Cumberland Times-News

Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything

April 21, 2012

They respect tradition without knowing it

— Now and then, something gets the best of my better nature, and I try to take advantage of it — just to watch and enjoy the results. I like to keep folks guessing.

That said, even though most times I try to speak in plain English that people should be able to understand, they sometimes don’t believe me. (Goldy’s Rule 20b: People are frequently more willing to believe a lie than they are the truth, especially if it’s a lie they want to hear.)

At least two of my ex-girlfriends used to tell me, “That may be what you said, but I know what you were thinking!”

Huh? (I would ask them in all sincerity) What was I thinking? (Seriously. What was I thinking?)

“You know,” they would reply. “You know exactly what you were thinking!”

And I still had no idea. Most times, I never did find out ... usually because I was smart enough not to press the issue.

Sometimes, it went like this:

Me (even though I knew better than to ask): OK, what’s the matter?

Her (in a state of utter aloofness, after a short, but noticeable period of silence): Nothing.

Me (a while later): Come on. What’s wrong?

Her (with a look that tells me she knows something I don’t): What makes you think something’s wrong?

Me: Well, you haven’t said anything for half an hour — which is highly unusual — and you keep looking at me like you’re mad. What’s wrong?

Her (after another brief pause): You really don’t know?

Me: If I did, I wouldn’t be asking.

Her: Well, it was this and that and the other thing.

Me: Huh? That was two months ago. Why didn’t you say anything?

Her: You should have known.

There you have it: You should have known — the four words no man ever wants to hear, but does.

At any rate, I like to keep folks off-balance. Case in point:

One of our people was about to leave the newspaper so she could take another job closer to her home and future husband.

A small farewell party was prepared on her behalf. Some folks brought a covered dish, while others — like me — kicked in $5 for pizza.

The staff included several women of varying ages, and they were bustling, fussing and scurrying about (Wonderfully male-chauvinistic terms, aren’t they?), spreading table cloths, setting out dishes, arranging soda bottles and so forth.

I walked over to the desk where one of my male co-workers was sitting. He’s about my age and, like me, pleased to have lived long enough to see our newsroom transformed from an all-male bastion where everyone thinks the same to a place where there now exists a diversity of personalities and opinions (plus, the scenery is much better).

 I whispered, “Isn’t it comforting to know that younger women are still capable of reverting to their traditional roles when they have to ... and don’t even realize they’re doing it?”

He looked at me for a second, and his eyes went wide open.

“So help me,” he said, “I was just thinking the same thing.”

I could almost feel the shades of my mother and Aunt Penny smack me across the back of the head, like Gibbs does to DiNozzo on NCIS.

Both of them were thoroughly successful professional women (as such folks used to be called) who worked for a living, kept house, tended to husbands and raised children and did whatever else they needed to do without any fanfare.

My mother was more accomplished and talented than any other human being I’ve ever met, and as a teacher inspired many of her students to become teachers themselves. One of my schoolmates adopted a lifelong quest that she hopes will take her to see a live performance of every Shakespeare play, and that’s because of my mom.

My aunt went from being a paper-shuffler, to executive secretary, to being in charge of a nationwide program that a major corporation established to teach their employees how to prepare for retirement — and this was in the 1970s, long before women routinely began to do such things.

Except for each other, neither one would let anybody else into her kitchen, except possibly for Cousin Cyndy (herself a thoroughly successful professional).

Heaven help any man who tried to interfere or otherwise participate in what went on there — save for when it came time to remove the turkey from the oven (which I suppose they considered man’s work).

It’s beyond rare that I am able to win an argument with a woman. However, I used to have fun trying with the proprietress of The Famous North End Tavern. Our man-versus-woman discussions were legendary.

One night, she came out of the kitchen wearing an apron, and I told her how natural she looked in it ... whereupon she immediately retreated to the kitchen in a state of high dudgeon (a term I love, but rarely have a chance to use).

A considerable time later, she emerged, leaned over and put her elbows on the bar, rested her chin on her clenched fists and looked me squarely in the eyes from less than a foot away.

“You (four-word Anglo-Saxonism),” she said, “you don’t mean a word of that (what Ferdinand left behind when he went to another part of the pasture), do you?”

Not one word, I said with as charming a smile as I was able to manage. Never was able to ruffle her feathers even slightly, after that.

Didn’t mean it then, don’t mean it now, never will mean it.

My mother and my aunt would surely come back to haunt me, if ever I did, and I would deserve it ... and heaven help me if they sent Grandmother Goldsworthy to do it.

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Jim Goldsworthy - Anything and Everything
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