©2022 Michael Raven
I learned something new this holiday weekend (it being the Fourth of July yesterday):
I learned that I know nothing.
The epiphany occurred during a forced-family gathering that I had no desire to attend. especially when I discovered my estranged sister was to be be there, along with some other relatives. My mother turned it into a party and, while everyone else in the world seems to have decided we are done with the pandemic, they’ve failed to determine if it is done with us (cases are on the rise in Minnesota and the presence of coronavirus in the wastewater treatment systems is climbing again). But that’s not the reason for not wanting to go — I just generally don’t care for gatherings of people, especially if they are family.
Regardless, I’ve spent a tremendous amount of time trying to shed old habits, some of which have negative reinforcement by being in the presence of family.
There’s an unspoken rule in my family that it is a paragon virtue to know absolutely everything, even when you know nothing at all. Never admit that you have something to learn. My grandfather, when he spoke at all to anyone, was this in perfection. “Let me tell you something,” was one of his favorite lead-in phrases when he decided to confer his knowledge upon us all. And, even knew next to nothing about what ever he decided to talk about, he was the authority. But, at least he preferred not to speak at all most of the time.
My father, on the other hand, feels compelled to remind everyone that he suffers the world of fools around him. He has no disinclination to speak, no rectitude at all. So, he bulldogs his way through every conversation.
Being raised in that kind of environment, I picked up that habit as well, as did my estranged sister. About twenty some years ago, I realized that I didn’t know quite as much as I was convinced I knew about the world and started culling that desire to argue about everything and be a know-it-all. As time goes on, I’ve discovered there are a lot of things you can learn when you’re not certain you already know everything there is to know and take the time to listen to people who might actually know more than you thought you knew about things.
During after-meal discussions, while my father was telling everyone just how absolutely brilliant he was and recalling many of the same stories he always forgets he told at the last forced gathering… I recalled an email I had received earlier in the week that I thought he might like to have the information I picked up.
You see, while he has shown a sudden interest in the family tree over the past 25 years, I’ve always dabbled in it here and there, more interested in the big picture than the specifics. With DNA testing, I basically have my big picture part, but I had signed up for several services that I never got around to closing down once I started getting DNA information. One of them notified me of some names of relatives that were unfamiliar to me from Sweden’s old census. So I thought I’d be helpful and pass them on.
Oh goodness. That opened up a big “let me tell you something” door I hadn’t intended to open. The information was probably wrong because he hadn’t ever seen such things (“But write it down for me”). Then the “In that old family bible you gave to me…” comment came up and I had to correct that one. “Dad, I loaned it to you about 20 years ago, I never gave it to you. You just never returned it to me.” Scowls. Embarrassed sideways glances. I paid for that transgression — I ended up being probably wrong in everything I said after that, lumped in with the people who were “probably confused” that had posted the information provided.
Time to leave, and so I went to the next room.
My mother approached me and asked me what I thought might be off about her potato salad. If I haven’t mentioned it, I am the resident cook at home and I do a lot of experimenting. I’m no genius, but I sometimes have “happy little accidents”. I shrugged. “I dunno. A little yellow mustard might have helped,” I told her. “Perhaps a dash of salt.” Salt is my go-to when something tastes “not quite right”. Just a small amount usually fixes that sensation, in my experience. What I had tasted earlier was one of those kinds of feels. “It’s not salt,” my estranged sister butted in. “Not enough dill.”
Part of the reason why my sister and I are estranged is because, like my father and I, she is surrounded by idiots — the biggest being her older brother for about the last forty years. And, without going into the details, she decided she wasn’t going to back down when she was wrong about something involving my daughter’s safety and pulled no punches in telling me how big of a fucking idiot she thinks I am (apparently she is twice the parent I could ever hope to be, and then some — yes, she pretty much said that).
And then, she went on to talk about all of the gourmet treatments she would have used to jazz up fricking potato salad for a Fourth of July celebration, while all sounds far too bourgeois for such a humble side dish (keep it simple and stupid for comfort food is my attitude).
It hadn’t been the only time she had made sideways comment questioning my intelligence level for the evening. Quite obviously, I needed to be put firmly back in my box of being a complete fool of the type she merely suffers.
Riiiight. Wrong room again. Lucky for me, I had the excuse of seven famished cats to toss out, and I used it to gather up my kids and leave for the evening, all nods and smiles.
Because, while I don’t mind not knowing anything (and actually value it these days), I don’t need to be around people who feel compelled to tell me what an idiot I am.