Lisa Hamblen Hood: Through the Fence 7-11-11
“You’d argue with a fence post!” my husband said to me one day. “I would not!” I fired back. “I rest my case,” he said with a smirk. I guess I’m guilty as charged. It’s just hard to be right. Those of us who really do know best and have photographic memories are simply trying to make sure all the details are accurately relayed. Unfortunately, lots of my corrections are minor details that don’t change the overall outcome of the incident. But for us know-it-alls, that’s irrelevant. My friend, Tracy, calls me argumatic – because arguing is always my automatic “default” mode.
But in my own defense, being argumentative is inherited. My brother has the gene, too. You’d think after 50 plus years of being married, my sister-in-law would know better than to try to tell a story in his presence. She barely gets started, before he starts interrupting with some minor changes and clarifications. She pauses and allows herself to be corrected before bravely starting again. A few more minutes into her story, he butts in again with yet another clarification. After a while, she resigns and lets him finish. Not that she’s a whipped dog or anything. She does the same thing to him. After a few starts and stops, they eventually get the story told, to the great amusement of their audience.
According to my grandmother, my mother was a notorious “argumatic” when she was a little girl, too. She told me about an event that happened when my mom was about 8-years-old. Grandmother had warned her several times to stop arguing with her and correcting her, especially in the presence of other adults. “Don’t dispute my word!” she’d tell her over and over. But in the middle of a story where a detail or two was not quite right, it was impossible for Mom to keep her mouth shut.
One day after church, a bunch of ladies were standing outside in a little circle and visiting. Mom’s family lived nearly 20-miles from the nearest town, and other than a visit to the country store, Grandmother didn’t have much opportunity to socialize with other women. So she was enjoying a rare chance to share gossip, recipes, complaints and stories about family and farm life. She had just launched into a story saying, “Last Friday when I …” when my mother piped up, “No, Mama, it was Thursday!” Without even hesitating or looking down at the little girl, my grandmother backhanded her across the mouth and sent her sprawling face up onto the hard-swept red dirt that passed as the church lawn. Grandmother never missed a beat and calmly finished the story without further interruption.
Nowadays, 10 people would have whipped out their cell phones and dialed 911 while others photographed the horrific child abuse and uploaded it onto Facebook or Youtube. But in the early 1930s it was still OK to strike child even in public if they were misbehaving. It wasn’t done to hurt or abuse, but to discipline and correct. The other ladies in that country churchyard barely raised an eyebrow, and if they said anything at all to each other or to my grandmother, it was to voice their agreement for chastising an impudent child.
When Mom’s two sisters quizzed her on the way home about what had happened to her lip, she gave a short version of the story. It served as a warning to them not to dispute their mama’s word either. At 5-foot tall with ice-blue eyes, my grandmother was a force to be reckoned with, and they knew it.
I’d like to say that Mom learned her lesson about interrupting and correcting others, but I will just say it was a lifelong struggle. More than once, when Dad launched into a story, Mom butted in with clarifying details. He’d usually laugh and say, “Dorris Marie, you’d argue with a fence post!” … “I would not!” she’d counter. He’d try to finish the story his way, but that rarely happened.