Monday, November 26, 2007

Wow, What Meals We Had*

I thought that since I had told you about the time I figured out how to get Colleen to holiday dinners on time, I would tell you my other holiday solution story. Particularly since it also involved recognizing that what I was doing wasn't working and shifting from complaining/talking to acting.

My grandfather's side of the family hails from the deep south. Lovely people in many respects, but very southern about race. My mother couldn't seem to get over the fact that other races existed and called them by various derogatory names. Over the years Forrest, Colleen, and I all three tried to get her to stop. We told her it humiliated us. That it made her look petty and ugly. That we couldn't believe she could use such cruel words. Nothing worked.

And then one Thanksgiving, when the table was full of relatives and my friend Linda, Mama said something about a black man, calling him what no one should call another person. And, instead of telling her how I felt about it, I was struck by inspiration, and said, very loudly and very clearly, two compound nouns of a sexual nature that I don't think had ever been spoken at my mother's table before. Shocked silence. Mama then took up her conversation, as though my venture into Tourette's hadn't occurred. Pretty soon she said something about a Mexican woman, calling her an equally nasty word. And I repeated my earlier comment. Well, I think I reversed it this time -- the first time it had been xying cder, and this time it was cding xyer. Again shock, again carrying on as though it hadn't happened.

However, a couple of days before Christmas Mama called Linda, who had been invited to share that meal with the family, and asked her if she could control my mouth.** Linda's answer was that the only person who could control my mouth was Mama, which Mama didn't get.

So, there we were at Christmas dinner, same cast as before, and Mama used her black person word again, and I repeated my original response. This time Mama decided that she had to do something about it and said, "Joy, you mustn't use words like that." And I responded, "Mama, I only use them when you use your filthy words. But, from now on I'm going to use them every time you use your filthy words. Because, no matter how much my words embarrass you, it is nothing to how much your words embarrass me."

Problem solved. My mother may still use those words, but not in front of me.

* Change of title from Julie's comment.
** How Mama thought she could do that I have no idea.


lilalia said...

Absolutely ingenious. Now, if you could come up with a suggestion about a way that would stop people making insidious sexist or racist "jokes", I'd love to know.

J at said...

Oh yeah, foul language on all sides...another reason those holidays were uncomfortable!

I always understood your point, and it worked, but wow, what meals we had!