The Bad Gift That Turned Out Great

And how I ribbed my husband’s boss about it and lived to tell the tale

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The author’s Chef Series knife set

“What’s this,” I asked James as he came through the door one day with three big boxes marked Tupperware?

“Oh, just something that Andy gave me,” he replied. “He got them as a freebie and didn’t really want a whole bunch of plastic storage containers, so he asked me if I wanted them. I told him sure.”

Andy was James’ boss. An OK guy if you were working hard and doing things his way. He’d been in Vietnam as a young man, and his outlook on life was pretty no-nonsense. Andy didn’t suffer fools, but if you were smart and did your job well, he was fair, and sometimes even nice.

James was very good at his job and for that reason, nearly always on Andy’s good side — hence the gift, if you could call it that. Andy’s kids were grown and he and his wife lived in a palatial home that no doubt had a high-end kitchen. He hadn’t even opened the boxes. After all, what did a top executive like him want with a bunch of Tupperware?

We slit the tape on the first box and opened it up, only to find several shiny, heavy-duty looking pots and pans with lids. It turned out that Tupperware had just launched a new division called Chef Series and these were some of the products. We’d been married for about 15 years at that point and still mostly had pots that we’d gotten when we set up house. Not only were these brand spanking new, but they were also of a higher quality than we had at that time.

We could have afforded new and better pots and pans, but we also had a young son on the autism spectrum and most of our time and resources were focused on taking him to various appointments and therapies, trying to find the best ways that we could help make his life better. New cookware wasn’t high on our list of priorities although that didn’t mean that we weren’t very excited to unexpectedly get a bunch for free.

“Ooh, this is better than Christmas,” I said to James after we’d taken out each pot and examined it thoroughly. “Let’s see what’s in box number two!”

As we cut the tape on the second box, anticipation was running high. Based on what had been in box number one, there was a reasonable expectation that something else that was pretty good would be inside.

“Well, damn — look at that,” James exclaimed as he pulled out a block full of all types of knives, from a big chef’s knife and one specifically for bread to a series of paring knives for different uses. It also came with a set of 10 serrated edge steak knives and a pair of kitchen shears.

“Japanese steel,” I said in wonder, as I read the insert. “These are really high-quality knives. Look at the weight of them and all the different options!”

There were a few smaller saucepans in the box with the knives and we realized that not only did we now have a couple of nice, new pans, but we had a whole set.

Box three was a bit smaller and held what you might think of when the name Tupperware is used — plastic storage containers with lids — although these were some of the nicest ones I’d ever seen. Several had valves for releasing extra air after the tops were sealed, and there were also some lidded drink cups.

All in all, it was a really nice haul, particularly since we hadn’t expected much. The next day at work, James told Andy about what a nice surprise that we’d had and thanked him for the great upgrade to our kitchen. They both laughed and Andy said that he was very glad it had turned out so well, particularly since he and his wife had just bought all new cookware, and really didn’t need any more.

About a year later, James and I found ourselves sitting at the same table as Andy and his wife at a wedding reception. I may be outspoken and a bit non-conformist, but I also know how to play a good corporate wife. I hung back and didn’t say a lot, just making polite small talk when it was appropriate.

I was seated next to Andy, and although I’d never really said much but hello to him in the past, as the evening wore on, we found that we got along quite well, despite his somewhat prickly reputation. Andy and I began to chat more comfortably, and after a couple of glasses of wine, I couldn’t help but bring up the boxes of Tupperware that he’d given us the year before, having no idea what a valuable gift they truly were.

“We all just assumed it was filled with storage containers, and low and behold, it turned out to be one of the nicest gifts we’ve ever received,” I told Andy at last after we’d all laughed at his mistake. “But I can just imagine you thinking, What am I going to do with this crap? I know, I’ll give it to James!

That made Andy roar with laughter since that was exactly what he’d been thinking. He liked people who recognized him as the boss, but who also were perceptive and not cowed by his authority. Something about me having the guts to tease him about the Tupperware just hit him exactly right and tickled his sense of humorous camaraderie. At the end of the evening, he gave me a big hug and a kiss on the cheek and we parted as fast friends.

Fifteen years later, we still have most of that stuff. And many times when I get a knife out of the block or burp a storage container, I think about the time that we got a windfall, just when we really needed one. I also think about having the nerve to tease my husband’s boss, in a way that he fortunately really enjoyed and appreciated. Andy was a tough customer, but also not too proud to enjoy a good-natured laugh at his own expense. It was a real win-win, and something that I will never forget.

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Dispelling cultural myths with research-driven stories. My favorite word is “specious.” Not fragile like a flower; fragile like a bomb! Twitter @ElleBeau

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