I am fortunate to come from a family of verbal blunderers.
My mom has often brought laughter to dinner conversations without ever intending to make a joke.
Her younger sister Amy was born the year my mom married my dad. Amy is only about six years older than me and has always been more like a cousin, but she is definitely my mom’s sister, as the following story illustrates.
We were celebrating my brother-in-law Jim’s birthday with my mom’s side of the family at P.F. Chang’s.
Jim was sitting in the middle of our big table on the opposite side from me. Different family members assembled a few cards and a wrapped gift in front of him.
Amy was sitting a few seats to his right.
There was a brief lull in conversation.
You know the kind. They happen for a number of reasons. Someone makes an awkward or offensive remark. Two people are angry with one another, and this conflict balloons into a palpable discomfort. Or, perhaps, nothing at all is wrong, and the momentary silence signifies a simple shift in a number of conversations, all at the same time. When I was younger, I remember other kids pinning superstitions to this kind of pregnant pause—a ghost passed through the room, an earthworm died in France, an angel got its wings. I believe in supernatural occurrences like miracles, but I don’t think two seconds of silence in a room mean that a sherpa in Tibet got indigestion from unpasteurized yak’s milk at the same time a 23-year-old gas station attendant outside of Glasgow found some euros in an old jacket. C’mon, people.
In an Asian fusion chain restaurant on West End Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee, my aunt Amy scanned our faces and offered her explanation for those two seconds of silence:
“We were all just sitting around staring at Jim’s package!”
I, for one, was doing nothing of the sort.
Amy’s observation created another two or three seconds of silence before we all burst into laughter.
Amy was confused.
“Think about what you just said.”
Her double entendre finally sank in, and she turned red.
My family isn’t one that passes around lots of dirty jokes and sexual innuendo, so Jim’s birthday was a very special occasion indeed.