Posted by: Kate | April 6, 2011

Faux Pas

Words use to come easily, and precisely, to me. I was able to say exactly what I meant, with a minimum of effort and time-filling umm’s and ya know’s, because my mental dictionary and thesaurus were readily available and easily searched on a moment’s notice. Then the events of last March rolled in, and I lost a lot of that quickness and acuity. But, even now, with more effort and longer pauses than before, I’m able to say what I intend to say, when I intend to say it.

This is a gift, of course: something I never did anything to deserve and something for which I was consistently grateful. It meant that I can’t remember one single instance of actually having homework to do at home, for the first eleven years of my educational life: every out-of-class assignment I was ever given could be done in class, or in between classes, or on the school bus, with the very rare spillover to be completed during the 20-minute pre-homeroom “open study time” or whatever it was my high school called it. (College was quite the culture shock: you mean, professors actually use their entire class times, or close enough thereto, for relevant instruction, and therefore I need to devote some of my own, after-school time to… work?? Oh, the horror!) It meant I could bluff my way through almost any verbal situation and sound reasonably intelligent. It meant I won an awful lot of arguments (and my ability to recall, verbatim, long stretches of conversation, didn’t hurt that tendency, too). It meant I could start this little thing called a blog and somehow manage to make sense to people.

And it means that, even though I have lost a considerable percentage of my former verbal abilities, I can still express myself relatively accurately. Nowhere near as quickly or as smoothly as before, and now my speech – and writing, though that’s less obvious unless you’re in the room while I’m typing – is more halting and uncertain. Helpfully, my children have learned to serve as my own little thesauri, and they have a particularly good antenna for just how long to wait before offering whatever word I’m looking for. Speak up too soon and you end up frustrating Mom because she was just about to say it herself; speak up too late and Mom becomes frustrated at her own wordlessness – so it’s a dangerous game to play, but they have become experts.

Bigger-picture, what this really means is, I haven’t made a whole lot of faux pas (faux pases? fauxes pas?) in my life. My brain and my mouth are usually in synch, at least enough to avoid overt embarrassment or social awkwardness. There are exceptions, of course: the Freudian slips, the thoughtless remarks, the sarcasm-gone-awry. But there aren’t a lot of occasions in which I’ve been able to see the words fly out of my mouth, thwack the listener up-side the head, and then fall in a graceless heap on the floor in between us.

Not a lot… but not none.

My personal unfavorite, and one that still makes me cringe now, 13 years later, happened at the funeral of my father’s aunt. She had lived a hard life, characterized by a lot of alcohol and drug issues, several divorces, contentious family relationships, and so on, and she finally reached a point of suicide. I was 19 at the time and had only met her a handful of times, all of which involved celebrations of some sort, and I wasn’t yet considered sufficiently adult by the rest of the family to be included in the whispers and the gossip, so while her death was a shock, it wasn’t a personal tragedy for me. I cleaned up my black dress, coached my boyfriend du jour in some of the do’s and don’ts of that particular family, and attended the funeral.

It was a strange, strange event, to put it lightly. For one thing, she had used a shotgun – not the method used by most females – and yet her daughters insisted on an open casket. Well, a fully opened casket would have been just awful, so after a screaming fight with the funeral director, they compromised on a 6″ gap between the lid and the casket during the service… with one hand curled over the side. For another, Aunt K had been MIA from all family events for at least the previous five years, so her death actually brought a certain degree of closure to several loved ones that had been wondering whether she had died long ago. And for a third, that family is just not one that has ever coped smoothly with grief or trauma; better to smile and pretend like everything’s fine than to admit that there’s something horrible going on.

So, an odd day. The oddness continued after the funeral itself, with an afterparty at the home of another aunt. There was food and light conversation, and not a single mention of Aunt K all day, as far as I could tell.

Now, at the time, I was employed as a photographer for the News Services office of my college, and so I had reflexively grabbed the camera on the way out the door. I hadn’t seen many of these people in years, and wasn’t sure when and if I might see them again, so I decided to bring the camera along and use it only if it seemed appropriate. Well, once the aunt who was hosting the event saw this high-quality camera, she announced that she wanted semi-formal, posed family portraits of everyone who had attended. She set up a bench in the backyard, started rounding up small groups of relatives, and then asked me if I minded taking these photos. Erm… sure, why not?

I spent the next hour or so taking pictures, which were just another layer of ghastly upon this bizarre day: dozens of people with bright, shiny smiles, all wearing black. It was just disconcerting, all around.

So I suppose it’s not entirely my fault that my brain shut off, after a while. I was wandering through the house, gathering up whichever people remained as yet unphotographed, and I realized I should probably include my own parents and sisters in the process, too. I found them standing around in the kitchen, thankfully without a huge audience… because I went into Casual Mode and sauntered up to announce, “OK, you’re the last ones to go. Let’s go out and get shot.”

To this day, I couldn’t tell you if anyone else in the room even noticed it. No one corrected me or even looked askance. But, oh, my heart just fell directly out of my body and my throat closed up tight. “Get shot,” really?? That’s the very best phrase I could possibly have used?

It was a learning experience, to say the least. On many, many levels.

Oh, look, it’s Wednesday! That means it’s time to join the Madhouse… or, at least, to go read and see who else posted this week:

Allison – Allimonster Speaks
Barb – Spencer Hill Spinning & Dyeing
Batty – Batty’s Adventures in Spooky Knitting
Dave – Notes from the Field
Eileen – Art Deco Diva Knits
Evil Twin’s Wife – The Glamorous Life of a Hausfrau
G – Not-A-Box
Haley – Aimless Tangents
Jennifer – Ask Poops, Please
Kate – One More Thing
LC – LC in Sunny So Cal
LeeAnne – This is the life…
Lisa – As If You Care
Louise – Child of Grace
Marcy – Mittentime
Melanie – usually, things happen
Nikki – Land of the Free, Home of the Depressed
Peri – knitandnatter
Sara – yoyu mama
Yorkie – Den of Iniquity Prime


  1. WAIT. WHAT? “…they compromised on a 6″ gap between the lid and the casket during the service… with one hand curled over the side…”

    I am trying to picture this. The casket was open about 6 inches so all you could see was one arm coming out of the casket? Is that right?

    Oh, man. I hope I’m picturing that wrong…

    • Ohhh, how I wish you weren’t accurate, but….yeah. Though they had placed a bunch of flowers on her body, so even if you happened to be three or four feet tall (i.e., CHILD HEIGHT), you couldn’t see inside. So you couldn’t see the whole arm, just the hand, with fingers carefully curled around the side of the casket, a la Nosferatu on his way out for a night on the town…


  2. Holy….wow, I just…that’s…my God….

    I have to go lie down now.

  3. Wow. Yeah, that’s what I was picturing. I was hoping I was wrong.

    Years ago, a friend of mine lost his cousin in a terrible house fire. She and two roommates were killed, and the fourth roommate barely survived. It was awful. Not two weeks later, the friend and I were at a going-away thing for the artistic director of our community theatre. The AD was talking about what was coming up, and what his replacement was going to be handling (a lot). The phrase “Wow, talk about a trial by fire!” was halfway out of my mouth before I realized what the hell I was saying. I managed to make it “by sheer hell” juuuuust in time, but I always wondered if anyone realuzed what I had been about to say.

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