For a long time now my brother and I have ended conversations with a simple exchange. “Have a good one,” says one of us—to which the other closes: “Thank you very much”.

This practice stems not from common courtesy but shared derision. The dialogue, truth be known, is our joint nod to a treasured aunt: a lady so distraught hearing people wishing “Have a good one” (rather than “Have a good day”) —a woman once visibly and verbally unnerved by my bidding “Thank you very much” to a drycleaner who was, according to her, “Just doing his job”. “Why would you thank him?” she scolded me, “He gets paid for his work!”

And so… educated adults in our 60’s, ere we part…each time —in person or by phone—we honor her with subliminal tribute to her sustained lunacy.

“Have a good one.”
“Thank you very much.”

BULLETIN. Cleveland, Ohio. April 21, 2013: Aunt Helen is getting difficult!

She thinks Hal’s the nice one and perhaps he is. That stated, historians note it was H, the Raymond everybody loves, that years ago actually compiled our aunt’s complaints on an Excel spreadsheet. There it was, in aggregate: a black/white listing of every grievance ever spewed by the Jewish Margaret Hamilton: from Nephew Bruce to Cousin Norman to Rabbi Cohen to, … the Cleveland Institute Of Music. All this and more, wondrously available to the masses by one click of the button… courtesy of The Good Son.

Alas, even Hal…even my brother admits it’s now worse.  It’s not that she’s complaining less—she’s just returning more! No longer content just voicing displeasure, our aunt’s taken to affirmative action, summoning us to claim her refunds. You’ve heard of HBO On Demand? This is H & B on demand. And it’s getting old.

In this most recent winter of her discontent, Hal and I, flanked by what presents as a “nice little old lady”, have burdened area merchants returning:

Apples (“too hard”)
Oranges (“too soft”)
Hershey Kisses (“tastes ‘tinny’”)
Hershey Dark Chocolate (“They’ve changed the recipe”)
Manischewitz gefilte fish (“Oh, please—if I tell you it tastes bad must I say more?”
Knee-high Panty hose (“They fall down”—HOLD THE VISUAL!)
A Winter Coat (“too long”—Did she grow this week?)
Postage stamps (“Why did you get the ones that say ‘Love’”? You know
I prefer the American flag!”)

It’s not funny! Not to us. Last week (for example) our aunt, evolving at the rate of Senator Portman, announced she was ready for touch-tone dialing. Yes, with the help of my brother, she would discard her rotary and venture forward to a new frontier.

“It’s only a question of when,” H advised me that Saturday, the night of their purchase. “We’re returning the phone,” said his message, the very next morning.

We can’t keep pace!  (And she thinks it’s a COMPLIMENT that store managers know her first name)!

Heck, even before Hal could reprise his Target run and replace her phone, she volleyed again.

“There’s a slow leak in my milk carton,” she announced. “It must go back”.
“Not tonight Aunt Helen…really…I’m exhausted.”
“Very well,” she obliged (almost warmly). “It can wait until Wednesday.
Her mood changed quickly though when I suggested we take it to a service station, have them put it on a lift, and locate the leak. “Perhaps they can patch it?” I suggested.

—-This, in the same week she had me tiptoeing into The Jerusalem Grill, a kosher eatery on Cedar. How embarrassing is it—really—when you enter a deli and as one guy moves to get you a table, from the back of the counter you hear a voice shout “No, Simon, she’s here to return something.”

I swear.

Ah, but we laugh today. Somewhat… my bro and I.  Not always, of course, but certainly when it’s the other one doing the returning. All’s fair in love and war, you see—and she’s both.

Still, we love our aunt, through it all. And we honor her, in our talks.

I spoke to Hal today, for a bit. It ended in the usual fashion—with a twist.

“Have a good one,” he said. “Thank you very much.”  Then he got the last word in, my little brother did.  One last shot:

“Many happy returns!”


One Response to “MANY HAPPY RETURNS”

  1. Aunt Helen says:

    “Knee high panty-hose”? That is a sartorial oxymoron. What is wrong with you. Think before you write.

Leave a Reply