43: Nice and Ugly

43: Nice and Ugly

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Christmas

Nice and Ugly

Thanks for going to the holiday office party in a Christmas sweater that’s more embarrassing than my behavior.

~Author Unknown

My dad knew that Mom only wanted one thing for Christmas: clothes. But my poor father had no idea what to buy her. The year before she had returned almost every present he had given her.

He decided I would help him. I was fifteen years old, opinionated and fashion-minded. We set out on a shopping expedition and it was going great. We had spent the entire day buying clothes Mom would love.

Then Dad saw the display of Christmas sweaters. They were hideous — some red, some green, some glittery, others depicting cute, fuzzy forest creatures in the snow.

Dad said that his one success every year was when he bought Mom the ugliest, gaudiest Christmas sweater he could find. Over my objections, he purchased one with a Christmas tree that lit up and played music.

On Christmas morning, Dad and I exchanged glances as Mom began to open the ugly sweater. She gasped and I thought, “Ah ha! I knew it!” I smirked at my father.

“How cute!” Mom said, and lifted the sweater from the box, holding it in front of her. She swooned when Dad showed her the button that lit the tree up and played the “O Christmas Tree” tune.

Dad grinned at me and winked.

Mom loved all her presents that year. The pants fit. The dresses were the right color. The blouses were age appropriate. So every year thereafter, my father and I would hit the malls together and spend the entire day shopping for Mom’s Christmas presents. As I got older, married and had a child of my own, our tradition still continued. This was an annual father-daughter date.

Years after that first Christmas shopping trip for Mom, Dad and I stood in the department store arguing over Christmas sweaters, yet again. I had spent every one of the last eleven years attempting to stop my dad from buying ugly Christmas sweaters for Mom.

“Your mom doesn’t think they are ugly,” he would always say, and purchase one anyway.

This time, I had found an elegant, expensive Christmas sweater — a black silky cardigan embroidered with small red and green beads forming a beautiful pattern of poinsettias on the right shoulder. It would look beautiful on my mom.

Dad insisted on the sweater he was holding. It featured six different multicolored fabrics sewn together with a different dancing snowman on each color block, and it didn’t even look Christmassy. “That sweater looks like a kindergarten teacher’s dream, Dad. Please, no,” I pleaded.

“Tell you what. You buy your fancy-schmancy sweater, and I’ll buy this one. She will open both and we will see whose sweater she likes better,” he proposed.

“Deal,” I said, confident I wasn’t losing this bet.

On Christmas morning, my family arrived at my parents’ house to celebrate and eat. The time to open presents came and we gathered around the Christmas tree. Mom opened my present first.

“It’s nice,” she said and smiled. “I love the material.”

I smirked at my father, who pretended not to notice.

Then she opened Dad’s. And gasped.

“It’s adorable! Where did you find it?” she exclaimed. She stood up and pulled the dancing snowmen on over her shirt.

She looked down at the red, orange, purple, yellow, black and blue color blocks, the snowmen appearing to dance to celebrate their victory.

Dad smiled and winked. Words were not needed. I knew I lost. I didn’t know this woman better than this man. They had been married for thirty-five years.

Dad passed away from cancer before the next Christmas. Mom still wears all the ugly Christmas sweaters Dad bought her, and somehow they don’t appear as ugly to me as they once did. I smile when I see her donning the sparkly green argyle, the kitten popping out of the present, or the multi-colored snowmen. Now I tell her, “You look nice, Mom.”

~Mary Anglin-Coulter

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