A big part of rural life is visiting.
Don’t get me wrong, I like getting together with family and friends – but that is not visiting.
Visiting is something else entirely. It is satisfying an endless round of obligations and usually involves having to attend a birthday party for a one year-old you don’t know.
That is where I tried to draw the line a while back.
“You go enjoy yourself,” I told my wife, “but I have other things to do.”
She ignored me, so I pressed the issue.
“Why do I have to go?” I asked.
“Because,” she explained, “Fred, Lyle, Ronnie and Justin will all be there. It won’t be right if you are not.”
“None of those guys want to be there,” I argued.
“But they will be there,” she said, handing me my coat.
A few hours later, I found myself at a crowded kitchen table in a tiny starter home sulking with four other guys who did not want to be there.
To my left sat Fred, a fellow whose most articulate moment came with a grunt during Christmas diner four years ago. Next to him was Lyle, a cheese salesmen who could only talk about cheese. At the far end of the table, filling a chair with his considerable bulk, loomed Ronnie, a fish’n, hunt’n, handgun toting mountain man. Opposite him (and I do mean opposite him) sat Justin, an unemployed environmental advocate. While both Ronnie and Justin usually have a lot to say, they were repeatedly warned not to say it.
So there we were, destined to remain in silence for the entire afternoon while our wives cooed over a baby.
I couldn’t take it, so I chirped up. “Hey, none of us want to be here, so let’s figure out how to get disinvited from future gatherings like this.”
Fred grunted. Wow! A break-through.
The idea took hold and we mulled it over for a while before Ronnie offered the first idea. “Cigars,” he said, “We could light up cigars and stink up the place. They’d never invite us back.”
“That’s rude,” Justin snapped.
Ronnie leaned forward. I swear he was freeing the strap on his holster.
“Whoa!” I exclaimed, “That’s a great idea but Justin is right. We’d never hear the end of it.”
“We could tell dirty jokes,” Lyle suggested. Everyone glared at him. No one wanted to know how this might involve cheese.
“What ever we do,” Justin insisted, “it can’t have repercussions,” Knowing his wife, we all understood where he was coming from.
We floated one idea after the other, weighing the merits and consequences of each and had quite an animated conversation going before Ronnie cut us off with a slashing motion. He pointed toward the living room – which had become eerily silent. Our wives had stopped their cooing and were straining to hear what we were talking about.
The dual silence boosted the tension between the two rooms.
A few moments later, Ronnie’s wife appeared. She claimed it was to retrieve a casserole but after we informed her the food was long gone, she blushed, apologized and fled back into the living room.
Our plotting resumed.
It was too much for the women to bear. Alice, Justin’s formidable wife, barged into the kitchen and with hands on hips, demanded to know what we were up to.
“Not a thing,” we told her, feigning innocence, “just guy talk.”
In the living room, heads turned, necks craned and only the gurgle of the baby broke a long uncomfortable silence – that went on and on until Lyle’s wife made up a feeble excuse and dragged him out the door. One after the other, we all left under similar circumstances.
There were no repercussions. How could there be? It was just guys talking, but it worked.
The next week brought news of another party but when I ask if I had to go, my wife got a little skittish.
“I don’t think you would like it,” she said, “none of the other guys will be there.”