The Right to be Wrong

Back when I was seventeen, Grandma Mead and Aunt Edith were best frenemies. They were about the same age; separated by a huge hill, and a few miles of road. They spent a lot of time together.

Aunt Edith was born in England, but spent most of her life in the US. She was married to a great great uncle of mine (there may have even been a third “great” in his title; he died way before I was born). She had not trace of an accent, but still affected British sensibilities. She had no children, and once her husband died, there were only distant relatives on her husband’s side. She was a critical harridan who would treat you nicely to your face, and then spread stories around most of Pistol River, about that one time when she had been wronged because you tracked lawn clippings into her garage. I don’t think Aunt Edith ever drove a car, so she was at the mercy of her neighbors and friends to assist her. That dependency on others kept her borderline-nice. Most of the time. One Christmas she gave my sister a 3-pack of underpants that were about 8 sizes bigger than would actually fit her. It was her underhanded way of saying “my, aren’t YOU a chubby little girl…” without actually coming out and saying it. That’s the kind of woman she was. Most people had heard these kinds of stories about her, yet treated her with politeness, and more than a couple grains of salt.

Grandma Mead was born in Texas, and she always retained her lilt of a southern accent. She and Grandpa Mead (who died when I was very young) had three girls, and each of those girls had several children, giving her 11 grandkids, I think and a gaggle of great grandchildren. Grandma Mead was gentle, and generally well liked in the community. We lived in her house, and she occupied a mobile home up on the hill, a few hundred yards away. She taught me to crochet. She also had a sword hanging on the wall of her trailer, which I thought was kind of cool.

Both were active in the Pisto River Friendship Club, and the sewing club. Edith had land, but Grandma Mead had family. Despite that, they were friends.

Anyway, back to when I was 17. It was my graduation party. Relatives from all over came to our house for a barbecue. I would be going to France in 3 months and it would be the last time for many of my family to say goodbye. It was warm out, late May, and the weather was perfect for being outdoors, but for the two matriarchs, it was too hot for them. They sat inside while everyone else milled around on our lawn. They exchanged pleasantries. And then recipes. And then silent staring. Then comments. Then barbs. Until at some point, Aunt Edith demanded she be taken home. I don’t remember who drove her back but at some point, Grandma Mead was left fuming in our house by herself.

My mom asked Grandma what had happened.
“We had words.” Mom asked what the altercation was about.
“Most likely nothing.” You could practically see the steam escaping her ears.
“Well,” Mom said, pressing the issue, “Who won?”
Grandma hotly declared, “Well I did, of course!”

Then we all had a slice of lemon pie and cooled down.

Now, I’m pretty sure it was impossible for anyone to be in a room, alone, facing Aunt Edith for several hours, and come out unscathed. But Grandma Mead was good for a scrap.

We are always so concerned about being right. It’s a funny phenomenon though. Because facts are facts. Facts are dangling out there, being true despite ourselves.  When we run to a dictionary, or to Wikipedia to prove a point? Well, the force that’s dragging us there is not the facts anymore. It’s our pride. and Our pride is uniquely connected to facts. It’s what makes us turn to other tactics when you’re been proven wrong. Like flipping the bird. Or telling someone their knees look like albino gorilla balls in those shorts.

God knows I’ve never, ever done things like that. (by the way–this is one of these places where I wish we had some kind of punctuation to denote sarcasm, or at least an eyeroll).

I face this at work all the time.  “This drink is awful. Are you sure it’s decaf?” It stabs my pride. I make great stinking drinks. Also, I’m not an idiot. Contrary to popular opinion, I can read the side of a cup.

I also see it on the street. A driver honks his horn and whips around me because I don’t move my car the second the traffic light turns green.  Middle fingers are flashed my direction. Hey buddy! I’m being careful here. Not obstructing anything. Then I’m intensely gratified, and my pride is assuaged when 2 blocks later, they are stuck at the same traffic light as me. Or better yet, pulled over by a vehicle with flashing blue lights on their roof.

I should know myself better. I should be able to separate rightness from pride. But I can’t. I guess my ego is still too big to suck the venom out of the situation and leave it in a spittoon somewhere. It’s a constant struggle. I’m not the essence of rightness. I am me. And right is right. Sometimes, if I’m lucky, or if I learn enough, I get to be right too. I’d draw a Venn diagram but I’m too lazy.  We are never, for a minute, guaranteed we will be right in life.

In fact, we spend far more time in life being wrong. Ignorance is a basic human condition. We don’t apprehend every situation,  at every moment, in every corner of the globe. We don’t know why other people do things. What we know, at any given second, is a tiny speck in the universe of ideas, and motives. But when we think we know something about something, we latch onto it like a bulldog. So why does it affect us so much? Are we afraid we will look stupid? Is being wrong really so bad?

I talk a big talk. I’m bad at tamping down my pride and just allowing things to be as they are. And even more to the point, sometimes it’s just plain fun to watch the Grandma Meads in our world win that argument, and then celebrate with a big slice of lemon pie. Sometimes just a bit of grim tartness can taste so good on our palates. But you should never, ever eat the whole pie at once.


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