Tuesday, December 22, 2009

That Missing Piece

Every now and then we run into a situation where one key piece of information can radically alter the meaning.

Many years ago, not long after my father had died and I was sixteen-years-old I was out for a walk. I've never been a religious person, but my father was and I've always liked old churches. In the course of my walk on a pretty Spring, Saturday morning I came to a church called St. Nick's. The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day and the doors of the church were open. A divine invitation of sorts, I thought. Boy was I wrong.

I decided to go in, sit down and contemplate. I knew people who attended St. Nick's. It is, to this day, a Catholic parish, but I'd been to services there in the past since I knew people who attended church there.

It's a beautiful church, intricate stained glass windows, beautiful architecture done up rather lavishly. I walked in and took a seat in the middle of the church, prepared to think deep thoughts. I noticed a small group of three people in the front pew, but paid no attention to them.

When the organ struck up a chord, I thought it must be choir rehearsal. When I heard a rustling sound behind me and turned to see altar boys in full regalia standing at the head of the center aisle, I assumed that similarly, they were having rehearsal.

At this point I was being dense on the level that only a sixteen-year-old can achieve but it was entirely innocent. The organ launched into some piece at full volume, and again I heard sounds behind me, but I didn't turn to look until the priest strode to the center of the altar and began speaking.

Wow, they really rehearsed seriously, I thought seeing as the priest was in his full robes.

So when the coffin was wheeled up the center aisle, it came as quite the shock and there was a moment of panic for me, but I did the only thing I could think of that made sense. I grabbed a prayer book from the pew and sat tight. That's how I ended up crashing the funeral of some very elderly woman named Mary. If the mourners wondered who the heck I was, I never gave them a chance to ask. I did my turn of answering the psalms, and then I beat a hasty retreat.

On the way out I actually bothered to read the sign out front where the service time for the departed was listed. Oops. Hopefully Mary had a good sense of humor. Unfortunately there is one key difference between Episcopal services, and Catholic services: The words to the Lord's Prayer. The Catholic version ends sooner, the Episcopal version contains the "Forever, and ever, Amen." which I dutifully boomed out all by myself when the time came. Only if I'd been waving a sign that said "Interloper!" could I have stuck out more. Let me tell you, the acoustics in that church are quite impressive. My "forever and ever, Amen" may still be echoing around the rafters to this day.

Similarly, many years later when I had my first date with my now-husband I had a curious thing happen.

"Do you have any pets?" I asked, in the manner that we all do when trying to get to know someone.

"Yes, a cat. Do you want her?" He sounded thoroughly disgusted, and I was taken aback. What kind of jerk didn't like his own pet? Luckily for me, I decided to back burner the question rather than flee his animal-hating presence. He seemed a nice guy, despite the cat hatred.

As it turned out, Murphy, perhaps the vilest feline to ever live, was not his cat, not technically at least. Murphy was a rotund, ill-tempered Calico who liked to bite people, was so fat as to make grooming herself impossible (let us not even discuss her hygiene) and she remains the only cat I've ever met who had acne. Wherever Murphy lay, a Yeti-like patch of fur remained behind her.

The day I met her I found out the rest of the story. Murphy belonged to one of my husband's friends, a couple who had several pets, including several cats. Murphy became the main suspect in a repeated rug pooping incident, and Robin, my husband's friend announced that he planned to have her put to sleep because of this. Rob, my husband, was thoroughly appalled.

"Well, if it has come to that, I'll take her." He told Robin grimly, and that was how he became the main custodian of the world's most charmless cat. We had Murphy until the day she died, and although we both felt like ghouls, it was something of a relief when she passed on to the great beyond. She was filthy, and mean, but we took great care of her, and tried to love her, even though she had hate in her heart for all the creatures of the world.

But it wasn't her lack of winning characteristics that had Rob offering to give her to me during that lunch date. On the same day that she came waddling out and hissed at me, Rob began to sneeze. His eyes were watering, and he was clearly uncomfortable. He'd been fine before we got to his apartment.

"Hold on, let me take an allergy pill," he said as his eyes streamed.

"What are you allergic to?" I asked incredulously because a sneaking suspicion had entered my mind.

"I'm allergic to cats," Rob said, fairly miserably. That little missing piece of information that took him from being the jerk who didn't like his own pet, to being a man who couldn't bear the thought of Murphy being put to sleep, so he took her despite the fact that she was the most allergenic cat on the face of the Earth. He didn't hate animals at all, he was, and is one of the biggest animal lovers I've ever known.

It was this past weekend that my husband and I nearly scarred my son for life. Turn back now if you are exceptionally prim, by the way. My husband had just been upstairs taking a shower, and came down fully dressed. I was in my office, where the plantation shutters were all closed.

"Honey, I think I might have a hernia," he said, and I did what wives and mothers everywhere do, I swung into diagnostic mode.

"Does it hurt? Any redness?" I asked with concern.

"No, I'm assuming it was very recent, although I don't know what I did," my husband is no fan of doctors, but I knew he'd have to see one and said as much. Then I did what I consider to be perfectly natural:

"You'd better let me see," I prompted, and with a glance towards the well secured shutters, my husband proceeded to drop his trousers and boxers so that I could get a better look at his groin. Unsurprisingly, I've met the area in question before.

We aren't a casually nude family. No one here ever runs around in a state of undress but by the same token, we aren't prudes. We are, however, always dressed when wandering about the house, oddly enough.

So I was still seated in my office chair, my husband's bare butt was facing the door and I was leaning forward, peering intently at a slight swelling that would, indeed, need the attention of a doctor. It was at this moment that my son came bursting out of the basement, in full view of my office, and saw the examination.

Only he was missing that key piece of information, so he uttered a strangled scream, and disappeared back into the basement. For a moment I was completely baffled, what in the world had gotten into him? My husband looked equally befuddled and we exchanged a glance that clearly said, "What's up with him?" between us before realization struck as to what he thought he had just seen.

"Oh! Uh oh!" I yelped, and immediately went to the basement door. "Hello?"

"Nobody's here." My son yelled, in a strange voice. "Go away! UGH!"

"That wasn't..." I began, and then dissolved into laughter.

A couple of minutes later I did manage to collect myself enough to inform my son that he hadn't just interrupted some terrible reality program called Parents Gone Wild or something of that nature, but instead, a purely innocent moment wherein I was being Dr. Wife.

My son was quite relieved, to put it as mildly as I know how. Presumably he'll now have one less reason to be in therapy when he gets older.

But it got me thinking about all the times in my life that one missing piece of information radically changed my perception.

It also made me wonder what situations I currently have fixed in my brain, that are missing that one, completely altering bit of information.

Here is another example, I can tell you, with a completely straight face and without the whisper of lie, that I am godmother to the Baby Jesus. No kidding. Do you think I'm leaving something out? You'd be right.

On the day my godson, who is also my nephew, William was christened I stood and did my part in my brother's High Episcopal church back in Long Island. It was also the day the church in question had their annual Christmas pageant, and tradition has it that the newest infant plays the part of the Baby Jesus.

I hadn't been informed of this beforehand, but somehow restrained myself from falling over laughing when the baby I had been made godmother to moments before, was trotted out in swaddling clothes.

Sometimes the details are rather key.


Suldog said...

Wonderful group of stories. Your husband, by that one act of taking in Murphy, has probably avoided any possibility of ever meeting Satan.

I had a similar mistaken appearance at a funeral. MY WIFE and I were supposed to be attending the funeral of my aunt's mother-in-law. We entered the church and took a seat. The coffin came rolling down the aisle, followed by priests and attendants, and then the service got under way.

"He was a good man..." or words to that effect left the priest's mouth. Well, our person wasn't a HE. We realized we were at the wrong service. MY WIFE all of a sudden got a fit of the giggles. I caught them from her. We tried, desperately, to not break out laughing. It ended up sounding somewhat like us trying to hold back sobs, so it probably didn't seem too bad.

We left as soon as an appropriate moment came. Once we got outside, she started letting out these huge, whooping laughs - almost choking, really - and she pretty much hyper-ventilated, me joining her for the most part.

We often wonder if the people who were there on purpose discussed the seriously distraught couple sitting at the back of the church, wondering just who in hell we were?

Land of shimp said...

Oh my goodness, I've never met a fellow funeral crasher, Suldog! I have to admit to being irreverently thrilled, because up until this moment, I thought I was occupying a table for one.

Isn't it just the worst feeling, along with being wildly funny? I'm not much of a clothes sort of woman, and never have been, but one of the reasons I didn't just flee was that I would have to run past the altar boys at the back...and I was wearing jeans and an orange sweatshirt. It's the only time in my life I can remember exactly what I was wearing because it was so wildly inappropriate.

I can fully understand the wild giggles because there is nothing that inspires a giggle fit quite as much as knowing that you must.not.laugh!

Jo said...

Oh, Alane, that's wonderful...! You had me laughing out loud.

Yes, life is full of misunderstood moments, isn't it? Sometimes they can be embarrassing and sometimes they can be enlightening. And often, sadly, they can be the cause of miscommunications between people that tears them apart forever. I have several of those moments happen to me.

I don't think I have ever crashed a funeral, though. :-)

I did burst into a fit of giggles at a wedding, however. It reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore at Chuckles the Clown's funeral. We've all had those moments.

Your husband sounds wonderful.

Land of shimp said...

Jo, in some ways those inappropriate laughter responses are the best, and worst moments! I also had my "Oh God, I can't stop laughing!" moment during a wedding, so we must be kindred spirits. It was a very formal wedding, in one of those huge churches, and out walked the minister, looking very impressive and regal. It was a very solemn moment, and he reached behind him, retrieved a tiny tupperware step-stool, plopped it down in front of him, and leaped atop it before commencing with the service.

About half the people in attendance were overcome with the giggles. I don't think anyone ever told the couple that throughout the majority of their wedding ceremony, about half the audience was busily beating the crap out of each other, trying to quell the great giggle wave.

A lot of misunderstandings are very sad, and lead to hurt feelings, but it is nice that we get the flip side of that coin, too.

You know, when it comes to Murphy, and Rob's rescue of her despite being so allergic, I had to decide in that moment if he was wonderful or crazy. I came down on the side of wonderful...and crazy ;-)

Vera said...

The missing piece: how often we jump to the wrong conclusions because we do not have all the pieces. You certainly made me think, and thankyou for that. You also made me smile - it was very funny. So thanks again.

DUTA said...

The 'hernia' inspection as viewed by your son - very funny.
Sometimes a missing piece of information can lead to very unpleasant consequences.

You seem to handle well all sorts of situations, but then you're a very special woman.

Miss OverThinker said...

You Alane, I think your blog is the only one I can think of that keeps me gripped from start to finish.. usually I read blogs when I am also watching tv and am able to manage both very well.. but when I reached the end of this post I realized that I hadn't heard anything on TV in the last several minutes - that's how into the post I was.. you are an amazing, amazing writer..

it's unbelievable how you relate things, how you look for connections between stories..

while being a very funny story - esp when your son entered your office, there was also the message of the missing piece..

just excellent post..

Miss OverThinker said...

I don't know why I have "You" as the first word of my comment.. just ignore it, I guess I should proof read my comments before submitting :)

Amy said...

Thank you Alane for another very, very entertaining post. Great story, great teller.

Have a very Merry Christmas and I think both you and your husband are very fortunate to have each other!

Nancy said...

All of these stories had me laughing. I, too, have had the worst case of outright laughter sitting with coworkers in the break room only to look around at the shocked faces watching us - they had just returned from a coworkers funeral. Not someone we knew well, obviously.

Loved the hernia story, and your husband is one heck of a guy. Bless his heart!

Hilary said...

LOL.. what a great collection of stories. Your poor son! Your husband is a gem for looking after Murphy. I had a cat who was ornery and pissy (literally) and she was a task to keep up with.. but I loved her dearly. I inherited her in a similar way. But she wasn't nearly as nasty or smelly as you described and I've never been allergic so I can only imagine how your hubby sacrificed for the feline.

My ex and I are still good friends and we attended a family wedding together a few years back. It was in a very old, classy church in downtown Toronto. The minister was a large, impressive looking man whose presence and appearance commanded immediate respect... until he spoke. He had a whiny, high-pitched voice which hurled us into immediate fits of laughter.. almost silent.. hopefully inaudible to most. It was a LONG service.

Thanks for the laughs.. fun post. :)

Pauline said...

You have a wonderful way with description!

The Bug said...

I'm always so excited to see a post from you. It's like a Christmas present! I have two stories - which will not be nearly as well told as yours. Sigh.

My mom & I drove my grandmother to Baltimore to the funeral of her step-brother - someone neither of us had ever met. We declined to go into the "viewing" room because we didn't know anyone except my grandmother & my mom had a phobia about seeing dead bodies. So we sat in the hallway of the funeral home (yes, in retrospect this seems VERY odd). Anyway, we could see the coffin through the doorway. And we could see the deceased's nose sticking up out of the coffin. That struck us as so funny that we were both seized with SUCH a fit of giggles! Boy was that hard to contain.

The other incident was at a wedding (imagine that!). When my oldest cousin got married another cousin & I were sitting together waiting on the service to start. We started imagining how hard it would be to have a wedding in our home church - there were three rows of pews with two smallish aisles between them. We visualized the bride crawling over the middle row of pews so she could go down the middle of the church. We got some dirty looks because we couldn't quit giggling. Years later I actually did get married in that church & we REMOVED the middle set of pews so there'd be room for me & my dress.

Cabo said...

That was a priceless read. Absolutely priceless. If I could have captured my eyebrow formations throughout, it would make one grand youtube video! :)

PhilipH said...

You could earn a great living with such stories, milady Shimp. Beautifully written. Jolly good read.

Best wishes for 2010,

Land of shimp said...

Vera, it really is true that very often the missing piece of information can cause calamity, and injured feelings. Thankfully we do have these funny moments to help off set them. I think it's a hopeful thing that the very same thing that can cause distance in people, can also bring them together for a laugh! Thank you for the comment! I hope you are well.

DUTA, I really wish I did handle all sorts of situations well. Sometimes it is, sometimes it is not! Another thing all of us have in common, eh? My husband's surgery is schedule for the 5th of January, so luckily it will be resolved soon. Poor man, I think he's actually very nervous about it, so it helps to have some things to laugh about.

MOT, thank you very much. That's really such a kind thing to say, and a welcome thing to read. I always find it interesting how lives are woven together, nothing truly existing in a vacuum. I always enjoy visiting your blog, and reading about your perspective, too :-)

Amy, was it your first Christmas as a grandmother? I thought of that the moment I saw your name. "Oh, it's her first Christmas with Elliot! What a wonderful season it must be!" What a lovely, joyous thing to have in a life, and I hope you had a marvelous holiday, steeped in joy and wonder!

Nancy, there really is something about the vaguely inappropriate laughter response that makes it delightful to remember, isn't there? It's almost as if there is a sense memory attached to it, because when you recall the memory, you essentially evoke an echo of the mirth again.

Honestly, I've told, and been told stories of "this funny thing happened" and every now and then, they fall a bit short for everyone. Not so for the "I was mortified, but it was still funny!" and it seems to evoke an empathetic response. It's not one of those "You had to be there..." funny things. Since we've all done it, and can relate, it strikes a chord. I started giggling just imagining your situation because I had a good inkling of how it felt.

Hilary, thank you! How great that you are good friends with your ex. It sometimes happens that way, you can't always live out life with the other person, but sometimes you like them for the rest of time...just as you did at the beginning.

The more solemn the occasion, the more potential there seems to be to just lose it. That poor minister, it's as if his intended voice actually got swapped with someone elses in the ether. Somewhere there is the proverbial ninety pound weakling, tiny pipsqueak of a man, speaking in rich, melodious and impressive tones as a result ;-)

Thank you very much, Pauline. I really do appreciate that.

Oh my goodness, Bug, I'd have been doubled over, laughing fit to die over the nose peeking out of the casket. I have a rather dark sense of humor, at times, and as it happens my husband is from the "proud profile" clan (i.e. big ol' snoz) so we joke that his nose arrives earlier than the rest of him, as sort of a probe to test the climate.

I know exactly what I would have been thinking, "The nose went to heaven first, no doubt."

Oh goodness, what a great laugh, thank you for it!

Cabo, as you know, I love your writing, so I greatly appreciate the compliment. Eyebrow movement mapping, a technology of the future, no doubt ;-)

Philip, I had to restrain myself from responding to you first. God, it's so good to see your screenname. I'm so relieved you are all right. I checked my blog very briefly yesterday, and didn't have time to respond. You were one of my Christmas presents, Philip. Honestly, I let out a small cheer when I saw your screenname.

Sorry to be sentimental and gushy. I shall return to teasing mode soon. Should give you a good sense of how relieved I was though! Relieved into utter sincerity.

Soon to recover ;-) Seriously, so good to see you.

Anonymous said...

Keep posting stuff like this i really like it.

Land of shimp said...

Thank you, Anon, I really appreciate that.

Happy New Year!

Cricket said...

Wow. These stories are hilarious and extremely well-told. I found you via potw and "Smiling Monster" so I didn't realize how hard I would be laughing at the bulk of your work. Love it. Well done.

I never crashed a funeral but, once when I was maybe 10 or so, I broke a nail on something. I mean badly, it was bleeding all over. I turned to my Mom and showed her my finger... you can guess which one and how I displayed it. Oops.

When I realized what I had done, in Church yet, I was horrified but she got a fit of the giggles. So bad we had to leave. Really.

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