How often can I show up at a holiday gathering with my baggy of Kandy Kane Jo-Jo’s, while others bring their loaf of homemade lemon bread, Angels on Horseback, beef on a skewer with a Dutch-Indo peanut sauce fondue?
I don’t know, pretty often I guess. At least this Christmas season and maybe the next, and then I might need to regroup.
Everyone always takes a Jo-Jo, whether they eat it or not. It’s the gesture that counts.
When I was growing up in one particular city, my best friend was part of a musical family. They all played piano, but one daughter also played flute, another guitar, violin, and so on. For whatever reason, which will always remain a mystery, this family surrounded me like a warm quilt. I was loved and petted, falling somewhere between an adopted sibling and a favorite cat.
The parents parented me, “How are you coming along,” they’d ask, about this and that. And then, “How are you coming along on the clarinet?”
“Good,” I lied. I was used to lying if it would show me a favorable light, and I don’t remember conscience ever waving a hanky to stop me. “My teacher says I have talent!” My teacher had never hinted at talent. I didn’t play, I honked.
“Of course you have talent,” the mother or father of this family would say. “You are a most gifted girl.”
It’s not that my own parents were cruel, they were just hard, hard on me. I think my parents thought I’d take a compliment too personally, or too much to heart, then stop trying to stretch beyond a compliment.
I wouldn’t get to spend the actual holiday with this family, the family of my best friend, though they always put forth the offer. In fact, when my own family moved to another state, they asked my parents if I could live with them, which of course was out of the question.
But anyway, this family and I spent tween holidays together; they were the pillow for my head.
Then, one night, they planned to have a great many guests, and asked that I bring my clarinet to accompany them all on a piece. Prokofiev? Chopin? That I don’t recall.
“You can do it, Karin,” they said. “E Natural, A, E, and F. We’ll give you the sign.”
“No,” in this instance, wasn’t in my vocabulary. Nor was the clarinet in my vocabulary, but still, I showed up on the appointed day, when the family played their instruments most beautifully. Every few measures or so, I came in to honk.
After the recital, my humiliation was so total,so truthfully total, it was practically liberating. I remember, so clearly, thinking, what the hell, now you know, now you know.
“Let me tell you,” said the mother that night. “You hit a rough patch or two, I won’t deny that. But you also played the prettiest E Natural I’ve ever heard. It brought tears to my eyes. Your teacher is right, you have talent.”
I don’t think I’ve ever lied since. With held information, yes, but never lied. Except at certain times with certain men, where the relationship was so exclusive we closed the doors on all intruders, even truth. But that's something else altogether.