Last Saturday my half-Italian husband told me about a funny thing that happened earlier that day when he was at the grocery store with his brother-in-law, Gary. “Where’s the tomato sauce?” he asks Gary. Gary looks up and points to a sign and says, “Aisle 3. It says ‘tomato sauce.’”
They go to aisle 3 but all they find is ready-made spaghetti sauce in jars. “Hey!” Fred says. “I’m not using that Paul Newman, Chef Boyardee crap. I’m Italian. I make my own spaghetti sauce.” Just then a 50ish blonde bimbo-type comes up behind him and in a nasal New Jersey accent says, “Hey! Don’t ask a man where something is in a grocery store. It’s in the next aisle with the vegetables. I know how to make spaghetti sauce. I’m married to an Italian. My license plate says: “Fugeddaboudit!”
So they go to the next aisle. He sees cans of tomato paste, tomato puree, whole tomatoes, diced tomatoes, but no tomato sauce. He’s complaining to Gary about this when a very proper, well-groomed Atlanta matron standing nearby says politely, “Excuse me, sir. You’re looking for tomato sauce? It’s in the next aisle!” This cracks him up. As he tells me this story he’s giggling so much he can barely talk.
My husband’s ability to tell a good story is one of the things I love most about him. I used to have trouble with it though. Coming from scrupulous-minded, strait-laced Dutch stock, I worried about his blatant distortions of the truth. Maybe he had a serious memory problem. Maybe even a character flaw. “That’s not how it happened,” I’d say in shocked disbelief. “I was there!”
His whole family’s that way. I think they got it from his step-mother, Helen. His youngest brother, Tony, and I were talking about her the other day and he said, “You know, I think the word that best describes her is…” he paused for dramatic emphasis… “Embellishment.” “Embellishment?” I asked. He nodded emphatically, “Embellishment!” He would know. He’s an interior designer who jokes, “Never done ’til overdone!”
While I was pouring my homemade limoncello after our spaghetti dinner Saturday night Fred told everyone about an incident at a friend’s villa in Florence, Italy many years ago. “So,” he says, “after we’re installed in the guest cottage we go up to the villa where the chef has prepared a fabulous meal and our friend tells me to go to the wine cellar and pick out a good wine. I’m down there looking at all these dusty bottles thinking they have to be old and expensive. I didn’t know much about wine in those days and I didn’t want to take the best one so I choose a smaller bottle thinking it’s probably less expensive. Upstairs I open it, pour it in our wine glasses, and it’s yellow! Turns out it’s limoncello!” Everyone had a good laugh while I did a mental eye-roll. “There was no guest cottage. There was no chef,” I told them. ”That’s embellishment.” More laughter.
Unfazed, he went on to tell the story of our wedding. “Jeanie’s mother made her dress and said she could either give us $300.00 or spend it on a fancy wedding,” he said. My mother didn’t make my dress, and it wasn’t $300.00. It was $200. I know. I was there. Embellishment.
So what’s more important? Telling a good story or telling the truth? One of the happiest outcomes of my inner work is that I’m learning the wisdom of lightening up. Sometimes truth is overrated. Like limoncello, a little bit of embellishment can be good for the soul.