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.

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0 Responses

    1. Hi George,
      Thanks for your perfect observation! I “rate” it an A+ and am still chuckling over it. I’d never noticed the similar connotations of embellishment and inflation. What other word could be more appropriate for describing a major “interest” of my economist husband?

  1. Yes, and remember that Rick Stone wrote a wonderful book called “The Healing Art of Storytelling” to remind us all how important stories are…and a little embellishment is “the frosting on the cake.” My Dad, like Fred, was an accomplished storyteller…and embellisher. I miss him greatly but those stories keep him alive! xoxo

    1. Hi Beth,
      Yes, I do remember Rick’s wonderful book! I follow a few blogs written by excellent storytellers, Charlie Hale’s STORIES CONNECT LOVE HEALS is one of them, and I am more and more convinced of the deep wisdom and infinite value of this form of communication. I’ll try to do more of that here. Thanks for writing. Jeanie

        1. My pleasure, Charlie. Your blog is a source of inspiration to me. Notice how I lightened up in this post? I’m convinced some of your Irish blarney is rubbing off on your readers!

      1. You’ve read it? His wife, Elizabeth Cohen, is a dear friend of Beth and mine, and the one who led the meditation workshop at our mountain cabin two weeks ago. Small world, huh?

  2. Great blog! I can absolutely hear Fred and Tony in it. Makes me all warm and fuzzy inside…
    My 1/2 Italian dad does the same thing. Last year’s rain storm is next year’s hurricane. You know, the one they barely escaped alive. (:

    1. Thanks, Stefanie,
      I think you and I are blessed to have people like Fred and your dad in their lives. And I’m pretty sure it isn’t just Italians who do this. The Irish are noted for their blarney too. In fact, Fred’s other half is Irish!! No wonder he’s such a great embellisher! What’s your dad’s other half?
      As an aside, I’m reading a book by a famous psychologist that was written in the mid-forties and she talks about differences between extraverted and introverted countries. While this might be a stereotype and the boundaries are probably much fuzzier now than they were then, there’s no doubt that Italy and Ireland would still be characterized as extraverted countries, don’t you think?

  3. My family is well known for this too and maybe we could re-name it to situational entertaining imagination? I’m prone to say that anything envolving the imagination that is harmless and mostly fun, can’t be all bad. I say..way to go Fred! Smile, Ann

    1. Hi Ann,
      As Kennedys, your family would definitely fit into my new theory about Italians and Irish (see my response to the post above!!) Did I ever tell you Fred was half Irish?
      I love your name for this phenomenon that Fred’s and your families have in common: situational entertaining imagination? SEI? Have we discovered a new syndrome or has some astute psychologist already given it another name? We may be on to something here….
      I wonder if there are any more half-Italian, half-Irish out there who could comment on this.
      Love, Jeanie

  4. Jeanie, men exaggerate?
    Never, for one moment, in my entire life, have I ever even slightly exaggerated a story. The only exception to the rule is if it draws a crowd, makes the audience laugh, makes a good point, makes the story more interesting, or keeps everyone awake. In other words, if you want to bore people to death don’t embellish.

    1. Well, I wasn’t exactly pointing the finger at men, but if the shoe fits…. By the way, I might have exaggerated just a tiny bit in my story about Fred’s search for tomato sauce in the grocery store. He didn’t actually say the blonde-haired bimbo had a nasal New Jersey accent, just that she sounded like she could have been from New Jersey! See? I can embellish too!

  5. Actually, in my mind all stories are embellished relics of our memories. There is no such thing as “that’s what actually happened” because I believe that all experience and memory is a product of interpretation–each person will interpret the same events through their own mental models and beliefs and prejudices. People often make the mistake believing that experience is perceptual, but interpretation in a profound way precedes perceived experience–it’s a filter through which perceptual data is sorted. When two siblings have remarkably different stories about the same event in their childhood, each is usually certain that their account is the “true” one. They’re both true. I think this fits very well within the realm of constructivist models of how meaning and reality are constituted.
    So, in my story, the dress was $3,000, and Jeanie’s mom took a job at the local soda counter to pay for it.
    Rick Stone

    1. Hi Rick,
      You’re right, of course. I’ve seen how my own children remember the same event completely differently. However, there’s no way that villa had a guest house or a chef!! And I can prove it! (Not that it would be worth the effort.)
      Seriously, I appreciate your observations very much and am feeling better and better about Fred’s embellishments. Thanks for dropping by.

  6. Jeanie, Can’t believe that I just sat down to read this post with a bowl of lemon sorbet topped with some Limoncello that Chad and I brought back from Italy. I had no idea what you had written about today. Limoncello is yummy and so are your blogs. Thanks for sharing and I do love that Fred knows how to tell a good story.

  7. Hi Justina,
    What a delightful synchronicity! I love it when things like that happen. Thanks for enjoying my blog and taking the time to let me know. Hi to Chad!

  8. Ah … but is embellishment not a version of the truth? I remember one story of an analyst and a patient where the patient/client tells the analyst his dreams over a period of months. As the sessions continue with the analyst working with the provided dreams, the patient finally admitted that none of the dreams he presented actually happened, that all of them were “made up.” ‘Well,’ said the analyst, “that’s okay because the source of the “made up” stories is the same source as the dreams, from deep within. And so, the stories contain the same deep truths about self.’

    1. Hi Robert,
      I’m enjoying your comment while sipping a wee draught of my homemade limoncello. Yes, indeed. I agree that embellishment is a version of the truth, although I would have found that a difficult libation to swallow in my earlier years when I assumed my version was the only correct one. My friend Rick Stone who has written a book about storytelling made a similar observation: truth is relative to the memories of individuals; thus each person’s embellishment is a version of truth.
      I love your story about the dreamer and analyst. Exactly so! The same imagination from the same soul creates our stories, symbols and images, whether they are factually true or soulfully true. Either way, truth prevails when the psyche is allowed to speak. Thank you for stopping by.
      My best,

  9. Love this! Made me smile, remembering many good stories. Did Fred ever find Tomato sauce?

  10. I’m just noticing your comment on R. Stone and his wife, Jeanie. Yes, I’ve read the book and have referred to it a number of times.
    Always seeking life’s connections aren’t we?

    1. Yes we are. And here’s another connection. Rick and Elizabeth are vacationing here in the mountains this week. Just five minutes before I received this comment from you I got an e-mail from Elizabeth confirming that they’ll drop by for a visit tomorrow afternoon and that we’ll have dinner together Friday night. I’ll be sure to tell him to check out your blog. Jeanie

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