala on three different occasions and slept in it many times. It had been with me through three different women, two dogs and was a veritable gold mine of loose change, lost tools and forgotten contraband. Take a moment to put on ‘Like a Rock’ by Bob Seger, shed a tear and remember the good times had in a true American classic. Sniff. … Anyway, I sold the piece of [expletive] for $800 and bought a Toyota Tundra, which is so awesome by comparison I don’t know where to begin.”

Whether it’s pets, coffee, old trucks, long runs, toothbrushes, four-layer Black Forest Cakes, blue skies or the moon at night, have faith that love is a renewable resource in our lives.

Merry Christmas!

Toni Inglis, MSN, RN CNS (retired), FAAN, a lifelong Austin resident, is a retired neonatal intensive care nurse and editor of NursingNews. She also wrote a monthly opinion column for the Austin American-Statesman editorial pages for 10 years.