Nothing gold can stay.
I told him nothing’s the same after six months. All the good stuff’s gone.
We dug out the “good china” from the Jacobean hutch that had once belonged to my parents. It wasn’t really that good, and maybe wasn’t even china. We’d picked it up about 15 years earlier from Pier 1 because my sister was visiting for Christmas. (I’d lost my 1920s-era Limoges grapevine pattern in a breakup theft by a woman who insisted she was my wife despite the absence of any actual or symbolic ceremony.)
We set the “good china” plates on our particularly ostentatious gold chargers that we placed on blue velvet place mats. We wrapped sterling napkin rings around the “company” silverware and set a centerpiece with greens atop a red velvet runner.
We set this very fine table and told our son we were going to eat our parental Christmas dinner upstairs and leave him to the massive table with his girlfriend. They both were 18, and our son had for a couple months sported a thin gold band with a gap in it that he turned inward toward his left palm. It sort of looked like a girl’s earring with a lost back, and I was reasonably sure that this was exactly what it was.
My wife, who never notices anything except whether I’ve gained 12 pounds since the pandemic and my organ transplant (and indicates only with her eyes and not her mouth that she’s noticed), detected the makeshift ring on the wedding hand and asked him flat-out whether he got married when we let him take his girlfriend unchaperoned to Chicago for his October birthday. “Do you think I’m stupid?” he replied.
Christmas day had begun promisingly enough with opening the family Christmas presents. I had inadvertently wrapped a pair of socks my wife meant for me with a tag for Sam, because they bore the motto “Head butthead of the house”.
“I meant those for you,” she whispered to me when Sam held them up.
“Mine now,” Sam said.
I already had moved on to my other snark-sloganed socks from my wife and had set aside for the kitchen what I thought was a wrapped can of beets. They had told me for a week that it was a can of beets, and it was shaped like a can of beets. I don’t really love beets, but since my transplant I’d eaten a bunch of them since they’re a natural detox of stuff that might accumulate to kill me. Why not, in a world where your spleen can attack your liver and your red blood cells can Ninja-star themselves to death?
“Aren’t you going to open your beets?” Sam asked.
“No, I’ll just take them to the kitchen after we clean up all the wrapping paper. Don’t throw out all the beads and bangles and Japanese fans on your packages. I’ll use them again next year.”
“You always do,” my wife said.
“The Japanese fans are new this year.”
“They’re not really beets,” Sam said.
So I opened my “Merry Fucking Whatever” Christmas candle, shaped like a can of beets. My environmentally friendly soy wax candle advised me to have “a very merry non-specific celebration”. It smelled nice in a wasp-y way.
Sam opened a similarly shaped package of “Pretentious and Vaguely Imported-Looking Liquid Hand Soap Scented with Name-Dropping and Rampant Braggery”. It was organic, vegan, and all natural.
“Cool,” Sam pronounced.
“Actually, that was not for you, Sam,” my wife said.
It was overall a good year for the sock and candle industries at my house. Sam asked for candles and incense, and I asked my wife to get him some cologne that didn’t smell like a 1974 Hai Karate commercial. We didn’t know whether the slathering of bad cologne and sudden interest in incense was meant to cover for marijuana and didn’t pursue our suspicions because we knew he had many hiding places.
For my part I had become distressed by the thought of Sam heading off to Pennsylvania for college with nothing but tube socks. I raided the stores for thermal socks, trouser socks, dress socks. And vintage-50s cardigans, nothing with keyboards, flamingos, or anything suggestive of bowling, just classic lines, three buttons, two stripes. My kid who loves Elvis, Sinatra, and Dean Martin loved the shirts.
“I’ll take that shirt if you don’t want it,” my wife teased Sam.
“Not a chance, loser.”