Janice didn’t really want to go home for Christmas, but her mother begged her to come, as she was lonely and wrote she missed her terribly.
She well knew why she didn’t want to go. Her father was a fault finder, not so much of her, but of her mother, and always had been.
If her mother, Mary, baked a pie, it was never good enough for him. He professed his love for lemon meringue, and in Janice’s opinion, her mother’s crust melted in one’s mouth. The pie was just tangy enough, the meringue always lightly browned.
But one taste, and her father complained – but every time, it was something else. It was either too sour, crust too crisp, meringue rubbery, always something.
Janice always praised her mother’ baking, and when she went to live with her Aunt Alice (her mother’s sister) and Uncle Ray, she found, indeed, that her mother’s baked goods were perfection.
Aunt Alice made card board crusts, lumpy lemon filling and her meringue WAS rubbery. But Uncle Ray smacked his lips and praised her to the skies.
Janice sighed. Uncle Ray and Aunt Alice had no children, he ran a thriving business and offered to put Janice through college, if she would work for him weekends and during breaks and summers. It was pleasant work, and the love her Aunt and Uncle shared rubbed off on her.
Why couldn’t her father praise her Mom occasionally, instead of always finding fault?
At the moment, she was wearing a slightly large sweater her Mom had knitted for her Dad last Christmas.
When he unwrapped it and put it on, his only comment was: “Too pretty, and the sleeves are too long.”
She was annoyed enough to ask, “Let me see it, Dad?” She tried it on, turned up the cuffs, stood in front of a mirror and told her father:
“I think it is BEAUTIFUL! I like large sweaters, and all those I buy have no cuffs. Make him another, Mom, I’ll take this one.”
Her Dad started to protest, but she cut him short. “You said it was too pretty for you, and the sleeves too long. It is perfect forme. Make him another one, Mom, I’ve got some dark gray yarn you can use.” She kissed her mother’s cheek. “I appreciate the time and effort it took to make it, and I shall wear it with pride.”
She remembered her father’s open-mouth at the turn of events.
To help her in her studies, her Uncle bought her a miniature tape recorder to clip on her belt or slip in her pocket.
She showed her gratitude for this and other gifts profusely, trying to explain that their putting her through college was gift enough. They kept on giving.
Her Uncle Ray bought a new car for business use, and give her the used one so she could visit her folks at Christmas. It was a three year old Tempo, and she argued that Aunt Alice should have the car, not her. But her Aunt hated to drive and refused to hear of it.
Janice would go home for Christmas, then, leaving Thursday night. Christmas was on Saturday, and she and her mother would have all day Friday to Visit.
When the offer came from home to bring her Aunt and Uncle along, they refused to go, saying they felt they had Janice for months at a time. She shouldn’t have to share her time with her parents with them.
Immediately upon her arrival, wearing the sweater her mother made and she loved, her Dad met her at the door with a remark about the car.
“Driving Ray’s old Tempo, huh?” he asked.
“Yes, he’s kept it in great shape, Dad.”
“Needs a good wash.”
“The road are full of slush. The semi’s cover a car with every passing. I”ll have it washed later to get the salt off.” She assured him.
“See you’re still wearing that sweater.”
“Still love it. Where’s Mom?”
“In the kitchen, baking.”
“Oh, yes, I can smell it now – pumpkin pie!”
“Smells like too much cinnamon.”
Oh, no, Janice thought. He’s starting already.
“Her recorder was taped to her belt, and she wondered how many faults he could find over the holidays and if she should record them?
From the state of the kitchen, Janice could see her mother had been there most of the day.
After a warm embrace, Janice asked if she could help, was told ‘no’, and so puit a stool in a corner out of the way.
She and her mother talked for almost three hours, quietly enjoying an exchange of news and views.
Then her father joined them.
“You women through taking everyone over the coals yet?”
“You and our neighbors finish with the neighborhood gossip?” Janice countered.
“We don’t gossip!” he said, indignantly.
“Didn’t I hear old Snealytelling you about the three boy friends Clarissa has now, and how he thinks Willie might have poisoned the Woodley’s dog? Not gossip? Come on, Dad.”
As her Dad reached for a Christmas cookie off a tray, Janice snapped on her recorder.
“Tastes like cardboard, Mary. You would think, after all these years, you could make a decent cookie.”
“All Christmas coodies taste alide, Dad, and that one tastes like anise.”
“Anise cardboard, then.”
“Did you make Christmas cake, Mom? I can’t wait to eat some.”
“It’s been curing since Thanksgiving, dear.”
“Why anybody would waste all that money on a Christmas cake, I’ll never know,” her Dad said.
“If I remember rightly, you ate the last couple pieces last year Mom saved for me.” His daughter remembered.
“Never did, don’t like it.” He protested.
‘Good, Mom, just wrap it allup and I’ll take it back with me. Uncle Ray loves your cake.”
Janice used her recorder over and over again and caught all her father’s negative remarks while she was there.
She was leaving on Sunday morning.
First, though, she asked her Dad to spend some time in the library with her while her mother was busy.
“Dad, seven kids in my class reported their folks are divorcing. I wonder if I’ll be the eighth?” she asked.
“What are you talking about? I have no intention of ever divorcing your mother?”
“I’d testify to that. But what about Mom?”
“Your mother divorce me? Why? We get along perfectly.”
“Listen to this, Dad. If I had a husband who did this to me, I’s sure get a divorce.”
Janice played the first five minutes of the tape, saw her father would listedn and left the room while it played out.”
She was all packed, had bid her father goodbye, kissed her mother soundly and thanked her for all she had done to make it a wonderful Christmas, then left in her Uncle’s used car, which still hadn’t been washed.
At her Aunt and Uncle’s house later that same day, she received a phone call from her father.
“Janice, I never realized . . .
“Mom and I did.”
“Your mother is willing to forgive me, will you?”
As long as you try with Mom. But I’ll never let you do that to us again. Remember, I don’t have to come home, but Mom lives there.”
“Give me a chance, girl?”
“Keep the recorder and play it back a lot, Dad. Remember, it’s hard to live with negativity, even when you love the person being negative. Bye now, Dad.”