Ode to the Family Ugly

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Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world~Susan Lieberman

2009 ~ With so many of us financially strapped and the holidays upon us, maybe it’s time to start a new family tradition.  This won’t cost you a thing, but will provide lots of smiles, laughter and memories.

About twenty years ago one of my brothers, Ben, was about to have a garage sale, when my parents asked if they could give him a few things to include in his sale. “You can keep any money you make. You’re doing us a favor by getting this old stuff out of here,” my father said.

traditionNaturally, my brother took the items over to his house and began to go through and price them. One of the items was a large brown, ugly vase that Ben made in grade school for my mother. My brother called me laughing that our mother had passed off this elementary art project for sale in the own artist’s garage sale! We laughed and laughed until I said, “Wait. Don’t you dare sell the vase!” Ben said, “It’s ugly. Nobody is going to buy it anyway.” I agreed on its unattractive look and said, “Wrap it up and give it to Mom for Christmas. We’ll write a poem, place it inside with instructions for the family “ugly.” Again, we laughed.

Several months later on Christmas morning, all seven of my mother’s children, with our husbands, wives, our smaller children and my father looked on as my mother began to unwrap her present from Ben. My siblings and I knew what was coming. It took my mother forever to peel off the wrapping as we all tried to hold back our excitement and laughter.

As my mother pulled back the tissue paper and saw the vase, she and my father burst out laughing. “I got rid of this,” she managed to squeak out between gasping for her breath.

“There’s something inside. Read it,” I said.

After my mother reached inside and pulled out the piece of paper, she read:

Ode to the Family Ugly

To you we pass on this cherished ugly.
It’s been part of the family for years.
Do not take this passage lightly or smugly.
Or you may be foiled in future careers.

Let me tell you the story of this pottery’s latest travail.
This past summer Dad handed Ben old things in a box,
Ben’s school days brown vase inside must be allowed to prevail,
And honestly upon hearing this news the family felt shocks.

No. No. Not this. Anything but this.
This piece has history, memories and use.
To get rid of this treasure would be absolutely remiss.
Mom, how could you perpetrate such nostalgic abuse?

Take this torch and guard it with respect.
For this is your present for Christmas celebration.
We know you’ve wanted it and wont object.
Shame on you, Mom for attempted abrogation!

However, with this gift do not plunder.
Do not now become overly attached.
After all this ugly may appear as a blunder.
And it must, in the future, be re-dispatched.

We laughed and laughed until we cried. Over the last twenty years this ugly vase has been gifted and regifted to various family members for weddings, graduations, birthdays, house closings, Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and even one Groundhog’s Day.

The “ugly” has seen some wear and tear ~ one year it was dropped and broke into seven or eight pieces. It was promptly super-glued back to its near original shape.

It has become one of the most delightful family traditions we have. And whenever this “ugly” is gifted, a note which includes the date, the occasion and both the giver’s and recipient’s name, is folded and put inside with all the other notes. To further the tradition, all the notes are reread as the next recipient unveils his/her turn with the “ugly.”

(If I were in possession of the “ugly” currently, I’d post its picture~but right now it’s in the hands of one of my siblings…but not for long.)

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