By Daniel Dunaief
We all try, more or less, to say the right thing in the moment.
“Wow, so nice to see you again. You look wonderful.”
“How are your children?”
“How’s work? How many days a week are you back in person?”
But after cutting up turkeys, ham and other food, the real carving occurs in the hours and days after gatherings, when we separate into smaller groups and snicker, judge and let loose the parts of our sinister souls for which we seek atonement during religious and other holidays.
Now that family gatherings have restarted in earnest, despite the COVID clouds still hovering over us, we have a chance to turn moments of discomfort into a collage of complaints.
While I’m sure there might be a few people who don’t practice the fine art of conducting post-gathering analysis about friends, family members and loved ones, I have yet to meet them.
We ought to break the process, lighthearted ideally though it may, into various categories.
Clothing: Wardrobe choices are often the subject of discussion. We sometimes marvel at how revealing or tight an outfit was or how casually someone dressed for a larger gathering.
Defensive guests: Sometimes, what people say, or hear, has nothing to do with a question they were asked or even a conversation in which they participated. While I was recently cleaning dishes, another guest walked in and told me everything he had contributed to the confab. His need to share his contribution, or to allay any guilt he might have felt, was revealing.
Conversation interrupters: While many families have long-winded storytellers, some gatherings include a conversation interrupter. They are the people for whom any dialog that doesn’t revolve around them or their opinions is unwelcome and unworthy. They interrupt other people’s stories to interject their views on a topic or, perhaps, on something completely unrelated to the discussion.
Exacerbaters: These are the people for whom conflict is nearly as delicious as the homemade apple pie or fruit cobbler that awaits after dinner. Sensing conflict in a marriage or between siblings, they will figure out how to help build any tension in the moment. When challenged for their role as instigators, they will frequently play the victim card, claiming that making people angry at each other or at them wasn’t their intention and that everyone doesn’t understand how they were really only trying to help and to resolve the conflict.
Welcome to Narnia guests: No party is complete without at least one person who needs to bring everyone into their perspective or their world. These people often see everything through one perspective, whether it’s about saving stray dogs, the challenges of having difficult neighbors, or the difficulty of finding good Thai food in their neighborhood. The discussion could be about the challenges educators faced during the pandemic and, they will say, “Oh yeah? Well, that reminds me of the challenges of finding good Thai food.”
The revisionist historians: Often, some, or even many, of the people in a room spent considerable time with each other. Stories have a way of evolving over time, either because they sound better one way or because the storyteller’s memory has altered some of the facts to suit a better narrative. No, you didn’t invent the yo-yo, no, you didn’t predict the year the Cubs would finally win the World Series, and, no, you didn’t always use the phrase “just do it” before Nike added it to their ad campaign.