My husband Brian and I were married nine days before Christmas after knowing each other for five months. For the Mormon culture, this amount of time isn’t especially unusual.
We married during Winter break while the University of Utah’s quarter ended and right before spring quarter began. It made perfect sense to us—though we were selfish because we were in love and ignored the proximity to Christmas day—sorry mom and dad!
Our first Christmas as Mr. and Mrs. Allen was small and quaint. We inherited a second-hand tree resembling unspooling pipe cleaners that we disguised with lots of ornaments we received as wedding gifts.
Because we were poor college students, Brian and I decided we could afford one present each. I went out during my lunch break and purchased a flannel robe with a paisley print. It reminded me of wealth and something from the Ralph Lauren Polo collection minus the little horse and jockey emblem on the breast pocket.
Brian went with his dad and brother, Scot, to the men’s department at JcPenny’s and bought me a button-down men’s flannel shirt. Remember, this was in the 1990’s, and loose flannel was all the rage.
Unfortunately, my new husband and I had only known each other for five months total. Did we know each other at all? Not really. Why would Brian who, when we met, had naturally curly hair that hanged like a halo of corkscrews, who sported facial hair called, “chops” which were basically long, thick sideburns almost reaching his chin, want a Polo-esque robe? He wouldn’t–even though by the time we married he’d cut his hair and reign in his chops!
When I opened my present from him, I almost said, “No, honey, we were supposed to buy one gift for each other.” When I realized he had, my heart sank; still, I kissed him a thank you.
I tried being positive about my present. I worked on finding something good about the shirt that hanged past my knees when I put it on. I also struggled hard not to question why my new groom wanted me to dress like a man.
The shirt was worn only once and then lived out its life in the darkest regions at the back of my closet. One day at a Sunday dinner in front of his side of the family Brian asked, “Why don’t you ever wear that shirt I bought you for our first Christmas?” His brother and dad seemed curious as well, after all, it was a group effort that year in buying me a gift.
Quickly, I conjured up a lie. “It’s too itchy.”
The room nodded its collective heads. It was an acceptable explanation, and everyone went on eating.
Years and years later, the shirt was brought up again during a conversation about first Christmas gifts. Again, we were at an Allen family dinner. By now, my husband and I weren’t newlyweds. We knew whom we were married to, every hope and dream down to each other’s quirks and rouge hairs growing out of necks or off toes. So I told him the truth.
“It never itched,” I said.
“Why did you tell me it did?”
“Why did you buy me a men’s shirt sized large?”
It’s been a joke ever since.
We’ve learned a lot over the years, such as we don’t go Christmas shopping alone anymore or purchase clothes without the other being present. If an article of clothing is questionable, we’ll ask, “What do you think? Does that seem a little itchy to you?” And after twenty-three years together, we don’t have to lie about our answer.