Have you ever found yourself in a sticky situation, which dictated that you say something tactfully uplifting, yet the plain-as-the-nose-on-your-face truth was that there was just no good way to put credible lipstick on that pig?
This blog post and the next five are a sad saga of my trying to do just that and the unintended consequences that followed. What thanks did I get for gamely trying to put the best face on an awkward situation? NONE. What I received instead was years’ worth of harassment for my good deed – harassment that slowly spread through my husband’s family, eventually engulfing the lot of us.
The Story Begins:
(Pay attention: just so you know, this saga starts out serious but – good news – ends not so serious.)
Husband’s Little Sister and her family suffered a house fire December 6, 1984, that burned their home to its foundation and everything in it – in one short hour. A wicked combination of a furnace problem combined with a wicked Nor’wester wind, it was devastating, as you can imagine.
They were well-insured, so the long-term prognosis was as good as it could be in situations like that. In the short term, though, they needed everything – pronto. On Christmas break, we visited them to do what we could to encourage them. By our arrival, they’d been thoroughly encouraged by their friends and the entire community in one of those quintessentially American, feel-good stories. They’d been quickly settled into an empty rent house, and their little community had poured out its wallets and donated home furnishings, household supplies, clothes, even Christmas-gift replacements.
Now, pay attention, because right about here is where it gets messy. It’s something you already know: some people’s idea of what is beneficial to people in this situation can be slightly out of kilter. One might be tempted to say they were looking for a way to offload their junk, but we won’t go so far as to say with certainty that’s what happened to Little Sister and her family. We’ll let you be the judge.
While we there, Brother-in-Law showed me an enclosed porch, stuffed with donated household furnishings. Some items were in good shape and could be useful. Others? Not so much. The pièce de résistance in the “others” category was a pair of the absolutely ugliest lamps I had ever seen or I ever expected to see. (With hindsight, that was most assuredly misguided optimism.)
A good four feet tall, they were banged-up gaudy-gold, Spanish conquistadors who had escaped their era, much like Time Bandits, and come to live right on the edge of The Deep South, of all places. Complete with crested shields and swords, they were even wearing the pointy helmets those fellas liked to wear. It was hard to imagine sane people saying to each other forty or fifty years prior, “Oh dearest, won’t these just make our new Colonial Spanish decorating scheme?” – and sincerely meaning it.
But there they sat, conspicuously adrift in time, amongst the other donated detritus. My brother-in-law, with what I now know to be his perverted sense of humor, pointed them out and said ever so gratefully and seriously, “What do you think of our new lamps?”
Ooo. Land mine ahead. Remember, they’d just lost everything and had been overwhelmed by the community’s generosity. Losing everything is very, very serious business. Being flooded with good will is humbling. Lots of emotions flying around that little rent house. He did seem truly grateful, and it didn’t seem the moment for raucous humor about how U-G-L-Y Ugly those lamps truly were.
So I took the high road. Skirting the entire Ugly Issue, I allowed they were a trifle large, and perhaps he could salvage the sockets, harps, and electrical cords. Having rewired a few lamps myself, I secretly gave myself an A- for a vague, yet helpful, answer to such a loaded question at such an emotionally charged time. In an uncharacteristic fit of tactfulness, I was desperately trying to be NICE.
The next morning, we packed our van and took off on the next leg of our journey, a six-hour drive to my in-laws. Barely half a mile down the road, we stopped so I could rearrange items making annoying squeaks. As I climbed past my captain’s chair to the open area in the middle of our converted van, there sat The Conquistadors right behind my seat, all settled in and excitedly looking forward to their new home.
So much for the high road.
What’s the pay-attention tip in this saga, at this point?
No good deed
as nearly as I can figure. (I stole that, BTW; see below.) I really was trying SO hard to be upbeat and positive and tactful, and look what it got me: a PAIR of U-G-L-Y Ugly! I decided I was done with nice and would henceforth become all about revenge. In Part 2, you’ll see how well that turned out.
© 2016, Teresa Bennett