[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published November 27, 2023] ©2023
In December, my birth month, I can’t help but reflect that birthday gifts from spouses can be fraught with peril.
Not to speak ill of the dead, but my first husband was notorious for getting me gifts that he wanted me to have rather than anything I actually wanted. We moved to Colorado early in our marriage, close to weekend skiing, and he was sure that if I gave skiing a chance, I’d love it. Because he loved it. Given that I hated both cold weather and heights, loving it was optimistic. But this didn’t prevent him from buying me a complete set of ski equipment for my birthday, including skis, poles, and boots. Did I mention it was all on sale, and non-returnable? And that we were really poor at the time and this was a really big investment that he knew I couldn’t let go to waste? (OK, now I’m speaking ill of the dead.) Please, he implored, would I just go five times now that I owned all this equipment that I never wanted in the first place? And to my credit, I did. And the next day, it was all listed on a ski re-sale board.
Meanwhile, several years ago, when my second husband, Olof, asked me what I wanted for my birthday, I didn’t hesitate to request a top-of-the-line sewer auger.
Now, this might suggest that the romance has gone out of the relationship or worse, could be considered a dismal metaphorical condemnation of our union.
But no, I really really wanted my very own sewer auger.
We live in a house that was built by the lowest bidder after the war with all non-square corners and apparently without benefit of building materials that had become scarce during The Conflict. It is our only explanation for the shoddy construction. An abundance of pipe-invading trees and shrubs had kept us on speed dial to our local plumber.
But often the problem was our kitchen sink which could be cleared ourselves (that’s the royal “ourselves”) with a good sewer auger, which just happened to belong to our neighbors. They were very nice about lending it to us as needed but after a certain point, I began to fantasize about the luxury of having our own.
You’d think Olof (the “ourselves” mentioned above) would have been deliriously happy with this idea but was instead horrified. He did not feel that a birthday auger augured well for our marriage.
“Not a snowball’s chance,” he replied. “Besides, aren’t you the one who complained that your first husband got you stuff for your birthday that was really for him?” he said.
“Yup,” I said, “Skis, and box seats to a Chargers games.
“And what happened?” he continued.
“I’m now married to you,” I said.
“Exactly. It is against the Code of Husbands to get a wife a sewer auger for her birthday,” he maintained.
“But not if that’s what I want,” I said. “I didn’t ski and I hated football.”
“I don’t know,” he said, shaking his head. “This wife birthday thing is a mine field. There’s nothing more terrifying to a guy except Valentine’s Day.”
“But I’m serious,” I said. “It would warm my heart the next time the sink backs up on a Saturday night” – it’s always a Saturday night – “that ‘we’ could just wheel in our Ferrari-of-sewer-augers and have at it.”
“This is a second marriage for both of us,” Olof reminded me. “I like to think I’ve learned something. Buying a wife a sewer auger for her birthday would be a classic rookie husband mistake. I once bought my first wife a really expensive vacuum cleaner for her birthday.”
“And what happened?” I said.
“I’m now married to you.”
“Well, I’d consider a vacuum cleaner grounds for divorce too.”
“OK,” said Olof, “I’m willing to buy you the sewer auger of your dreams but you can’t have it within even two months of your birthday. So you’re going to have to think of something else.”
“I also really want a hose caddy.” I suggested. “The kind that’s mounted on the house that I can just crank up. The hose in the back is making me crazy.”
“Inga,” he said, exasperated. “I can’t get you a hose caddy for your birthday any more than I can get you a sewer auger.”
“Well, I really do need a new salad spinner too. “
“No! NOTHING PRACTICAL! It’s your birthday! I have no desire to be married a third time.”
“The hose caddy could be for Christmas,” I suggested. “Remember, it includes installation.”
“Surely there is something totally frivolous with no practical value that you want?” he implored.
And that’s how I got a two-pound box of Godiva chocolates for my birthday. And magically, a deluxe sewer auger, a hose caddy, and a salad spinner appeared from an anonymous donor a few weeks later. I couldn’t have been happier.