My mother’s mother’s sister, Aunt Pearl, had an old guitar that used to belong to her son, Jeffrey, that she wanted to give my daughter. Aunt Pearl, an admirably independent nonagenarian, lives alone in a two story house near the beach in New York, and, if you had to pick a celebrity she resembled the most, you’d pick George Costanza’s mother on Seinfeld. If you can, to make this story better, hold that voice in your head while reading Aunt Pearl’s lines.
It is no small task getting a guitar from Long Island to Georgia. The logical courier was my mother, who lived on the opposite end of the country, in South Florida, where you’d expect a retired Jew to live. Over the summer, my mother went to visit (among others) Aunt Pearl, and took the guitar in order to bring it to me.
Only she didn’t. She left it at my sister’s house, for reasons unknown and unknowable, but were best described as “Ah, what a pain in the tuchus to bring it on the plane. I’ll get it when we drive up next time.”
It was my mother’s fault, then, that Marin didn’t get the guitar.
Except that no one told Aunt Pearl that Marin didn’t get the guitar, and so she developed a(n understandable under the circumstances) grudge against my daughter for not writing a thank you note for the guitar she didn’t get, and me by association, because as her mother it was my job to ensure that the proper thank you note was written.
So, it was my fault that Marin didn’t write the thank you note.
My mother called me, exerting all that thickly-accented aggressive Yankee Jewish Guilt through the phone lines. “Can’tcha just write Aunt Pearl a note saying how much ya like the gitaah? Would it killya to make an old woman happy?”
So I wrote a note to Aunt Pearl. I told her, sincerely, how sweet she was to remember my children in this way, how much my son loved the guitar she gave him several years ago, and how excited my daughter was to get a legacy of her own. I thought it was a nice note. I really did. I was proud that nothing was my fault any longer, nor was my daughter thought to be inconsiderate.
I was right about my daughter, but apparently I was still on the hook. I got a call from my mother. She was hot. “Whydja write that note to Aunt Pearl? You were supposed to write it AS Marin and say you already got the gitaah. Now she knows I didn’t give it to you. Huh? Are you afraid to lie? Sometimes lies are good, ya know. They make other people feel bettah. I’m gonna killya.” Ah yes, expressing powerful feelings. That’s how my family says, “I love you.”
It wasn’t until my mother inhaled a deep lungful of cigarette smoke and blew it out so forcefully I could practically smell it from 600 miles away that I was able to assert my, “But I didn’t know I was supposed to lie!” defense, which fell, somewhat literally, on deaf ears.
And, it was back to being my fault.
Then Aunt Pearl called me to tell me that my mother was “Nuts” and there was no reason she couldn’t take the guitar on the plane, and all this time she was mad at Marin but she shouldn’t have been, because it was my mother’s fault all along for leaving the guitar at my sister’s house.
I called my mother to tell her the whole thing was back to being her fault. After denying it, my mother made a strangled frustrated noise. “Ah, my cigarette rolling machine just jammed up.”
This unexpected conversational segue intrigued me. “Why are you rolling your own cigarettes? Are you growing your own tobacco?”
“Ha ha,” she said. “Very funny. I’m doing it to save thoity bucks a cawtin. Your kids should be doing this fuh me.”
“Mom, at no point in my lifetime are my children rolling your cigarettes for you.”
I heard another deep drag of a cigarette, the squeak squeak squeak of the rolling machine, and a bad word as it jammed again. “You never know when a skill like that will come in handy. I just wish they’d legalize marijuana so I could go into business.”
I love my parents dearly, but there’s a reason I live so far away.
The next day Aunt Pearl called me up to tell me the conclusion of her investigation into the Great Guitar Caper. My sister had thoughtfully brought the guitar to Georgia in October when she came down for my son’s Bar Mitzvah. My father picked her up at the airport, loaded the guitar in the back of his trunk, and promptly forgot about it until he was unpacking his trunk back at home. He found the guitar, and put it on a shelf in the garage, telling no one until directly asked that very day.
So, in the end, it was, is, and always will be HIS fault.
I’m just glad it isn’t mine anymore. I can’t handle the pressure. It’s stressful enough just being a part of the conversation.
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Lori B. Duff is an award-winning author who practices law on the side. Her latest book, “If You Did What I Told You…” is set to be released in the Fall of 2019. You can follow her on Twitter at @LoriBDuff and on Facebook. For more blogs written by Lori, click here. For more information about Lori in general, click here. If you want Lori to do your writing for you, click here.