My wife’s family is a large group and an interesting bunch. Interesting in an observational way. Therein lies the basis for casual conversations that can morph unexpectedly and rival any Judge Judy courtroom drama.
Dinners at the in-law’s house has become something of a three ring circus gone wrong. I have seen on many occasion, this scenario play out and evolve precariously: someone wants to share with others a TV program or a bit of news which gets quickly dissected and analyzed by the other family members, to the point of being misconstrued.
They all have an infinite number of personal opinions on any topic – right or wrong. Mostly wrong. They can’t even agree on a good movie, football game, the best singer on the Voice, or which way the wind is blowing. I’m sure many other households share these similarities, but I always think an in-law get-together raises the bar – in a dubious manner.
Here’s the scenario you can picture in your mind:
Take a bunch of people and put them in a living room during or after dinner. Make small talk and share pleasantries and wait for the person who will intentionally or inadvertently raise a question or comment with political connotations. That is almost always a recipe for disaster.
Others may take part on commentary and factoids from the sidelines whether they’re pro, con or simply naysayers….and may sound like this…
“Did you watch Survivor last night?”
“I don’t like that show”
“I don’t like so-and-so”
“I think he’s great”
“Wasn’t he in that movie…he played a bad guy?”
“That was Dustin Hoffman”
“No, that was Al Pacino”
“Pacino yells too much”
“And, he’s got an Oscar trophy”
“George C. Scott called the Oscars a meat parade”
“Who’s George C. Scott?”
“He played Patton, the four-star general”
“I never saw it”
“What’s a meat parade?”
“I’m trying to eat less meat”
Sigmond Freud would’ve had a field day if he were present. He may have written an entire volume based on family & sibling behavioral interactions. The original two that begun the all-too lively conversation continued their one-upmanship comments, oblivious to their surroundings and fellow vocal relatives who were trying to correct some of the dialogue, or maybe trying to hinder it by making a contradictory statement that should have been better left unsaid.
I used to provide some clarification to conversations as I attempted to jump in with “Wait a minute”, or That’s not accurate”, or “I’m not so sure”, only to be run over by the non-stop verbal jousting.
But last year at the in-law’s house there was a Hollywood moment. After Christmas dinner my brother in law suggested we all contribute a to a charitable organization.
“Hey, how about we all put in a few bucks, whatever we can, and begin a family savings for a for a good cause? Every time we get together we pitch in some more…at the end of the year we could have a very sizable amount. We don’t have to decide what charity now.” “St Jude Hospital”, someone said aloud. “The American Cancer Association”. “The Red Cross”, others piped in. It was a very nice and kind suggestion by my brother in law, but how are all of us going to agree on one agency alone, I wondered?
As if on cue, my mother-in-law jumped from her easy chair and said ,”I have just the decorative box we can use for the donations.” And in a swoosh rushed up the stairs as family members uttered, “Careful on the stairs, mom.”
Before you know it, she’s back with a colorful holiday box; “We can make the opening here on top”, she gestured to everyone displaying the container like a teacher during show and tell. “Oooh, yes”, and “That’s nice”, was heard from onlookers nodding to one another.
As someone who relishes the limelight all too often, my father-in-law seizes the moment by making a declaration: “I’ll be first to make a donation of fifty dollars!”, he proclaims loudly and holds up a Grant note for all to see like a prosecuting attorney showing the jury Exhibit A.
Scattered polite applause that sounded more like golf claps evaporated in the spice filled room. Relatives take turns examining the colorful festive box, as mom-in-law searches faces for approval asking, “What do you think, what do you think?”, not allowing a pause for a response.
Amid the calm, father-in-law suddenly breaks the serene mood with a loud tone,”The fifty is missing!”
You could hear the needle scratch on the record….everyone turned to look at him hoping we all heard wrong. “WHAT?”, most of us manage to say. He repeats himself this time sounding more baffled and bewildered,“The fifty is missing!”
We all look at one another and wonder how the heck that could have happened. All of a sudden Christmas is ruined just like that. People start looking under the sofa cushions, others under the table and chairs. There’s some unwrapped holiday paper wrinkled and folded over in the corner that another person picks up to see if anything falls out from it.
We feel like shrugging our shoulders in unison cause we can’t find the missing fifty dollar bill and imaginations are beginning to think the unthinkable.
Expressions now look concerned and suspect.
Father-in-law has been frozen in place like a pillar of salt all this entire time as he scans the faces in the room looking like a kid who just accidentally broke his favorite Christmas toy. He then says suddenly,”OH!, Hey everybody, never mind. Here it is in my pocket!!!”
We all look at one another….you know what kind of look…..and breathe a sigh of relief and go back to our cinnamon apple pie.
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
José Oswaldo Rico, Guest Contributor Previous columns HERE