Boasting: Never a Good Idea
Remember that high school episode when a girl (who wasn’t the least bit cute) stole your boyfriend (the one you kinda took for granted, seeing as how you were cute and SUCH a catch) – and you didn’t even see it coming? What a shocking, tear-filled, angst-ridden experience that was!
Remember when you pulled an all-nighter for that college exam solely for the anticipated pleasure of setting the curve and a teensy bit of boasting afterward? Remember your roommate, that sorry excuse for a student (who never cracked a book) who beat you by ten crummy points on said exam?
Thought so. I’ll stop right there with my trip down Memory Lane. Like me, you probably have a host of memories like these that you cannot seem to expunge. Fortunately, most of us don’t dwell on them. We hardly ever think of them till some spoil-sport like me brings them up.
Fortunately, they’re pretty confined: they’re very personal experiences. Very few, if any, people in your current life know your old and painful stories. Thank goodness, because that means you won’t hear them endlessly retold.
Family stories, on the other hand, are property held in joint tenancy. Folks sharing the same twisty DNA strands all have “rights” to them. And most families do have stories they like to tell on each other over and over and over. Eventually (in most families), even the chump of the story is able to laugh after enough time passes. Read on for a superb example of family lore – with an easy-to-remember, pay-attention point, of course. Spoiler Alert: it has a most gratifying conclusion.
The Surprising Variants
of Fishing Tackle
Once upon a time, there was a Big Brother who had been invited on a weekend fishing trip just far enough from home to make it an adventure. He was to fish on a trout river reputed to supply boatloads of trout to savvy anglers. Topping the imagined fish haul was the company he’d keep. He and his father would join his father’s friend and that friend’s son (also a friend of Big Brother). Four guys doin’ what guys do. Yessiree, it was shaping up to be a testosterone-infused weekend, with a cooler full of fish at its propitious end.
Big Brother had two sisters. The older of the two played it cool. Even though she, too, dearly loved fishing, she would not give proud Big Brother the satisfaction of knowing she would’ve loved to go, too, if she’d been invited and if it wasn’t so much a guy-bonding trip. By the way, this was an exhibit of wisdom-beyond-years: never enter the fray unless you have a decent shot at winning. She knew she had no chance of being invited on this fishing trip, so she did the wise thing: she kept her powder dry.
The younger of Big Brother’s sisters being all of six years younger, didn’t possess the maturity to be coy or wise. She could barely hide her ire that jerky Big Brother had been invited to go somewhere and she had not. She didn’t care that much about fishing; it was the irritating unfairness of it all that set her off. Big Brother got to go everywhere, and she NEVER got to go anywhere!
As big brothers are prone to do, this one boasted and crowed and then boasted some more. He boasted about the special restaurant meals they’d eat. (Restaurants were seldom in this family’s budget.) He boasted about how late they’d stay up. He boasted about how many trout they’d catch. He boasted about how yummy those trout would taste after being roasted over a campfire.
Little Sister silently fumed. She maintained her cool but only just. And then, a day or two before lift off, she suddenly flipped off the Cool Resentment Switch and flipped on the Syrupy Sugar Switch.
- “I do hope you have a nice time.”
- “Oh, I’ll bet the weather will be perfect.”
- “Maybe you’ll catch bunches of fish!”
And on and on.
Mamma was mildly puzzled. Dad didn’t even notice. Big Brother was oblivious, being too full of himself to question the 180-degree reversal. Middle Child, though, quietly observed this new development but kept her theories to herself.
As the intrepid fishermen backed out of the carport, Little Sister stood beside Mamma and Middle Child to wave good-bye. Waving cheerily as they passed, she skipped back into the house to her dolls.
As the day went on, Mamma gave this scenario further thought and began to smell a rat. Pretty sure something had occurred that she might ought to be concerned about, she asked Little Sister, “And why are you so cheerful, Little Missy?” Little Sister innocently answered, “I’d sure like to be in that boat right about now” and continued playing contentedly. Family lore has it that she had that sweet glow of contentment that comes only with the flawless delivery of well-deserved revenge.
Meanwhile, in the boat, it was time to get serious about the manly job of fishing. Dad and his friend put their heads together to decide what the trout would bite on, given the time of year, type of trout, yadda, yadda, yadda. Big Brother and his friend imitated their fathers and opened their tackle boxes to find the same lures.
At this point is when Little Sister’s precocious insight into what winds up testosterone-filled boys had its intended effect. As cocky Big Brother confidently flipped open his tackle box to pull out the correct lure, he found something that didn’t look very lure-ish. At that precise moment, the air explosively escaped from his testosterone balloon. Little Sister, playing contentedly with her dolls 200 miles away, had just poked a big ole fat pin in that sucker.
Quickly whapping the tackle box shut and already sweating profusely, he nervously reviewed his options.
- He could pretend to be sick and ask to be taken back to the motel. Nah. Dad, not known for empathy, was fixated on a full day of fishing and would just tell him to barf over the side of the boat and get over it.
- He could “accidentally” dump the whole tackle box into the lake and ask to borrow lures from the others. Nah. Then he’d be minus fishing tackle from now on – not just for a weekend. Even in his panicked state, he realized that was a long-term solution to a short-term problem. It’d taken years and a lot of part-time-work moolah to accumulate his stash; it’d be dumb to throw it all in the drink.
- He could inch the lid open, pull out the testosterone deflater, and surreptitiously throw it over the side of the boat. Nah. The dang thing would float, Dad would recognize it, and blab to the others.
Big Brother, knowing exactly who had placed the testosterone deflater in his tackle box, decided there was no rational escape from facing the consequences of his insufferable behavior toward Little Sister. He resolutely opened the tackle box, calmly removed Teddy (his trusty bear friend from his toddler years), gave Teddy the little bit of dignity he could by sitting him upright in the bottom of the boat, and acted as if this were perfectly normal behavior for a teenage boy on a guy fishing trip.
By all accounts, this was Little Sister’s stupendous coup de grâce. It gets even better when you start speculating on Big Brother’s explanation, as he feigned shock and surprise. “I don’t know how this got into my tackle box!” and “Of course, I don’t still sleep with a teddy bear!” (As he was an uneducated Philistine when it came to knowing Shakespeare, he probably hadn’t heard about “Methinks thou doth protest too much.”) We can only assume (since he’s not telling) that as he kept up his protestations of innocence, the other three guys in the boat became more and more certain they’d invited a colossal SISSY on their testosterone trip.
You gotta love this kind of story. And as I’ve said before, I don’t make this stuff up (at least not the basic story outline).* I merely report it.
You’re laughing now, but I’m sure you’ve had similarly humbling experiences that you very much deserved. And you remember it’s never funny when you’re in the middle of it. In fact, just like Big Brother, not only did you fail to see the humor, you were probably just as devastated, mortified, and ready for revenge. The good news is that Big Brother, like most of us, learned to see the humor, tell the story on himself, and even laugh at himself.
What’s the pay-attention point? I should think it would be painfully obvious.
Boasting is a bad habit.
It never works out well
in the long run.
Family lore ends abruptly at this point of the story. Evidently, there were no serious repercussions for Little Sister. Everyone else in the family probably wished they’d thought of Tackle Box Teddy, and it’s highly unlikely Big Brother received “you poor thing” murmurings of sympathy from any of them.
Lacking familial sympathy, Big Brother was forced to learn a humiliating, pay-attention lesson. Even in his teenage, brain-dead condition, he’d worked out the simple truth of the matter by the end of the more-exciting-than-he’d-planned fishing trip. He’d received what he deserved for his incessant boasting, should forgo revenge, and leave well enough alone.
I, however, never leave well enough alone. (Borrrrring.) Once a year, I give Tackle Box Teddy a well-deserved place of honor under our Christmas tree. Yes, I’m Big Brother’s wife, and I drag out moth-eaten Teddy and dress him in a fluffy, estrogen-laced tartan bow. (I have to put something around the poor thing’s neck to hide the hole created by a botched tracheotomy from yesteryear.) Yes, Tackle Box Teddy is an excellent reminder for Big Brother that boasting NEVER, EVER pays off.
It keeps him humble. Well, not really. Learning that boasting never, ever pays off turns out to be a slippery pay-attention lesson that slides away from Big Brother from time to time. Occasionally, Tackle Box Teddy has to make a between-Christmases visit to administer some much-needed comeuppance. And it works – for awhile. (One of my many comeuppances came early in our marriage.
*A semi-admission of guilt: Seeing as how I wasn’t actually present at this party, some of the “facts” may be slightly embellished – or not. Who’s to say?
2016, Teresa Bennett