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My husband has an early January birthday on the heels of Christmas. Coupled with the fact that he is difficult to shop for anyway, I usually ask around for ideas. My big mistake was asking my brothers. It seems I never learn.

My mother loved everything about my father except for what she called “the Rich sense of humor,” a kind of prankster, frat-boy jocularity aimed to humiliate its victim. In some circles, this is called bullying. In my family, it’s the height of entertainment.

As her only ally raising five sons who adored my gregarious, fun-loving and practical-joke-playing father, I was constantly trying to help my mom restore civility. Alas, the odds were always stacked against us.

The Rich sense of humor is probably best defined anecdotally. My grandfather, whose delightful name was Elmer Augustus Rich, was famous for pretending he was three sheets to the wind (picture a drunken Barney Fife) in public places. Until one day in 1951, while stumbling outside at a gas station in Evanston, Illinois, he wasn’t pretending, and instead was in full cardiac arrest.

Rather than see this as a lesson to be heeded, my father and thus, his sons, have donned this brand of humor, where every day is April Fool’s Day, as a badge of honor — a passed-down talent meant to be honed and perfected. To that end, no amount of cruelty is spared, no effort is too great, and nothing is sacred.

One brother picked up another brother’s lost luggage at the airport for him and then promptly put the suitcase, and its contents, including Paul’s prescription meds, up for sale on Craigslist. A repayment of a loan — some $700 in cash — was once buried on the campus of an all-girls Catholic high school and Rob went to dig it up, only to discover that another brother, Chris, had gotten there first. Another brother drove 250 miles out of his way (with my kids in the car, if I recall) in order to be able to send a fake letter from a prison inmate convicted of murder with the correct postmark of the correctional facility’s ZIP code. Not even my oldest brother, Michael, who died in Vietnam in 1968, is off limits. In an attempt to infer that the baby of the family was too young to have known Mike — Paul was 12 when Mike died — the older brothers will refer to Mike in Paul’s presence as “Mark.”

I am not making this up.

As I said, hindsight is 20/20, and back in December gripped in the full manic throes of gift buying, I simply forgot I was related to them. Here is the email string that was my undoing. (Note: My husband, Chris, not to be confused with my brother Chris, often goes by his middle name, Freddie.)

To Chris Rich, Rob Rich, Paul Rich, Peter Rich:

Hi there ... I’m looking for Christmas present/bday ideas for Chris as he has started to do a few freelance home maintenance and upkeep jobs. Since you guys worked with him recently on Pete’s stair lift, can you suggest any tools/hardware/supplies that he would like? Thanks for all suggestions and ideas.

From Chris Rich: I noticed his tool bag was missing a medium density chroma puller, which he could have used in the electrical work for our recent install — fortunately Rob had his handy and saved the day!

From me: So, if I go into Home Depot and ask for a medium density chroma puller, they’ll know what I’m talking about?

From Rob Rich: They don’t carry them there — Paul got one about a year ago — out in White Lake Township, I think. I’d ask for one that has the neck harness, too.

From Paul Rich: No point in getting one without the harness.

From Chris Rich: And the fanny pack for accessories.

From me: I’m Googling medium density chroma puller and chroma technology comes up, but that’s it. What does it do?

From Rob Rich: Mine has a LED Accu-light, which Freddie thought was pretty cool. That way he could see the activator on the sequencer.

From me: Please help. What is the proper name for this thing?

Finally, Paul took mercy on me, phoning me at the office. “Mern,” he said trying to suppress his glee. “I’m sorry but we’ve been playing with you.”

In the end, I bought an oscillating cutting tool upon the recommendation of Rob, who promised I could trust him: “I love mine. Truly.” When Chris opened it, I told him the story of the infamous medium density chroma puller, thinking I’d get some sympathy. I thought wrong.

“Are you kidding me?” Chris said. “Do you know how many women would love to take the fall for any kind of attention from their brothers?”

I guess he has a point. But that doesn’t mean I’m not planning my sweet revenge.

mkeenan@detroitnews.com

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