Tuesday, July 10, 2007

No Tolerance For Poor Behavior

My uncle returned to Oregon yesterday. My parents took him to the airport late yesterday morning for his flight home.

His stay was a long one—one day short of two weeks—and I hope that he did not get on my parents’ nerves too much.

He expected my mother to wait on him hand and foot, which always irks me greatly. Whenever he would ask my mother for something while I was around, I would always answer him myself and I would always take care of whatever he needed myself. My Dad would always thank me immediately afterward, but my uncle would never say “thank you”. Apparently those two words have been stricken from my uncle’s vocabulary.

He never mentioned, at least in my presence, why his wife had not accompanied him to Minnesota. However, I believe that there must be trouble on the home front.

My sister-in-law, the psychiatrist, said that my uncle clearly needed a break from his domestic situation, and that he had chosen us as his escape vehicle. Myself, I hope that that particular vehicle’s restart mechanism has now been deactivated.

My sister-in-law did not say anything, but I could tell that she did not like my uncle. My sister-in-law adores my father, and practically basks in his presence, but last week she kept a safe distance from my father whenever my father was sitting alongside my uncle. This told me everything I needed to know.

My sister-in-law would sit at the opposite, far end of the table from my uncle during mealtimes, and she would place her lawn chair as far away as possible from him when we were all sitting on the lawn.

A couple of times, my uncle tried to treat my sister-in-law like a servant, too, and he was favored with one of my sister-in-law’s stony “surely you’re not addressing ME in that manner” British glares.

Once, my uncle made the mistake of calling my sister-in-law “Sister” while asking her to get him a glass of iced tea. Her icy response: “I’m not Catholic, and I’m not a server”. No one moved a muscle until my uncle rose and got his own glass of iced tea. My sister-in-law has no tolerance for poor behavior, from anyone, under any circumstances.

My brothers did not pay much attention to my uncle after the first evening they were home, talking to him around the dining table the night of their arrival. Their interest in him was fully satisfied that first night, and from that point forward they did not have much to say to him other than pleasantries.

The result was that my uncle would direct most of his conversations to Joshua and me, and he would ask Josh and me all sorts of questions, on all sorts of topics, that we were not interested in discussing with him. Happily, my Dad would always come to the rescue, jumping in and changing the subject, or directing the conversation elsewhere, or pointedly telling my uncle that he should not bother Josh and me with all sorts of questions.

Sometimes, nonetheless, my uncle persisted in asking Josh and me questions, despite my father’s efforts to quell him and his questions. I adopted my stock answers for such noisome social situations—“I have no idea” and “I have no opinion”—and Josh would just smile, but say nothing.

This continued until Friday, when my mother said to my uncle, very quietly, “Peter, you need to leave these boys alone. They would never discuss such things outside the family. They would not find it to be fitting.”

This is the kind of thing that my mother NEVER says to ANYONE. Coming from her, those seemingly innocuous words were tantamount to a declaration of war. With those few words, my mother—among many, many other things—had informed my uncle that she did not view him as family.

My mother’s words ended my uncle’s annoying questions, permanently, and my uncle minded his P’s and Q’s from that point forward for the remainder of his visit.


  1. I take it your uncle doesn't read your blog...

  2. No, Thomas, I am sure my uncle does not read my blog. He is in his early 70's, and he probably does not even know what a blog is.

    How do you possibly find time to read all the books you read?

    Every time I review your blog, I am astonished to see the number and range of books you read. You must be a very busy man!

  3. Well it helps to be a homebody, but I also take a book with me everywhere I go. You never know when you are going to have time to kill. Plus I have 20 minutes on the Metro each way. I have also managed to figure out how to get from the train to my office so that I can read while I walk without bumping into anyone.

    I tend to get at least an hour in before going to bed as well.

    TiVo has also allowed me to free up time for reading--by not having to watch commercials I have been able to maintain my status as a TV junkie and still read a ton. (Although I probably still watch far less TV than the average American.) Other secrets include avoiding non-fiction. This isn't difficult after three degrees that required tons of non-fiction reading. And, much to my husband's aunt's chagrin, I have cut out reading the New Yorker. I still love it, but it was getting in the way of book reading.