Tuesday, July 12, 2011

How Long Suffering Spouse is spending her summer vacation

At our youngest niece's First Communion, Ferdinand, the First Communicant's step-father, tried to fill in an awkward silence by making small talk with my wife (his sister-in-law), Long Suffering Spouse.

For those who came in late, Ferdinand is either the second or third husband of my wife's sister, Josephine. The numeric confusion arises because Josephine married her first husband twice. I've never consulted Emily Post for an authoritative ruling on the question. The point is that Josephine had two children during her first marriage and, a few years later, two more when she married the same guy. The niece in question (if you're still following along) is the youngest product of that second union.

Awkward silences often occur at family gatherings, even where there are no step-anythings to worry about. Have you ever wondered about why a second husband is a step-father or a second wife is a step-mother or why the children of the new spouse's past unions are step-siblings? My current theory is that they are called this because of the necessity of stepping around any number of topics at family events.

Given the coolness of the relationship between Long Suffering Spouse and her sister Josephine, there would probably have been awkward silences at the back of the church on this spring morning even if the first/second husband and his new wife weren't there along with Ferdinand.

But there they all were, all spiffed up and looking polite, and the awkward silences were particularly awkward and long.

Humans are verbal creatures. As much as everyone claims to enjoy silence, most people don't shut up long enough to enjoy it. Ever since the cell phone became ubiquitous, a walk down any city street is a swim through a sea of murmur, as nearly every passer-by carries on some vitally important conversation with some unseen someone at the other end of a cellular connection.

Have you ever attended a meeting where the discussion lagged? Silence begins to crush the room, weighing everyone down. Each individual becomes hyper-conscious of his or her own internal noises... the stomach rumbling... a knuckle cracking... the tickle in the throat that demands to escape as a cough.... Someone always cracks under the relentless, increasing pressure. Maybe with a cough. Maybe with a rude noise that was waiting for the quietest possible moment before it could no longer be contained. If you've been lucky, the guy everyone hates will ask, "I had a question about slide 23?"

Well, on this day, at the back of the church, Ferdinand cracked. Ferdinand is the guy everyone hates anyway (except Josephine, so far as we know). And me. I don't hate Ferdinand; I reserve that emotion for a very select few. But he does creep me out.

Anyway, Ferdinand could take the silence no longer. So he turned to my wife (a teacher, you know) and asked, "And what are you doing this summer? Eating bonbons and watching the soaps, I suppose?"

Long Suffering Spouse would never hit anyone in the back of a church. So she merely smiled -- a smile that would instantly freeze the blood of a penguin -- and said, "Oh, yes."

Another awkward silence ensued. I think even Ferdinand realized, in some dim way, that he'd really stepped in something this time. (Which suggests another possible explanation for step-father, mother, etc. -- but I will not pursue this thought at present....)

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
If you've come with me this far, you may have begun to feel cheated. You began this essay in the hopes of finding out how Long Suffering Spouse is spending her time away from school, only to be subjected to a long discourse about a difficult conversation among extended family members.

Well, of course, Long Suffering Spouse is not eating bonbons or watching soap operas. No, this summer, without a wedding to occupy our time, or surgery (hers or mine) to fill the days, Long Suffering Spouse has decided to paint the house.

With the exception of a touch-up here or there, the house hasn't been painted since before we moved in. In 1996.

There's no question that the house needs it.

In a perfect world I'd be able to take off a couple of weeks and help her. I'd hate it, of course. I painted my parents' house in 1973 -- I remember listening to the Senate Watergate hearings every day on the radio as I worked. And Long Suffering Spouse and I painted our first house before we moved in. That's a chapter in the book all by itself.

So I know how to paint. What I don't know is how to make enough money to afford two weeks off. So I'm here in the Undisclosed Location -- and not blogging, in part because I'm feeling guilty for not helping more at home.

And there are other parts, too, which I've written about, but not yet blogged. And may not blog at all.

I may be back tomorrow. I may not be back for awhile.

We'll see.


bekahjane said...

Ha!! Great story!!

Pamela said...

Such restraint she maintained. I would hold her purse so she could smack him. No wait. She should have smacked him with her purse.

At least in her mind.

Dave said...

I guess you took the "awhile" option. Don't stay away too long.

sari said...

Everyone automatically assumes I do nothing all day but eat and watch tv since I'm a "stay at home mom". I've had all sorts of ridiculous requests of my time, since other people are "busy working". It's silly.