The judgment of small talk

Being an introvert makes social situations a little challenging at times.

Even when it is with people I like or want to know better, I find gatherings quite hard to deal with.

It’s not that I hate people, mind you. Even though I do prefer the company of animals to most humans, that is not it.

No, it’s the small talk that does me in.

I loathe small talk.

I can talk at length about things that range from random trivia to deeper subjects but the tedious ‘getting to know you’ questions and chatter drive me batty.

Mainly because the mundane conversation can be used to judge and people have sorely forgotten how to be polite and inquiring without belly flopping right into someone’s personal life.

“Are you married? Do you have kids?”

If you answer no to either question, you can bet the next question is “Why not?”

People sometimes forget one is not necessarily a precursor to the other, which can make for some uncomfortable exchanges.

But perhaps the most annoying one is, “What do you do?”

Such a simple question really.

But one that is very loaded.

Depending on your answer, people are going to decide how to treat you.

If you say you are a doctor or other professional, people will treat you with respect.

If you say you have a blue collar job, their reaction may be a little different.

It’s wrong, but it is something I have witnessed far too often.

I was raised to treat everyone equally, and to not let their job title dictate the level of respect they received.

Yet, that one simple question carries a tremendous amount of weight to it.

Many times, people feel like titles and what they do for a living defines them, and sometimes, it can.

We do tend to get caught up in our jobs and worry about the image we are projecting into the world.

I have met a few people who let you know with every breathe what they did for a living and how important they were.

And, I have known folks who were humble and down to earth that did not need any kind of recognition for their positions.

In parts of Europe, it is considered rude to ask someone what kind of work they did. It is a matter of pre-judging someone.

Deciding if the person was worth getting to know. Evaluating if the person’s net income would put them on equal footing with us.

And trying to size up if the person can be valuable to us in any way.

I hate this question and it’s kind of hard to avoid it when you are in most social situations.

“I don’t care what someone does for a living,” I told Mama one day. “I don’t care what their level of education is or if they have a big, important job. And if their opinion of me is only based on how I earn a living, they can stick it.”

Mama gently agreed. “Well, Kitten, you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their wait staff in a restaurant. If they are rude to them, they will be rude to others, too. You weren’t raised to be that way so it is a bit hard for you to understand.”

It reminds me of how someone I knew once whined she was ashamed of her fiancé’s job and didn’t know if she could marry someone who “wore his name on his shirt.”

“Lots of people have their names on their uniforms,” I tried telling her.

“Like who?” she sniffed.
“Doctors, for one. Cops have name badges, too. There is nothing wrong with wearing your name on your uniform.”

She never saw my point, but I am sure she is the type that uses the small talk question of “what do you do” to decide if someone was worthy of her or not.

The good thing about small talk is people usually aren’t listening; they are waiting to respond with more stuff about themselves.

“What do you do for a living?” someone asked me recently.

“Whatever it takes,” I replied.

Thankfully, they didn’t even notice.

 

 

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A brief rebellion

My teenage years were not quite the rebellious era one would think.

The biggest thing I did was sass Granny and live to tell about it.

While other kids were sneaking out to go to parties, I thought I was big stuff if I cruised the Piggly Wiggly with my friends.

I lived in righteous fear that I would be caught and have to endure the wrath of Granny and Mama.

Mama would take away anything that mattered to me – namely, my phone.

Granny, on the other hand, was her own brand of punishment and could instill fear in the devil himself.

So, needless to say, I stayed out of trouble.

But there were times I pushed the boundaries.

It wasn’t intentional.

Usually, it started out as something that seemed harmless at the time, then turned into something that would get me in deep, unmeasurable trouble.

If wisdom comes from experience, this may be why I don’t let my own child go anywhere.

While hanging out at a friend’s house one day, her mother said she had a headache and was going to lie down.

We were probably the cause of said headache, or maybe she was doing it so we wouldn’t bug her.

Whatever her reason, she had left two teenage girls to their own devices for the better part of the afternoon.

Even though my friend, Crystal, was a couple of years younger, she was always a bit more eager to do things we shouldn’t.

“We oughta go to the store,” she suggested.

“No, Mama told me not to walk anywhere today.” I lived in a world where if Mama told me not to do something, I didn’t. Even if I was well out of her sight, she would somehow know. And what Mama didn’t know, Granny could darn well find out.

Crystal gave me a sly smile. “We don’t have to walk.”

Sometimes, I was a little slow on the uptake. “How are we going to get there?”

She picked up her mama’s keys. “We can take the car.”

“Your sister isn’t here to drive us.” See – slow on the uptake.

“No, dork,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I will drive.”

I was worried about this for many reasons. I was terrified of driving; even as a teenager, I thought we were too young to be behind the wheel of a vehicle. My next worry was the fact if Mama didn’t want me walking, how would she feel about me riding in a car with a 13-year-old driving? She had a fit once when Granny took me somewhere and didn’t tell her. This would not sit well.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said, not feeling so sure.

“Do you want some candy or not?”

Candy won.

And off in the car we went.

I thought I was going to throw up as she backed the car out of the driveway and into the street.

But as we eased out of the neighborhood, my nervousness and fear broke free.

It was exhilarating.

We both squealed and laughed, screaming “wheee!” as we drove around.

Was this what it was like to be a bad girl?

It made me feel so free and fearless.

Until we came up to a four-way stop.

“Crap,” she muttered. “Is that your Granny?”

I looked in the direction she indicated and sure enough, sitting at the stop sign was Granny in her burgundy Olds.

“Act casual,” Crystal said.

We did, and Granny drove on through without a sideways glance.

“Where is she going?”

I wasn’t sure. Maybe home? Maybe to the grocery store – but which one?

It threw an uncertain monkey wench in our freedom plan.

“Maybe we shouldn’t go to the store?” I suggested. “She will want to speak to your mother if she sees us.”

She would; Granny was big on talking to mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and any one in your family tree if you were friends with me.

“Maybe we need to go the opposite way?” she said.

Crystal may have been the  wild one, but she was smart enough to fear Granny.

I nodded.

We went down another road and another, taking great caution in avoiding any possible place Granny may be.

“Oh no!” I cried. “That’s Pop and Bobby’s work truck!”

Sure enough, at a red light, there sat my grandfather and uncle.

How many stop signs and red lights did this town have and did I have family sitting at everyone of them?

We turned down another road. And the next thing I knew, we were pulling onto the highway and heading straight towards my house.

“We will turn around at the cemetery and go back,” Crystal said.

We thought we were in the clear until right as we turned around at the cemetery and pulled into the road, here came a little blue Ford with one little crazy redhead at the wheel.

“I’m going to die. That’s it, I am dead meat!” I said. Part of me was glad. I had been a bad girl for about 20 whole minutes and it was exhausting. I was ready for it to be over.

“Duck down!” Crystal cried. How were we going to drive and be in the floor board?

But Mama was busy lighting her Virginia Slim and didn’t pay us any attention. Crystal hit the gas and we sped all the way back to her house.

Mama arrived a little while later to pick me up, none the wiser.

Or so I thought.

A few months later, I was with another friend, riding around against Mama’s usual wishes. And there at the same dad gummed stop sign sat Mama.

We ducked down as Mama drove by.

She didn’t say a word.

Until one day, when I was heading out to a friend’s again.

“Sudie, don’t you be going anywhere, you hear me? It’s not safe,” Mama began.

“There’s all these people-less cars riding around.”

From the look on her face, I do believe I was busted.

My rebellion, albeit brief, was over.

 

Fat-shaming the dog

Ava, our German Shepherd, has put on some weight.

It’s not her fault.

She’s been on steroids.

Even before the steroids, she has always been a big boned girl, with the vet commenting quite frequently on her size.

“She’s big boned,” I insist.

“She’s extra-large, especially for a female,” the vet will respond.

“Big boned,” I repeat.

“She’s huge, no other way to say it,” the vet states. “She’s not overweight, but she is a big girl.”
There you have it – Ava has a medical diagnosis of being a big girl.

Problem is, Ava doesn’t know how big she is.

In her mind, she is still a small puppy, yearning to cuddle.

Granted, she wasn’t small when we got her; she was 11 months old with a lanky, large frame begging to fill out.

But she still thinks she should be able to fit in a lap or in the crook of our arm, not realizing her massive size.

She was big before but like the best of us, specifically me, she has put on a few pounds.

The steroids are actually to treat a systematic allergic reaction that was triggered by a gluttonous binge eating episode of cat food.

She apparently dove head first into a 16-lb. bag of cat food and only came up for air to make sure we weren’t waking up to catch her.

Two vet visits, steroid shots, shampoo treatments, and a prescription for steroids later, she is still binging but only on her specialty food.

“You get two breakfasts, lunch, and two dinners,” Lamar tells her as she paws at the feed bin.

Ava whimpers her protest. It’s been two hours since her last meal. Can’t he see she is wasting away to nothing?

“No,” he tells her firmly. “No more. You’re getting fat, Ava.”

She lets out a loud wail in protest and even flattens one ear down as if to say they are falling off for lack of food.

“Ava – you are huge. No more food for you.”

She runs – well, ambles at a somewhat fast pace for such a big animal – to me, leaning against my legs as she looks up to me for support.

“Quit fat-shaming my dog,” I tell Lamar.

“She’s fat. Look at her.”

I did. Her soft, big, brown eyes begged me for food. Just a kibble, a tiny nibble, maybe a bite?

“She is not fat.”

“She is too!” Lamar said. “She can barely jump up on the bed now.”

True. But she has always had to do a few laps like an ice skater preparing for a triple Lutz.

“She is just big-boned,” I protested.

“Fat.”

I shush him. I don’t want my dog getting some kind of complex or feeling bad about herself. She gets scared when it storms and gets in the tub to hide; as soon as she comes out, she needs a snack. Maybe the over-eating is just her way to cope.

Even if she is happy about something, she runs to the bowl to ding it, as if she wants to celebrate.

I can relate. When I am sad, I eat. When I am nervous, I eat. When I am happy, bring on the cheesecake.

“You see how she came to me when you called her fat?” I asked.

“Yeah, because she thinks she can hustle you for some food.”

“No, she thinks us chubby girls have to stick together. She is coming to me for support.”

“You’re not –” he caught himself before he said anything else.

He realized I was right. I’m always right but this time it sunk in before he said something he shouldn’t.

“Every time you call her fat, she runs to me. She probably thinks my name is ‘fat.’”

I have probably called myself fat so many times in the last few years, the pup may be associating it with me. And, she has made the connection that I call myself fat, then I get upset, and to console myself, I eat some chips and guac.

She thought Lamar calling her fat meant I was going to break out the snacks. Maybe for both of us.

“I’m not calling you fat though,” Lamar said, hoping to clarify things before it went horribly wrong and became a huge molehill. “I am calling Ava fat and she is. Look at her. She is kind of a long furry cylinder.”

Ava looked back up at me and wagged her tail, smiling her doggy smile.

“She’s still pretty though,” Lamar added.

“Next you’re gonna say she has a great personality, too.”
“She does. She has the best temperament of any dog we have had.”

He completely missed the point.

I sighed. “Just quit calling her fat. She can’t help it; she has a medical condition.”

A few hours later, she dinged the bowl again.

“No more food, Ava, you’re –” he caught himself. “You’ve had enough today.”

She dinged again, and another time. After being told no three more times, she sighed and got on the couch. Granted, it took her a few seconds to get up there, but she did.

At least she wasn’t called fat again.

Now, if I can stop calling myself that, maybe she and I both can feel better about ourselves.

 

The legend of Piggie

“What do you mean, you don’t eat bacon?”

I am asked this quite frequently.

No bacon, no barbeque, no pork products of any kind.

People don’t get it.

“Did you have a pig as a pet or something?”

Well, kind of.

We did have pigs when I was growing up.

I thought they were our pets but had a harsh reality one morning.

That was enough to make me not eat sausage or ham for a while.

But the real reason we don’t eat bacon is because of one plush little pig.

Piggie.

Piggie Two should get some credit as well, but it was Piggie Prime who started the absolute non-pork stance.

“A toy pig, and not a real pig?” is the next question.

He may be a toy pig, but he was a big part of my child’s younger years and is still Crouch canon.

I had to explain how Piggie came into our life.

We had ventured to the grocery store one Friday evening, along with scores of other people.

While I shopped and tried to decide what we would want to eat over the coming week, I realized Lamar had taken Cole to another aisle to entertain him.

This was a common occurrence. I go into the trenches of the store while my husband and child wander off like two beagles on the scent of something.

After a solid thirty minutes of wading through dozens of middle-of-the-aisle talkers, holding prayer meetings and high school reunions between the Fruity Pebbles and Raisin Bran, I had managed to make my way to the checkout line.

As I tossed my items on the belt, the wails of a small child rose over the normal noise of the store.

“Did you find everything OK?” the cashier asked.

I nodded, hearing the screams grow louder. Was this child being beaten?

“Paper or plastic?” the cashier asked.

“Plastic,” I answered, hearing the wails intensify.

The cashier didn’t seem to pay it any attention; of course, working in any type of retail can numb you to certain things.

“Do you hear that?” I asked.

She nodded, punching in the code for my tomatoes. “Yeah, kids hate being dragged in here on Fridays when their mamas get off work.”

“That poor child,” I began. “They sound miserable! What kind of parent does that to a child?  They are horrible, terrible people for putting that baby through that.”

The screams grew closer as it sounded like the child was nearing the front of the store. I turned to see who the offending parent was and shut my mouth.

There went my husband, toting my red-in-the-face, wailing child under his arm like a football out the door.

Of course, since I had brought the whole scene to the cashier’s attention, she was watching too. “That father’s got his hands full with that one,” she said.

I instantly felt a need to defend my child, who normally was so well-behaved and never pitched a fit.

“I have a feeling it was the father’s fault,” I began. “But some people! My word!”

I had mustered all the righteous indignation I could and paid for my groceries and hurried out the door to the car.

I got in the front seat and turned to look at my child, his face red and covered in tears as he tried to catch his breath.

“What in the world is wrong?” I asked.

Cole couldn’t even speak, he was crying so hard. I looked at his father for answers.

“He wanted some toy and had this meltdown over it,” was his response.

“A toy?”

Cole was not the type of child to have a meltdown over a toy. He did beg for celery once in the store, which I have yet to figure out, but he was not one to pitch a fit over a toy.

Lamar nodded. “I am not paying $10 for a stupid stuffed animal.”

“It – wasn’t – a – stupid – stuffed – amiminal,” I heard Cole say from the back seat, his voice catching with every word. “It – was – a – pig!”

“A pig?” I asked gently.

Cole nodded, sucking on his bottom lip. “A pig,” he repeated slowly, his breath finally regaining normalcy. “And Mama, I need it. Please. I asked Daddy for it and he threw it down the aisle!” At the thought of this, the sobs returned.

I glanced at Lamar. “You threw the toy down the aisle?”

“He was grabbing at it and it was too much. I am not paying that much for a toy! That’s crazy!”

Cole wailed. “Mama – I – need – that – pig! I – don’t – know – why – but – I – do!”

I knew two things. Once upon a time, a little girl fell in love with a lavender plush bunny on sight at the five and dime store and she turned down a pair of shoes for them. The bunny somehow spoke to her heart more than those glitter jelly sandals with the ankle strap and she loved that bunny for decades. She still missed that bunny and wondered what happened to it when she grew up, hoping like the Velveteen bunny, her love had made it real.

The second, and the most important thing, was my child never acted like this. So, something must be special about this pig.

“You need that pig?” I asked. He nodded.

“Then let’s go get it.”

He did end up needing that pig. In many ways and on many occasions. Piggie has been his faithful friend, and a part of the family now for well over a decade. And for me, he is a loving reminder of when my son, now a teenager, was small and a plush pig was the grandest thing in the world.

“You still have the Pigs, right?” he asked one day, knowing I am now the Keeper of the Piggies.

I affirmed that I did.

I still have the pigs. And always, always will.