Lying? No, Storytelling!

“What’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today?” he’d ask.  My grandpa, puffing on his pipe.

Pleased to have his attention, and anxious to keep it, I’d rack my brain for a response.  Growing up in the suburbs in the 1950’s was pretty mundane.  Nothing of great interest ever seemed to happen to me.

So, I’d make things up.  Not lying, exactly.  Storytelling.

“I fell in the creek today,” I might tell him.  “Tried to walk across the log, but my foot slipped off .”

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“How’d you get out?” he’d ask, wisps of smoke curling around his head.

“Wasn’t deep,” I’d say.  “But don’t tell my Mum.”

“Nope,” he’d say.  “Be best not to go near the creek anymore, though.”  And he’d give me a broad wink.

On another occasion, I might tell him that my bike got stolen, but I managed to get it back.  Heroically.

“Wasn’t it locked” he’d ask.

“Yeah, the lock was across the forks of the back wheel.  But the guys who took it just picked it up and carried it.  That’s how I caught up to ‘em.”

“What did you say to them?”

“Nothin’ Grandpa.  When they heard me comin’, they dropped the bike and ran away.  I guess I scared ‘em off.”

“Sounds like,” he’d say.  “Maybe you should fasten your wheel to the bike rack from now on.  Be hard to take that.”  His blue eyes would sparkle, and I’d love that I made that happen.

He never tired of asking the same question, and I never got tired of answering.  I might have told him how I won the game for our team when I made the game-ending catch of a long fly-ball in centrefield.

“Jus’ like Willie Mays!” I’d say, omitting the fact that I had actually stumbled and fallen, slid to an ignominious stop, only to have the ball land on my stomach, where I frantically clutched it.

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“Mays is one of the greats,” he’d say.  “You caught it over your shoulder, like he did?  Wish I could have seen it.  Next time, though, try to keep the ball in front of you.  Those over-the-shoulder catches are pretty rare.”  And he’d flash me a knowing smile.

As a grandfather myself now, I know he knew I was padding the truth.  But I didn’t know back then.  I thought it was okay, because it brought us closer together.

He lived to a ripe old age, and in the last few years before he died, he was slowed considerably.  When I’d visit with him, it seemed our roles were reversed.  Now it was I asking the questions, and he searching for answers that would keep me there longer.  I always asked the old chestnut.

“So, what’s the most interesting thing that happened to you today, Grandpa?”

He no longer smoked his pipe, but he’d stroke his mouth as if still holding it, and I could almost hear the gears meshing inside his head.

“Nothing much today,” he’d say.  “But did I ever tell you about the time I saved your father from drowning?  Fell off the dock while we were fishing at the lodge up near Bala, no life-preserver.  I reached down, grabbed his collar, and hauled him straight out of the water.  Poor little guy cried like a baby.  That was pretty interesting, I’ll tell you.”

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I’d heard the story many times, of course, and my father had debunked it every time.  “The water was shallow,” he told me.  “I jumped in, and waded ashore.  And I did have a life-preserver on.  Dad loves to tell the story, though.”

Of course, I never let on that I didn’t believe what my grandpa was telling me.  I remember hearing how he met the King, back in 1939, when he and the Queen, on their tour of Canada, visited the hospital where my grandpa was recuperating from surgery.

“I had a picture of the two of us,” he’d say.  “Don’t know what ever happened to it.  Your grandma must’ve thrown it out.  But that was really interesting!”

Grandma would only smile when I asked about that picture.  “Grandpa was in the hospital in 1937,” was all she’d say.

I heard about the lawn-bowling championship he won, the skip of a Dominion championship team in 1909.  According to him, the mantel clock that still sits in my home was the prize awarded for the victory.

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“There’s no plaque on it, Grandpa,” I once told him.  “How come they didn’t put your name on it?”  The wistful look he gave me made me wish I hadn’t asked.

“Ah, they gave us all a letter,” he said.  “Signed by the prime minister, Mr. Borden.  That’s why your father’s middle name is Borden.  No idea where that letter is now.  But that’s pretty interesting, don’t you think?”

I nodded in agreement, and was circumspect enough not to mention that the prime minister in 1909 was Wilfrid Laurier.  My father was born in 1911, right after Robert Borden’s election.

By then, my grandpa’s eyes no longer sparkled as in days of yore.  But he’d still wink at me while telling his stories, and smile whimsically.  Kind of like my smile now, when I listen to my own grandchildren telling me about the momentous events in their lives.

And when they ask me about the interesting things in my day, I try not to lie to them.  Elaborating is not the same as lying.

“Nothing much today,” I tell them.  “But did I ever tell you about the time I saved my brother from the big kid across the road who was beating him up?  I ended up with a bloody nose and a black eye, but that kid never picked on my brother again.  That was pretty interesting.”

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“Really, Gramps?” they marvel.  Or pretend to.

Of course, I don’t tell them the real reason my brother was safe afterwards; the kid’s family moved away.

To this day, I have a warm feeling inside when I remember my grandpa, and those conversations we used to have.  And I love the exchanges now with my grandchildren, swapping tales about our lives.

Not lying, exactly.  Storytelling.

Which is what I do.

Gone Fishin’!

When we lived on the lake, I was often asked by old friends about my retirement activities, and what I did to amuse myself all the livelong day.  Most of them assumed I did a lot of fishing.  And they were right, to a point.

In my opinion, there are few pleasures in life to compare to the joys of fishing.  But only, of course, if it’s done properly—that is, my way.

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It’s probably true that there are as many ways to fish as there are people who go fishing.  So, the proper procedures will be defined differently by each of us.  My routine would undoubtedly be totally inappropriate for anyone else.

I developed it as a younger man camping in the wilds of northern Ontario, and it was perfection, itself—or almost, since there was one flaw, which I shall come to shortly.

As I remember it, the proper fishing excursion began quite early in the morning, when all save the birds were still asleep.  I would rise quietly, so gently as to pass unnoticed by comrades on my way from the tent to the water’s edge.  The canoe, already laden with the necessary gear, would be launched smoothly, silently, into the mist-enshrouded lake.

My body would stretch exultantly as the paddle cut deeply through the water’s ebony surface.  For a time, nothing would be heard but the soothing hiss of the canoe across the lake.  My happiness was absolute.

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I’d watch as the mist lifted, a curtain rising before an audience of one.  Wet, wraith-like wisps would seek to flee the warming sun—frantic, elusive phantoms ruthlessly pursued until thrust from its gaze.

I’d be well offshore when the sun brought the forest alight in greens, bouncing and careening its way through the translucent leaves.  Dark shade-spots would climb the stretching tree-trunks, dance across leaves turned to face the morning light, and then suddenly vanish.

The lake—its diamond-dancing surface reflecting morning back to bluing sky—would part before my craft, bowing away in widening ripples to lap gently against the shore of a small inlet I might find.  I was in awe of the panorama of sunlit trees reflected in the mirrored mere—quicksilver, green, and cold.

The lilting lament of a loon might be all that would break the silence.  Great granite slabs, topped by bush and trees, slanted from on high down into the lake, which tossed back their image from its glassy depths.

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Peace would reign, rampant upon nature’s canvas.

Alas, it would not last.  For to begin fishing was to interrupt that sylvan sequence of morning life, to disturb its natural ebb and flow.  Yet, not to cast a line was to deny the purpose of the visit.

And therein lay the flaw in my perfect way to fish.  The act of fishing became almost a sacrilege in nature’s cathedral of calm, and thus devoid of any joy.  All the pleasure had come from just being there.

So, I had to adapt in order to come to grips with the incongruity of being a fisherman who didn’t like to fish.  I made sure my tackle-box always contained a book or two, a novel, perhaps, or a chosen book of verse.  It held my harmonica, a ‘one-man band’ with which I could while away countless hours.  And there was always a camera, loaded and ready.

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In short, I still went fishing, but I did not fish.  When I’d reach the perfect spot, I’d cease my paddling, sink back in the bottom of the canoe, and just drift ‘til it was time to go back.

Water-bugs would skitter their erratic dash across the water, an occasional fish would jump with a splash.  When a kingfisher darted down to stand on the prow of the canoe, I knew I’d become a piece of the very scene I was observing.

I was one with my surroundings—at once apart and a part.

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There were inevitable questions, of course, when I’d return from an excursion.  Where did I fish?  What bait was I using?  Did I catch anything?

I’d reply that nothing was biting, or that there were only a few nibbles.

In that respect, I guess, I was like all true fishermen.  I would never tell anyone where I’d found my favourite fishing-hole.

That would have spoiled it.

It’s a Boy!

Another of those small milestones of life passed us by the other day.  Our youngest daughter reached the ripe old age of forty-five.  It didn’t appear to faze her, the realization that she is now firmly ensconced in middle-age.  But it brought a flood of memories for me.

Way back then, my wife became pregnant at the same time as one of my sisters—apparently within days of one another.  We didn’t know that at the time, of course, but as delivery day approached for each of them, it became a matter of conjecture as to which would blossom first.

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My brother-in-law and I oversaw a number of betting pools within our two families—all in good fun, naturally.  Who would deliver sooner?  Would the babies be girls or boys?  If one of each, which family would have the boy?  What would be the combined weight of the two babies?

The combined weight of the two mothers was never up for discussion!

As it happened, my sister went into labour first.  In short order, a wee daughter made her grand entrance, and all of us rejoiced.  My brother-in-law and I gathered the vital statistics for the betting-pools.

A day later, my wife told me it was time.  I drove her to the hospital, after dropping our older daughter off with my parents.  It was hard to tell who was more excited, our little girl or my mother and father.  None of them could talk coherently when we departed—my daughter because she was only a year-and-a-half old, my parents because they were so thrilled about my sister’s newborn, and our impending one.

We had elected not to know the gender before our baby’s arrival, as had my sister and her husband.  I think they’d been hoping, if they had a girl, they could borrow our daughter’s swaddling clothes if our new baby was a boy.

As far as we were concerned, the gender issue was a non-issue.  Unlike previous generations in my family (my grandfather and father both celebrated wildly whenever boys were born), I was more than happy to welcome either a sister or brother for our daughter.  However, given our precarious financial situation back then, which would be exacerbated by the arrival of another child, I was secretly hoping for another girl.  I mean, a boy would have looked strange in the pastel pink and yellow clothing that would have to be passed down from his older sister.

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Our hospital was a welcome change from the location where our first daughter had been born.  This time, I was allowed—encouraged even—to be in the delivery room.  I had wanted to do that the first time, but was prohibited.

“We can’t be worried about a father who might faint during the birthing,” I was told.  They had obviously been tipped off that I had once passed out while having stitches removed from my hand.

I practiced for this delivery, though.  I attended the pre-birthing classes with my wife, learning all there was to know about the process.  I stood by her head in the mock-up sessions, holding her hand gently, counting the seconds of each mock-push and each mock-rest between.  I accepted that it was she who was allowed to scream, if necessary during the ordeal, not I.  And I was assured there would be a stool for me to sit on if my legs gave out.

The baby seemed like it would never come.  While my wife snatched some needed sleep, I spent time with my sister and newest niece, in their room down the hall.  In fact, I was there when my sister and her baby were wheeled into the room after a visit to the nursery.  I stood up when they entered.

“That’s not my wife, y’know,” I told the startled nurse.  “That’s my sister!”

The look the nurse gave me could have curdled my sister’s milk, had she been looking.  What sort of degenerates were we?

My sister quickly explained that my wife was awaiting delivery of our own baby, an explanation I wasn’t sure mollified the nurse.

Finally, some eleven hours after we had rushed to the hospital, the moment of arrival approached.  I was ushered into the delivery room, clad in gown, mask, and bootied feet, and planted at my wife’s head.  The doctor stood at the other end, with a mirror above and behind him.  For the next several hours (minutes, actually, but to me they seemed to drag interminably), my wife pushed and cried her way to the point where the baby began to emerge.

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“Let’s rest for a moment,” the doctor said, clearing the baby’s tiny mouth with his finger.

Perched halfway out, with the barely-showing umbilical cord still folded back into the womb, the baby seemed a miracle.

“It’s a boy!” my wife declared between pants of exertion.  Her certainty, it turned out, was the result of mistaking the umbilical cord for another appendage that only a boy would have.

“If this is my son,” I thought to myself, incredulously, “he’s bigger than I am!”

The procedure was completed shortly thereafter, and we welcomed a second daughter into the world.  After she was placed in my arms, I was the first to begin cleaning her squinting face of the birthing detritus.  Words cannot describe my elation at that moment.  Forty-five years later, I remember it still.

To top off the day, my wife was taken to the same semi-private room occupied by my sister.  My mother and father were already visiting her, with our older daughter, when we were escorted in.  What a joyful experience—introducing our newborn to her sister, her slightly-older cousin, and other family members!

After ensuring everyone was settled in properly, the nurse sidled over to me.  With a gentle elbow in my ribs, she whispered, “So, you got them straightened out now, honey?”

Oh, yeah!

 

Music in Muskoka

It never crossed my mind on that rainy, August Saturday in 1967—our wedding day, as we stood on the threshold of our future together—that our golden anniversary would eventually arrive.  And now, fifty years on, it has.

Symbolic occasions have never resonated loudly with me, for whatever reason.  My wife and I have always celebrated family birthdays, of course, especially those of our children and grandchildren.  Wedding anniversaries, however, have come and gone with very little fanfare—although not without a sense of gratitude for our good fortune.

But it occurred to us a while back that, when two strong, independent people are able to spend fifty years with each other, weathering the storms and cherishing the good times, it is no small feat.  It is, in our case, a triumph of symbiosis over autonomy.  And so, we resolved to celebrate this one.

Our wedding coincided with Canada’s 100th year as a nation; indeed, we joked that getting married was our centennial project.  Now, as the country celebrates its sesquicentennial, we marvel that we have been married for fully a third of its existence.

For some time, we cast about for ideas as to how we might mark the momentous occasion.  We consulted with friends who have already achieved the milestone, we spoke with our children, and we talked with each other, long into the night many times, searching for the perfect way to celebrate.

You’ll never guess what has come to be.

On the very anniversary date of our nuptials, my wife will be a member of the audience in a darkened theatre, while I, a lifelong singer of songs (but never publicly), will be sharing the stage with my comrades in a barbershop harmony chorus, sixty-five-men strong, for a night of music in Muskoka.

Had you asked me those fifty long years ago if I thought such a situation could ever come to be, I’d have regarded you as mad.  Yet, there I shall be, one voice among many in the mighty Harbourtown Sound, singing my heart out.

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This being Canada’s 150th birthday year, the programme will contain several songs of Canadiana, two of which you may hear now, should you choose.  The first is Fare Thee Well, written by John Rankin of Nova Scotia—

 

The second, Hallelujah, is from Leonard Cohen, and one of our favourites to perform.  It may be found at the end of this post.

Both songs will be sung in harmony with our hosts for the concert, the Muskoka Music Men, a local barbershop chorus.  Our chorus will be singing several other songs, as well, including selections from Broadway, Motown, and the more traditional barbershop canon.

My wife and I did take an extended trip earlier in the spring, as part of our golden year, and we shall be together with our children and grandchildren for a special celebration later in the summer.  So the concert is not a one-off commemoration of our special year, just one part of it.

Given my love for the music, I can’t think of a more enjoyable way to end the journey to fifty years, and begin the voyage to sixty years, our diamond anniversary.  And for that prospect, I offer up, Hallelujah

Modern Sins

Most readers of this blog will know—or know how to find out—the names of the seven deadly sins, according to Judaeo-Christian orthodoxy.  They are, in alphabetical order, envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath.

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Less known, perhaps, are seven contrasting virtues:  kindness, temperance, charity, chastity, humility, diligence, and patience.  A focus on these in our daily lives is thought to provide a shield from the deadly sins.

By way of comparison, the four vices identified in Islamic tradition are concupiscence (gluttony and lust), cowardice, ignorance, and tyranny.  The contrasting virtues are chastity, courage, wisdom, and justice.

In Sikh philosophy, five vices, whose purpose is to steal one’s common sense, are identified:  attachment, conceit, greed, lust, and rage.  By contrast, the virtues identified are compassion, humility, love, and truth.

There is a remarkable similarity among these—attesting, perhaps, to a universal quest for righteousness and enlightenment across all humankind.

It is all too easy, of course, to succumb to the temptations of the vices, regardless of our religious and ethical upbringing.  Much of the history of the world may be laid at the feet of those who chose to embark upon a darker path than our enlightened selves would have followed.

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Despite those missteps, however, we have arrived at this place, in this time, with the same choice facing us—a commitment to the virtues or an embracing of the vices.  I choose to believe—admittedly, less with evidence and more with hope—that our better natures will take us down the right path.

On a more pedestrian level, there are other, perhaps-lesser vices that bedevil us today in our quest for nirvana.  As with the major vices cited earlier, they are linked to corresponding virtues that are too often missing in our commonplace activities.

Intellectual laziness is one such vice.  So many people today are content to take whatever they might hear or read at face-value.  They make no attempt to question its source, its veracity, or even its consequences.  Critical thinking—the application of logic, surely an essential virtue—is non-existent for them.  Advertising agencies, corporate behemoths, and politicians love such folks.

Farther along the same spectrum are the people who actively deny the truths of science and history.  Absolute certainty—the refusal to accommodate opposing thoughts and opinions—leads them to see the world through only one lens.  And often a faulty one, more prism than glass.  They believe everything they think.  Left to themselves, they may not do much damage.  But when they ascend to positions of influence, the danger is palpable.  The virtue of open-mindedness—a tolerance and consideration of others’ viewpoints—is sorely lacking.

Another everyday vice is the desire for instant gratification.  Too many of us prefer not to think about the future, and how it will be affected by the choices we make today.  “I’m alright, Jack!” is a phrase that springs to mind.  This tendency may be forgiven in third-world countries, where vast populations are concerned only with their next meal, their next drink of water.  But for us in the developed world, the profligate, endless consumption of the resources of our finite planet with little thought to their replenishment verges on the criminal.  It’s been said that we have not inherited the planet from our forebears; rather, we have borrowed it from those yet to come.  Yet we do not behave as if we believe that.  The virtue of responsible stewardship is sadly lacking.

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Egocentrism—a belief that I alone occupy the centre of the universe—is yet another modern vice.  It manifests as a position of entitlement, the notion that you don’t matter as much as I do.  Regardless of my socio-economic standing, I deserve the same things you do, whether earned or not.  It’s a me-first attitude, aimed at placing me on a par with the most-privileged among us, demoting you and everyone else to subservient positions.  In short, it tears our civilized, communal society asunder.  It exists, I believe, in the absence of altruism, the virtue of selflessness, the presence of a social conscience.

Of all these vices, this last one—the absence of a social conscience—may be the direst for the future of humankind.  Either we are each others’ keeper, or we are not.

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As a wise man once said, faced with a choice of cohesion or division, “If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.”

Philosophy 101

Philosophy 101 posed an interesting question:  If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there to witness it, does it make a noise?

“Of course it does,” one person might answer.  “Noise is governed by the laws of physics, regardless of human presence.”

“Not so fast,” another person might argue.  “Sound waves from any source emit no noise on their own.  It is only when they are received that those waves generate noise.”

Which, if either, is the correct answer?  I’ve heard persuasive arguments mounted on both sides of the question, but I’ve always been struck by the impossibility of being able to prove either position.  One cannot be simultaneously there and not-there when the tree falls in order to determine if it makes a noise.

And it probably doesn’t matter, anyway.  The tree fell.  Who cares?

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Here’s another question:  If a person is unaware that (s)he is doing wrong, does the action still constitute wrongful behaviour?

“Of course it does,” one person might say.  “The concept of right and wrong is an absolute, and ignorance of the wrongfulness is no excuse.”

“Not so fast,” another person might argue.  “The concept and definition of right vs. wrong are not universally-accepted.  They are ethnocentric, based upon cultural and religious teachings, only some of which might overlap.”

Here once again, as with the first question, one might shrug off the relevance or importance of the answer.  We already know bad things often happen to good people, so what difference does it make if they are the result of unknowing wrongdoing or merely random happenstance?  The result is the same.  Who cares?

Well, the answer to this second question, I believe, does matter, indeed.

I’ve been thinking a good deal about this since beginning work on a novel, my fifth, which has as its backdrop the national inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls currently underway in Canada.  Researching the subject leads, inescapably, to a list of similar situations—the forced sterilization of Indigenous women, and the forced relocation of Indigenous children and their enrollment in residential schools, to cite but two examples—both undertaken as official government policy well into the twentieth century.

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Most Canadians now, I think, see these actions for what they are: atrocities.  To those who don’t, I would simply ask, “What if they were to come for you, or your children, tomorrow?  Because of your skin-colour, perhaps.  Or your religious beliefs, your sexual orientation, or your political stance.”

Governments today, federally and provincially, are apologizing and attempting to make amends to the descendants of those who were victimized.  Some Canadians, it is true, believe such efforts are unwise and unnecessary, given that it was not we who committed the deeds, but our predecessors.

It begs another question:  Why should we be held accountable for the actions of people who died long before we were even born?

In answering this question, it’s instructive, I think, to try to determine if those actions were wilful or merely misguided.

Did those in authority in that earlier time think they would somehow improve the Anglo-Saxon bloodlines of our populace by sterilizing Indigenous women to prevent the birth of what some of them termed defectives?

Did our predecessors know—even as they did it—that they were wrong to uproot children from their families, to send them far away, to inflict the terrors of residential schools upon them?

Or, were they just trying to do the right thing, what the orthodoxy of those imperialistic times demanded, the assimilation of conquered, native peoples into the colonial mainstream?

“Of course they were right,” one person might claim.  “They weren’t monsters!  Many of them were clergy, nuns, teachers, all doing what they believed to be right.”

“Not so fast,” another person might say—especially a person of Indigenous descent.  “They were rapacious invaders who took everything from our forebears—their land, their culture, their language, and their children.  Would they have considered it right and just, had the tables been turned?”

I suspect the truth lies, to some extent, in both answers.  Surely there were good and faithful people among the newcomers who believed they were doing God’s will, just as there were avaricious adventure-capitalists, determined to seize the riches of the new land for king and country (and their shareholders).

But the fact is, most Canadians today have come to a realization that those actions were wrong, regardless of motive.  Even if the best among our predecessors were unaware they were acting wrongfully, their actions still constitute wrongful behaviour by today’s standards.  And, they were knowingly carried out with government approval under the banner of Canada—under an authority that endures from generation to generation.

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So, here is a fourth question:  If hundreds of thousands of Indigenous people who lived in territory under the jurisdiction of Canada were severely mistreated by their government, and if no one alive today was there to witness it, does it matter, and should the government of today be held to account for those misdeeds?

The answer to this last question will not be found in Philosophy 101.  But I choose to believe you and I, if we seek the truth, will find it.

Within ourselves.

Curmudgeon!

Curmudgeon! 

Such a wonderful word to roll around on your tongue.  It has a solid, satisfying sound when spoken aloud, dropping weightily into a conversation like a bag of sand thumping a wooden floor.  It is defined as somebody who is bad-tempered, disagreeable, or stubborn.

Not at all the person I believe myself to be!

Yet, according to several of those closest and dearest to me, I am becoming something of a curmudgeon.  They tell me it has to do with my rather determined efforts to hold fast to the social dicta instilled in me by my mother.

etiquette

Although it’s been seventy years since first that grand lady began educating me on the social niceties—and despite my knowing that the customs and mores of our changing society have altered since then—I cannot stop bemoaning the loss of what I consider to be simple etiquette.

Let me provide a few examples, taken from experiences we had with folks in the community where we used to spend our winters.  And, I don’t mean to give you the wrong impression of them; they were all lovely people, good-hearted, gracious, and kind.  It’s just that they didn’t necessarily subscribe to the things I learned at my mother’s knee.

When my wife and I would invite a few couples for a dinner party, for instance, and specify an arrival time of five-thirty, I didn’t appreciate when everyone would arrive, fashionably late, some twenty minutes past the expected time.  We’d be sitting anxiously alone, wondering if everyone forgot—worrying that the hot hors d’oeuvres would be cooled and soggy by the time we got to eat them.

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“Oh, we just wanted to be sure you were ready,” our guests would say when I’d make a supposedly-offhanded comment about their lateness.

But you see, we were always ready when we said we’d be.  Always.  If we’d thought we needed more preparation time, we’d have set a later arrival target for everyone.  My mother believed it was proper to arrive when your hosts asked you to.

“There’s nothing fashionable about being late,” she would say.  “It’s just rude.”

Hospitality gifts were another example.  Although they weren’t de rigueur, it became the thing to do as we visited back and forth at each other’s homes.  A favourite gift was a bottle of wine, nicely encased in a gift bag designed for the purpose—but never of the same vintage as might have been previously received from the same couple.

“Thank you,” I would say fulsomely as I pulled the bottle from the bag and set it to one side.  “We haven’t tried this one.  I’m sure we’ll enjoy it.”

“Aren’t you going to open it?” they’d ask.

“Uhh…no,” I’d reply, “not just now.  We have wine already selected for tonight.”

Their disappointment would be palpable as I proceeded to pour them a glass from the decanted wine I’d already planned for the evening.  And I was somehow made to feel as if I were offering a second-rate product, when sometimes, it was better than what they’d brought.

“How rude is that!” I’d rail at my wife after everyone had departed.  “And you know what’s even worse?  They took home the gift bag they brought their wine in!  Can you believe it?”

wine gift bag

My wife would tell me not to get so worked up, but it just didn’t seem right.

Here’s another case in point.  The day after our dinner party, some people would phone to thank us for the evening, graciously commenting on the food, the company, or the conversation among friends.  That’s exactly what my mother told me to do.

“Always call the following day to thank your hosts once again.”

But, increasing numbers of people don’t think to do that anymore.  Or perhaps they do think of it, but can’t be bothered.  Either way, it’s a classic breach of etiquette.

“Don’t worry about it,” my wife would say when I’d rail on about it.  “They thanked us several times at the door before they left.”

“It’s not the same,” I would respond, still miffed.

Now, lest you think I’m overly critical when I have no right to be, let me assure you that I tried to practice all these niceties when we were on the other side.  I’d ensure that we arrived on time, as specified by our hosts, never more than a minute out either way.

“Oh!  You’re here!” they’d say, lifting an eyebrow in surprise as they opened the door.

“Five-thirty,” I’d reply, with an exaggerated glance at my watch.  “That’s what you said, right?”

On one occasion, our hostess was still in the shower when we got there, at the appointed hour, and her husband wasn’t sure whether or not to let us in.

Of course, we always brought along a gift, usually the ubiquitous bottle of wine.  I’d proffer it unassumingly to our host, and often, to my great surprise, he’d open it immediately to pour us each a glass.  I found that mind-boggling.  It made me wonder if he didn’t have enough of his own, and was dependent on his guests for the evening’s libations.

“What if we’d brought flowers?” I’d rage later to my wife.

flowers2

And, so many times, when my wife or I would phone the following day to thank our hosts again for their hospitality, they would always sound bemused.  As if we shouldn’t have bothered.  As if they didn’t care, one way or the other.

“Don’t these people know any better?” I’d rant, scarcely coherent.  “Doesn’t anybody have any manners?  Why can’t they just do things right?”

“You mean your way?” my wife would reply sweetly.

“Yeah,” I’d say forcefully.  “The way my mother used to.”

But it would fall to my wife to have the last word in these discussions, and it’s a word that would always shut me up—at least temporarily.

“Curmudgeon!” she’d say.

curmudgeon