Archive for Sunday, August 8, 2004

Stupid questions often produce dumb answers

August 8, 2004


"What ARE these things?" I asked husband Ray, opening my hand to show him a half-dozen tiny tan balls I had picked up from the hundreds that littered our deck.

"Wild cherry pits," he replied.

"Cherry pits! How did they get on the deck?"

"The birds ate the cherries."

"Oh, so you mean ..." A nanosecond after I developed a mental picture of the avian digestive process that converted cherries into pits, my hand jerked reflexively, and the pits hit the floor.

Those questions -- and the answers they produced -- reminded me that life is full of answerable questions and questionable answers.

I personally have asked questions when I was pretty sure I wouldn't like the answers. Examples include:

  • "How fast was I going?" (asked of the deputy who stopped me several years ago on a county highway);
  • "Just exactly how dumb do you think I am?" (asked of my husband during a recent heated discussion); and
  • "You need my article WHEN?" (asked of a magazine editor).

Sometimes a question is answered by another question (usually a dumber one). Take the other day when I was in a discount store and picked up a nearby phone to ask where I might find metal cleaner. The polite voice on the other end inquired, "What's it used for?" When I answered that it was used for cleaning metal, she said, "I'm new here, so I really don't know."

Life teaches us that there are some questions folks should know better than to ask. Among them are, "When is your baby due?" I was present when this question was asked of a woman who was not -- repeat, NOT -- pregnant. The questionee's reaction wasn't pretty, but I shudder to think how much worse it might have been had her hormones been gestationally raging.

Several years ago, when Ray and I bumped into a long-lost female classmate at a restaurant, he learned not to ask, "How's Jerry?" (the man she married after graduation). She burst into tears and sobbed, "We're divorced."

For the record, Ray is married to a woman who generally cries only when someone dies. That he lacks practice in dealing with weeping women is evidenced by his attempt to comfort our sobbing classmate. "Oh, too bad. You were such a cute couple." Say WHAT? Say more "BOO-HOO," that's what!

Answers to questions about food should not be given while the inquirer is eating the food in question. As a bride, my mother-in-law was invited to a "rabbit supper," which she assumed featured wild rabbit. When informed that she was ingesting a domestically-raised white rabbit, she -- how can I put this delicately? -- HURLED! My mother had the same response when she learned that the Caesar salad she was enjoying included raw egg as an ingredient.

But Dad had a strong stomach, so hurling required physical inducement when he parched and ate a midnight snack of some colorful corn he found on the screened porch. After consuming the corn, he awakened my mother to inquire, "That corn on the back porch WAS Indian corn, wasn't it?"

"No," Mom sleepily replied, "that's treated corn for the garden."

I've always believed the phrase, "Gag me with a spoon!" began with Dad.

Kids, curious by nature, ask lots of questions. As children, my sisters and I routinely asked Clarence, our grandmother's blind friend, to guess what color dresses we were wearing. I don't remember who started that game, but Clarence always guessed right. Only years later did we realize that Grams sneakily tipped off Clarence by commenting, "My, the sky is blue today" or "The sunset was so red last night" or "That bird is such a vivid yellow."

Both Grams and Clarence, a lifelong bachelor without family, have been gone for decades, but whenever Ray and I visited Grams with our young sons, we patronized Clarence's popcorn wagon that graced the town's main street. On one visit, as we sat around Grams' table eating caramel and cinnamon popcorn, curiosity prompted me to ask her, "Was Clarence born blind?"

"No, Honey," Grams replied. "As a young man, he went on a trip to Chicago, met a bad woman and paid a terrible price when he got a disease."

"Oh, so you mean ..."

My popcorn-filled hand stopped midway between bowl and open mouth.

"It's OK, honey," Grams said, answering my unspoken question, "you can't get that disease by eating popcorn."

That was a very good answer.

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