Don’t Pour Ketchup on My Story

Have you been to an Irish restaurant?

Neither have I.

Case in point.

Were not really about food as much as – say, your average Italian, for instance.

Trust me, I know. This living dichotomy is part of our happy home. Oh, we’re used to it by now, but we have had our tussles over it, believe me. Our first big row was over a jar of Ragu. I kid you not.

Over an accumulation of years in our Irish/Italian marriage, I have arrived at the politically dubious, sweeping generalization that food is to Italians as stories are to the Irish.

Or, to properly honor this day, let me reverse that and say stories are to the Irish as food is to Italians.

I am not sure if this is true for the entirety of these two populations, but under our roof, it’s certain.

My husband is Italian, and food is a big deal to him. Planning our wedding reception was the first of my many adventures into this hierarchy of priorities. Throughout the pre-nuptial preparations, his critical concern was curiously over the food:

Would it be excellent? (Apparently, it had to be.)

Would there be enough? (There must certainly be more than enough.)

Will they keep it coming all night? (They absolutely have to keep it coming all night.)

“Stop worrying!” I chided. “No one cares about the food – everybody will be on the dance floor! I guarantee you most of us will miss the entire meal and not even notice!”

My priority was the music (stories) – they were an absolute deal breaker for me.

Would the tunes be excellent? (Naturally, it had to be.)

Would it be live? (Live, and a fiddler was mandatory.)

Would they keep it going all night?(They simply had to play all night.)

Of course it all ended up perfectly fine. Those who love a good feast bellied up to the table and swooned, and those who revelled in stories, took a few bites, bypassed the rest, and danced all night to ballads put to music, choosing their best place as well.

Little did I realize that these predilections were affinities deeply rooted in our cultures, and as much a part of each of us as his curly hair and my green eyes. We now understand that a telling a good story for me is like a preparing good meal for him.

The problems arise when I ruin his meal and he ruins my story.

How does that go? You might ask.

Here is how the-I-ruin-the-meal part of it goes. He makes plans to invite a few friends over for a casual dinner (pre-virus, of course). “Don’t worry, Hon, it will be simple,” he assures me as he outlines the menu. “We’ll start with this, then I thought I’d par boil this, then butterfly it, sear it, then finish it off on the grill. Oh – by the way – do we have any twine? I’m going to need twine. Then we’ll shuck two dozen oysters and have those… (Oh, that reminds me, I have to run out to get some oyster knives), and after the oysters we’ll have this wrapped in that, and then so-and-so is going to bring this, and then I thought I’d try making this upside-down souffle du jour from scratch for dessert.”

OMG.

In my mind this translates to hours of shopping, mounds of prep, manuevering, cooking, rearranging, clearing, making room, followed by extensive clean up well into the wee hours of the morning in our very tiny kitchen.

For one meal.

For a repast that is good, but…

I would have been happy with cheese and crackers. One charcuterie plate would have sufficed.

“I don’t suppose we could just order pizza?” I say.

“NO! WE ARE NOT ORDERING PIZZA!”

And right there, I have done it – I have rained on his parade, pre-emptively ruining his meal before it even began.

And his meal is my story.

Here is how the he-ruins-my-story part of it goes.

I’ll be knee deep, totally invested in a great yarn, a riveting account of some outrageous – and usually pretty hilarious – event, building momentum, leading to the apex of the tale, and suddenly,

“Hon – you have got to be kidding me! There is no way on earth a dog that size weighs that much! That is totally incorrect! That dog did not weigh eighty pounds. A basset hound doesn’t even weigh that much. It was more like fifty pounds – tops.”

And just like that – like a slow, noisy leak in a balloon, my wonderful tale – void of it’s lift – fluffers to the ground, deflated, limp, and lifeless.

Tripped up momentum, marred credibility, thwarted timing.

WAA…….. WAA…… WAA……

So, through the years we muddled along with this chaffing difference in our deeply rooted orientation of what is most important when socializing: the chow, or the banter. Most times things went smoothly, but every so often, we’d trammel each other, get mad, cool down, forgive, let time pass, and then repeat the whole darn thing all over again. I’d complain about the complexity of the menu because “It’s my family and we don’t care about the food!” and he correct me about some teeny-weeny minor point while I was mid-stride in a great recitation.

Then one day,mor

I hit upon the perfect analogy to help us both understand what we were doing to each other.

When I complain about his elaborate dishes, I am almost literally dumping an entire bottle of ketchup over the lovingly braised veal shanks that he has thoughtfully prepared.

And, when he interrupts my poetically licensed anecdote with a completely irrelevant correction, he is ketchup-drenching my story, too.

From that day forward it was better, and we seemed to understand.

So today of all days, let the Irish sing their songs and spin their yarns with gleeful abandon; I trust that you’ll find yourself having a rollicking good time right along with us.

Stories may not seem like much to some, but to us, they’re golden.

They are as good as a great meal – maybe even better,

and you never pour ketchup on a good meal.

5 thoughts on “Don’t Pour Ketchup on My Story

  1. Deb, wonderful post. It made me think inwardly how I do the same thing to Amy. She is a very detailed story teller and I too sometimes correct her over meaningless details and of course, immediately feel like a jerk for doing so. I am the only one who notices the “inaccuracy” of the detail she is professing. It really doesn’t matter and you have reminded me of that. So thanks. I’ll work harder to refrain! Hope to see you and Steve this fall. Happy St . Patricks Day.Tom K.

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    1. Tom!
      Happy Saint Patty’s for starters! Thank you for your kind words. Putting this all to paper gave me pause, too. It’s funny how alike and yet so differently oriented we can be. That different perspective explains a lot of behaviors, for sure. Hope to see you both in the not so distant future!
      Love and miss you both.

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  2. I enjoyed your slice and the back and forth between you and your husband. Mine also LOVES food. His meals have to be gussied up with rich flavors and plenty of seasonings. We’re also learning about cultures in class at the moment and it’s interesting to see the different perspectives based upon our origins and family traditions. Loved reading this to start my day!

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  3. What a great analogy! You’ve captured so much of you and your relationship here. I felt like an old friend walking into the house witnessing these moments.

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  4. I loved reading this!! So interesting and fitting to equate Irish stories to Italian foods.

    I loved the description of him ruining your story about the dog. Your vivid words made the balloon analogy come alive.

    And I’m definitely with you about the wedding. The music has to be amazing and keep everyone dancing all night!!

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