Did I Really Say That?

Did I Really Say That?

Recently, Susan and I were invited to a Porch Party at the beach. Friends had purchased their cousin's interest in their family cottage ensuring the ownership would pass on to the third generation and it would be saved from the wrecking ball, a fate these days for many older cottages when they slip out of the original family's hands. Just after closing the deal, they had installed a fantastic new front porch for the cottage built by their grandparents in the 1960s. I had spent many days at the house when I was young because our mothers were college friends and they would sit on the front porch and gossip while all their kids played in the garage. Through the years our generation became friends too. The party was to celebrate the new generation owning the family place and of course the new porch. I'm always glad when an old Atlantic Beach cottage passes forward to a younger generation-and younger is a relative term since this generation of friends are 50 and 60ish. Yep-that's still young by my estimation and if you don't agree, take a long walk down a short pier. That's beach speak for don't talk smack about age with someone who's almost 60 and a little sensitive about it.

The evening of the party was warm and humid as most Atlantic Beach summer evenings are but the wind was blowing steadily off of the ocean and a large crowd had already gathered by the time Susan and I arrived. We walked around the outside of cottage and beside the chimney on the leeward side of the house sat a handsome young father and his toddler son, both laughing loudly which was a great start for the party. The wind whipping around the house was causing some tornado effect beside the brick chimney and while the physics of the action escaped me, it kept 4 paper cups spinning in a circle, never stopping, such that the little boy could grab one and look at it while the other 3 kept spinning around him. When he'd let the one cup go it would spin back into the air and he'd grab another one. The cups would spin around his head in a circle and he continued to grab one with the others spinning around him wildly. It was a mesmerizing scene to watch and we stood and watched for a while, enjoying a conversation with the young father. But we were late and the sound of the surf, the laughter of many gathered friends and the sun lowering on the horizon meant it was time for us to make our way to the festive party, just a few steps away.

As we walked to the newly rebuilt porch, looking up, I could see many Raleigh friends on the upper part of the deck, dressed in the brightly colored casual beach wear, all looking much younger than their years, all talking, all laughing and all having a great time. The party was in full swing. We walked onto the bottom deck to check out the nice decking and the newly built, exterior dressing area with enclosed wooden showers. Al fresco, au natural showering is the rage at Atlantic Beach these days. There also happened to be a bar close by, which was another gravitational pull. Remarkably, many of my Greenville, Goldsboro and Wilson friends were also on the bottom deck with nary a Raleighite in sight and I wondered if it was an Upstairs/Downstairs thing going on. I bumped into my old friend, Missy, who told me she'd been at the party a while and I asked if she'd been kicked downstairs because she was born and raised in Goldsboro even though she now lives in Charlotte. Did I just say that? She laughed out loud because we’ve known each other a long time and we continued to talk and catch up. For a long time I've been accidently saying things that might get me into trouble and as we talked I remembered a story often told from my childhood when my mother would pick me up from kindergarten and the teacher, Martha Beland, would say, "Anne, you wouldn't believe what Tom told me today."

"I'd love to know Martha," Mother would say proudly expecting I'd recited some French phrase she'd been trying to teach me at home or wonder if I'd repeated the alphabet or a set of numbers.

"Oh, no. You'd be too embarrassed to know what he said. I'll do you a huge favor and not tell you."

The six block drive home would feel much longer than normal as my mother would sternly ask me what family secret I'd accidently shared. Who knew there were any? I mistakenly thought every family was like ours. She would explain to me what might be OK to talk about at school and what was definitely not OK. At age 5, I had a problem with what was the right or wrong thing to say.

Maybe I still do at 59. While I was still downstairs at the Porch Party, a handsome young couple started talking to us. Not only is she beautiful and he handsome, they are both children of friends of ours from UNC and both are working in New York. I was wondering why they were downstairs and not upstairs but it didn't matter, I was charmed by both of them and I was trying to be witty and relevant which is not always easy at my rapidly advancing age. I asked what they were doing with their lives and she told me she was a videographer in "the city" making "short films". Instead of the standard (dull) 59 year old response of "Oh, that sounds so interesting....what kind of films?" I decided on a clever, snappy response and asked:

"Are we talking short films like porn or short films like 30 second ads? Or something in-between those two things?"

At the time the question seemed funny to me. Then I quickly thought to myself, did I just say that? Can I take it back? What's so wrong with the standard 59 year old response that everyone else uses? Can I have a do-over? But it was too late.

They both laughed and she graciously gave me a more detailed explanation of her films and career path. Later I Googled her name and she works at a great news outlet-actually my favorite. And a very famous one. Oh, no. There's probably a short film being completed right now on most embarrassing person at Atlantic Beach. Certainly the most embarrassing dad. Later my daughter said, "My friend told me about your comment. Dad, did you really say that?" Yep. Wasn't it funny? Nope. Did I really say that? My drive home from kindergarten with my mother seemed very fresh in my mind that evening 54 years after the fact especially since we were at a house Mom visited so often with me in tow.

I thought about writing an apology letter and later called my close attorney friend for free advice. Her response, "If I wrote an apology for every bad joke I told, there wouldn't be enough time for anything else in my life. Forget it." I was relieved but decided to send a generous wedding present as soon as this attractive couple is engaged, hoping the engagement will be soon and hoping a generous gift will be enough. Sometimes a nice gift can get a mouth out of trouble. I should know. Sometimes it just takes time or a generous lapse in memory. I should know. Hopefully, they thought the comment was hip and hysterical and I've worried about nothing.

In grade school my mouth was often getting me into trouble and I often scored a "U" for Unsatisfactory on report cards. Why were we graded for talking anyway? I had the talking part right all along and the school had it wrong. Talking was one of my long suits-it was something I did extremely well. They should have encouraged that part of my personality rather than trying to squelch it. Obviously all those years of N's and U's in talking (Needs Improvement and Unsatisfactories) didn't change a thing in who I am. In ninth grade, my Latin teacher (and aunt) Jean Edmundson, wrote a comment on my report card which I remember to this day "If Tom would spend as much time on his Latin homework as he did talking and socializing he'd be a stellar Latin student" to which I'd like to now respond:

Dear Jean, If I'd spent 24 hours on Latin and never talked to a soul during my 9th grade year, I would never have been a stellar Latin student. However, 1/2 of my genes went to a kid who won the Latin Award at Episcopal High School. I'm still not sure how that happened but I love genes with a great sense of humor. And while I'm not sure where her Latin acer intellectus came from I couldn't have been prouder of her if I'd won that award myself. Incredible, huh? So it happened but you had to wait one generation. That didn't take so long, did it? Just 27 years. All the best, Tom

But back to socializing and the Porch Party where we finally made it to the upstairs deck. I know what you're thinking.....symbolism....but I'm not that deep and this isn't that kind of story.....we just walked up the stairs to see our Raleigh friends. We talked to some old friends and met some new ones and I enjoyed talking to all of them, as I always do. Many asked about this blog and I hope they're reading it now. I always get my strength from being around people and these folks are all very interesting people so that's even better. In no time the crowd was thinning and it was time to head home and even though I wasn't ready, it was time. The party was winding down.

Before leaving, Susan and I watched another sunset over the beach just as I had watched so many sunsets over Atlantic Beach over my lifetime, but this time it was on a porch where my mother had spent many summer days with her friend Carolyn. And beside me was Carolyn's grandson, Campbell, who is now married to my daughter, Anderson, and it was Campbell's dad along with his siblings who were hosting the party at their family cottage. It was a special moment where life makes a circle and one side connects to the other, except in this story no one is about to fall off of a cliff and die like in the famous movie with the theme song "The Circle of Life". We may not be young cubs, but there's another go around on the circle of life for all of us with a lot of life left to live.

Like the young boy who was grabbing the cups spinning around him, in a tornado of physics I couldn't understand, so I grab the stories swirling around my life in a way I don't exactly understand. And I pick each one up and look at it and laugh at it for a few moments and then I let it go and it swirls around my head and then I grab another one. I look at it and study it for a moment as the other stories swirl around me. New ones come and other ones blow away. In writing about these events I realize my life's tapestry has been woven together in a much richer and more interesting way than I thought when I started writing this blog months ago. Maybe a rather mundane life as an insurance agent, husband and father has been much more extraordinary and interesting than I originally thought. Maybe that's how it is for all of us when we really examine our lives in greater detail.

There are many more people I want to meet, many things I want to say, things I want to do, places I want to see and many stories spinning around me that I want to tell, some that have already happened and some that are yet to come. Sometimes I'll say things well. Sometimes I'll say them poorly. But I will do so until I take my last breath. For better or worse. Take it or leave it. It's just who I am. I’ll keep talking, writing and saying what I need to say, doing the very best I can, whether anyone likes it or not. Yep, I really said that.


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