‘You don’t like it,” my father said many years ago when I opened a birthday present he had given me. It was, indeed, one of a kind, a photograph of him imposed on wood, a piece of bark with his familiar face on it, but lined and distorted by wooden grooves.
“I love it,” I gushed, faking a smile, because sometimes you have no choice but to lie to the people you love.
My father was a good-looking man, but you’d never know it by this photo. Long sideburns, curly hair, pink shirt, maroon polyester jacket with gargantuan lapels. It was the 1970s, after all. But there is no excuse for the chunk of distressed wood on which his image was glued.
Inexplicably, my father loved this photo. (This is why I could never believe him when he said that I looked nice.) Every time he stopped by to visit, he would check to see that it was still center stage on the family room wall. At a party or a family gathering, he would call someone’s attention to it, explaining that it was wood protected by shellac. And he was definitely not pleased when we had the family room wall demolished and I hung the picture in my office, and not in the front hall, until I told him, “Dad. This way I get to see you all day, every day. ”
Lying again. But the lie worked.
The picture remained in my office for many years. I could have taken it down after my father died. But I didn’t. I couldn’t then.
Last Tuesday, I finally did.
I slipped it off its hook, held it in my hands and studied it. My father never had 5 o’clock shadow, but he is all 5 o’clock shadow and bushy eyebrows in this shot. The maroon of his jacket reflects off his face. And his face and clothes are intersected with grooves.
But my father loved it and I loved him. So what do you do with gifts you don’t want that people you love give you? Is it OK to eventually throw them away?
He gave me a big, bulky bright yellow bathrobe one Christmas when I was 29, eight months pregnant, and big and bulky myself. “I knew you’d like it,” he said, pleased with himself. My 7- and 5-year-olds dubbed it my “Big Bird bathrobe.” It at least wore out.
I made matching Christmas dresses for my cousins the year I was learning to sew. There were four sisters, all under 12. The dresses were green polyester, A-line, sleeveless things, which I trimmed, neckline and hem, with cotton red zig-zag that came in a package, which I bought at the Bargain Center in Quincy.
All the girls smiled when they opened their gift. All the girls said, “Thank you.” And “I love it.” All the girls signed the thank you note that their mother wrote, in which she included a photo of them lined up on the couch in their matching dresses.
Yes, we do lie to the people we love. But do we toss away what they gave us, ever?
My aunt eventually told me, when her children were adults and I had long given up sewing, that she had deep-sixed the dresses after just one wearing, during which her girls posed for a picture on the couch, but never left the house. “I didn’t want to hurt your feelings,” she explained.
I placed my father’s picture in an empty waste basket then took the waste basket outside. Then I went outside, brought the picture back in, scanned it, turned it from color to black and white. I Photoshopped out the grooves. Then I saved it on my computer.
Now I can throw away the wooden one, finally, without guilt.