One of my mother’s favorite holiday traditions was to play a practical joke on someone. It usually was Dad. One year she knitted him a cap that she decorated with tinsel and ornaments in the form of plastic animals; a pink walrus, a sheep, and others, that swung around his face. Mom was multi-talented and she could knit beautifully. I always wanted her to make me a granny square afghan, but she delighted in making things she could use to torment Dad.
Dad was the favored target, but no one was ever sure who the next victim would be; or, in fact, who would instigate the joke.
Around 1997, I selected Amanda.
The youngest of our eight siblings, Amanda spent summers with me downstate where every year I would buy her a new wardrobe to wear to school. We loved shopping together, although she didn’t always appreciate having to try things on. I picked out cute tops and flattering pants for her. But she liked wild colors, leopard prints and flashy materials, and dramatic styles with lots of pockets. Her interest was piqued every time we went to the mall and passed the leather store. Amanda wanted a black leather jacket in the worst way. She had aspirations of looking like a biker babe. Unfortunately, like most people with Down syndrome, she is short and her body is soft and pudgy. Her figure was not one to handle the narrow-waisted style of biker jacket that she yearned for.
One summer, she stayed with me for about six weeks and after a vigorous diet and exercise program, she had dropped a significant amount of weight. When shopping, she spotted a leather jacket she liked and tried it on, and it did fit her. But although I was seriously tempted, I opted not to buy it for her, as I knew she was going to gain the weight back when she got back home and fell “off the wagon” of daily walking and careful eating habits.
As Christmas rolled around, I was in a convenience store and I happened to notice a keychain that had a perfect miniaturized version of a black leather jacket, complete with zippers and snap buttons and pockets.
I got the key ring and wrapped it in a large box. On the tag, I wrote: “To Amanda. Here’s something you’ve wanted for a really long time.”
The box sat under the tree for a solid week, with its sparkling ribbon and tempting gift tag. Anyone who lifted it up and shook it would have easily deducted that it wasn’t heavy enough to contain a real black leather jacket. But Amanda’s hopes were soaring.
“What’s in that box?” Dad roared.
I leaned over and whispered in his ear. “Say, ‘A black leather jacket’ really loud!”
“A black leather jack-“ his yelp was smothered when I clapped my hand over his mouth.
Amanda’s dark blue almond-shaped eyes crackled. She rubbed her hands together. That sealed it. She knew she was finally getting the jacket of her dreams.
When Christmas morning dawned, she made a beeline for the tree, and with trembling hands she tore open the gift and ripped through the tissue paper. She pulled out the keyring, the mini jacket too small to even fit a Barbie doll.
“WHAT IS THIS?!” she screamed.
The family howled!
“Some sister, eh?” Dad yelled.
“Yeah!” she snapped. “Some sister I got!”
She whipped her hand back and flung that keyring. It flew across the room and struck me squarely on the temple. The room was in an uproar.
“You thought you were getting a black leather jacket?” Mom said.
“Yes!” Amanda shouted.
“Oh, Manda, you’ve gotta be out of your orb,” Mom said.
Amanda couldn’t help laughing. But she said, “Gol darn you, Nancy, I’m gonna get you for this!”
Christmas passed, and Amanda finally got her jacket, although it was a swing coat more suited to her figure than the biker babe jacket she had picked out. I didn’t think too much about it. But several weeks later, in January, I received a package, with a note that said, “Dear Nancy, here’s something you’ve wanted for a really long time.”
I tore open the package. Inside, I found my granny square afghan, carefully hand knitted.
It was attached to a key ring, and it was only one square.