First, Hear the Story

I will never forget this one specific Christmas at my Aunt Maureen’s. Although the ham tasted great that year, the tree had marvelous sparkle, and memorable gifts given, those typical  Christmas images are not why it will stick with me. I will always recall this Christmas for a unique reason.

You see, my Dad’s side of the family is a bit notorious for running late. Being that my Dad passed away when I was young, I am not entirely sure if he inherited this trait or not, but the majority of his 9 brothers and sisters seemed to get the tardiness gene.

If a family function was to start at 5, I knew most would not show until 5:30. If we were suppose to eat at 6, plan for 7. Even if the physical bodies we need for the function to begin were present, there were always extra elements that had to be adjusted in order for anything to truly happen. Knowing this, I began to adapt. If they said 4, I did not try to get there until 4:20. Dinner time at 5? I will eat a snack at 4 because 5 o’clock ain’t happening, and the snack will be my lifesaver.

All that said, there is one aunt that you could count on being there on time. She would perhaps even complain about everyone else being late or unprepared. She though married into the mix, so her blood did not run with the inability to be punctual. In fact, I would say my Aunt Sue ran a tight ship, and the rest of her family, her two adult children, one with a handicap, and son-in-law, Julien, would arrive with her, on time. And even though her husband, the actual connection to the family, had passed away, she still came to all family functions.

Now, this particular Christmas, Aunt Sue was not there when I arrived. Aunt Sue and her family were not there when all the others began to trickle in to Aunt Maureen’s house. Aunt Sue and her family were also not there when it was time to pull the Christmas ham out of the oven. Everyone was there but Sue’s family, and we were all hungry, already behind schedule, and a bit curious, possibly even a little perturbed because of her absence.

“How about someone call Sue and find out where she is,” my Aunt Irene said.

“I’ve called twice. She did not answer. Why is she not here yet?” my Aunt Maureen responded.

“Well, it is past time for them all to be here,” my Aunt Patti added.

You could tell there was a bit of aggravation in everyone’s voice, coupled with a tiny bit of concern……but mostly annoyance. We were hungry. And it was Christmas.

After waiting a little more, Maureen chimed in with, “I’m calling again.”

The aroma of the ham was intoxicating. The smell of the brownies was almost more than we could bear, teasing us from the platter. It was time to figure out how much longer we had to wait to eat that delicious food. All eyes were on the host as she dialed.

“Hey Sue, how much longer til you are here? Everyone else is here.”

There was a pause from Maureen, followed by a gasp. “Ok, we will see you soon.”

She hung up the phone and turned to the rest of us. “Julien’s mom was found dead in her back yard. [insert long pause] She shot herself.”

And that was why they were late. His mom committed suicide, on Christmas day.

And yes, you read that above sentence correctly. She shot herself on Christmas.

We barely had time to let the words hit our ears and they all walked in the door. Julien still wanted to come. His mom lived many states away and there was nothing that he felt he could do at this point. We gathered around him, prayed for him, wept with him, and then, as odd as it sounds, we ate ham.

That is why I will never forget that Christmas. It was such a shock, completely unexpected, and beyond tragic. I remember him sitting across the table from me and talking small talk. I really couldn’t fathom how we was able to form words and speak.

Above all, I was glad no one got extremely ticked off that they were late, very late, for Christmas dinner.

Could you image being that person? You dial the numbers, Sue picks up, and you ream her for being so inconsiderate of your preparations and your ham. You let her have a piece of your mind, for everyone is waiting on her and she did not even have the consideration to call and let you know she was going to be late. Just imagine for a moment being that person, and even though it did not happen, imagine it did. And after you said your part, you are hit with those words “Julien’s mom was found dead in her back yard. She shot herself.” What an ass you would have been. What guilt you would have felt. Think of how many words you would have to eat.

And ever since that Christmas, I have tried to be better about hearing the story first, before I react. I am no where near perfect, trust me, but behind most situations there is a story, which just might justify, explain, or perhaps even condone the actions.

As if the example above was not enough, I just heard a story recently of a man whose momma kept a close eye on him while he sat on the front church pew at church while she sat in the choir. If he jostled, she gave him the evil eye. One Sunday, he was fidgety. He got up and went out of the sanctuary, and when she caught up to him in the hallway, she spanked him. After his woopin’, as my Nannie would call it, she got the story: he had gotten up to go and vomit in the bathroom. He was in great pain. A trip to the ER and an emergency appendectomy later, think of all that mommy guilt she felt. Yikes!

If only she had asked for the story first.

Now, sometimes, after hearing the why, your gut reaction might be appropriate. Or it may not. But I promise you will have always wanted to play that one on the safe side.

First, find out the story, for it will sometimes help you save face in the end.


4 thoughts on “First, Hear the Story

  1. Thanks for this, Summer. I am notorious for reacting and this is a poignant and personal reminder that everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt and hearing their story first.

  2. Summer, it is crazy that you posted this today because it is the anniversary of my cousin, Josh, who killed himself. I was at my friend’s house when I found out. My brother came to get me. Normally, if it was time to go home, my mom would call me, so I found it odd that my brother came in person to tell me that it was time to leave. I wasn’t ready to leave, so he was forced to tell me why it was time to go home. Josh had killed himself.

    • Jodi: Sorry to hear of Josh’s death. I think that your story, too, relates but in an opposite way. Sometimes we just need to do what we are asked, even if we do not have all the details. That request to come home was an important one. May you be comforted today, Jodi!

  3. This is missed so much, in so many aspects of our daily life. How often do we place judgment so quickly on those that we may not know what is really going on.

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