Thursday, September 27, 2007

Know Thy Self

By Richard E. Noble

It was the traditional Thanksgiving reunion at my place. It had been a wonderful day - many old friends and family and lots and lots of food. We were all stuffed to the gills - or as they say in the South, as full as a tick. A nucleus had formed in the living room and many of us were sitting around and reminiscing.
“I feel that I have always taken after Uncle Ray,” said my older brother Ernie.
My mind fell onto my dear old departed uncle. A very kind and thoughtful man was he - loved by everybody. A simple man of simple tastes; a World War II Veteran; a retired Postal Worker; a member and treasurer of the VFW and the Postal Workers Association; a good looking man, a father of three, a ballroom dancer ... As I compared my brother to my Uncle Ray, I began to struggle.
My brother was a six-month-wonder in the Army Reserve and told me time and again that he hated every minute of it. He never belonged to any organization - never mind the VFW or a Union. He had no children. Where my Uncle Ray was pacific and accommodating, my brother was intense and excitable. My Uncle was of average height and my brother was six foot four and a high school athletic superstar. My Uncle was rather uncoordinated. I never saw him even throw a ball or swing a bat. My brother wouldn’t even dance with his wife at a wedding.
“In what way,” I asked cordially, “do you find yourself similar to Uncle Ray?
“Oh you know ... in temperament and personality,” my brother Ernie said causally and matter-of-fact.
I nodded my head knowingly and pondered. I didn’t really see much resemblance. I felt like I do when somebody says; “Don’t you think that I look somewhat like Sophia Loren or Robert Redford?” Yeah sure - if Sophia Loren weighed 250 lbs. and worked behind the counter down at Luegi’s Beegie’s Pizzeria or if Robert Redford was short, red-faced and bald and had a nose the size of a walrus.
I continued to struggle trying to think how my brother resembled my Uncle Ray. I took another sip on my glass of Gallo Burgundy 2007 and said; “Could you be a little more specific?”
“Oh come on,” my brother said, “me and Uncle Ray were like clones - get along with everybody; keep the peace at all costs; try to make everybody happy; don’t rock the boat - you know?”
I took another sip on my Gallo and in the spirit of accommodation, reminiscence and family reunion, I said; “Yeah, I guess so. I suppose that we all feel that way.” The room got slightly still and everybody turned momentarily to me as I reflected. “I feel that I was pretty much like Uncle Ray myself.”
There was a brief and unanticipated silence. I thought that everybody would just say; “A-huh, I suppose,” and move right along. But that was hardly the case. Suddenly my brother, who had just taken a sip on his glass of wine, jerked forward and spit wine all over. He began coughing and choking as he rushed for his handkerchief and covered his mouth. His wife began slapping him on the back. The entire living room burst into a roar of laughter. I sat quietly wondering what the heck everybody suddenly found so humorous.
I looked around the room. Everyone was gawking towards me and laughing and pointing, slapping their thighs and nudging whoever was sitting next to them. I turned and looked over my shoulder thinking that my wife must have dropped her pantaloons or there was a cat on the table with his nose in the gravy or something.
“What the hell is so funny?” I asked.
“You’re not serious?” my brother said while his wife grinned sheepishly and everybody else stared with huge smiles spread across their faces - the laughter momentarily quelled.
“Of course I’m serious. Why in the world wouldn’t I be serious? I liked Uncle Ray too.”
“You may have liked Uncle Ray, but you certainly weren’t “like” Uncle Ray.”
“Oh really?”
“How were we different?”
“Are you kidding me? Do you really think that you are the kind of guy who tries to keep the peace; who doesn’t rock the boat; who tries to keep everybody happy?”
“Why, of course I am. My entire life has been a continuous series of compromises and adjustments.”
“Yeah sure. When somebody gets in your way, you adjust by knocking them over or pushing them out a window. Instead of rocking the boat, you sink it. You think that when somebody disagrees with you that you are compromising if you don’t kill them.”
“Well,” [I hardly knew what to say.] I stammered. “That’s a pretty big compromise, don’t you think? It has saved your sorry butt a good many times.”
“I’ll bet it has ... and your wife’s also.”
I turned and looked to my wife expecting some moral support. She turned away from my glare and tried to give everybody the impression that she hadn’t been paying any attention to this conversation.
“What do you think, honey?” I asked.
“About what, sweetheart?”
“About what Ernie here is saying about me.”
“Oh? Ah ... what did he say?”
Everyone in the room immediately burst into laughter.
I decided that it would be best if I pretended that I understood the joke; after all, this was Thanksgiving. I laughed ha ha ha ... then smiled exactly as my Uncle Ray might have done.
I have never stopped thinking about that incident. I’ll be honest with you, I still think that me and my Uncle Ray are like two peas in a pod - or at least have a good many matching positive qualities. He adapted in his way and I adapted in mine. Not killing people who disagree with me is a rather large compromise on my part - don’t you think? My God! Give a guy a little slack for pity’s sake.