"Two plus two continues to make four, in spite of the whine of the amateur for three, or the cry of the critic for five."
-- James M. Whistler
With apologies to Frank Loesser, who wrote the Pearl Harbor battle song, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition" -- supposedly after a chaplain "laid down the Book" and "took up the gun" to help ward off the Japanese attack -- I thought I'd let the county commissioners, members of the Board of Education, and elected leaders everywhere know how well I understand what they are going through.
Albeit on a miniscule scale and for less than earth-shaking reasons, during my short stint as an organization president my efforts and fragile ego drew the painful darts of criticism, too.
Before I moved to the South, I had never worn a sundress. But during that first summer heat wave, more for survival than for fashion, I went shopping for what I thought the well-dressed, heat-resistant Southern lady would wear. To protect my Yankee propriety, however, I selected shoulder ruffles to minimize the missing sleeves, a solid color to minimize my vanishing figure, and a drawstring neckline I could pull tight enough to minimize any hint of immodesty.
I might still have the dress if I hadn't worn it to a women's meeting where I was the speaker. The speech went well, I thought, and the women gracious in their remarks when I finished -- except for the woman who said, "What a pretty dress! I just love it when women dress younger than they are."
I could hardly wait to get home and burn the only sundress I've ever owned.
For another speaking engagement, my mother, who represented our ample family size even better than I do, accompanied me to a church neither of us had attended before. I was flattered to see so many cars in the parking lot, but surprised to find only three women inside.
"Is this where the meeting is going to be?" I asked the woman in charge.
"Oh, no," she answered. "You want the sanctuary down the hall."
My mother and I left the tiny group preparing for some other activity, we supposed, and walked down the hall -- directly into a meeting of "Overeaters Anonymous." Although the "size" of this meeting was much larger than the one we had been escorted from, we gratefully retraced our steps back down the hall.
During a week-long series of meetings for the organization, I had no trouble at all remembering how well I fit into the flawed human race. My shapers and movers included:
The woman who appeared to be taking copious notes as I spoke, but who later apologized for making out her grocery list during my talk;
The presiding officer who whispered, "I thought you might need these," as she slipped a box of breath mints into my purse;
The young daughter of my host who announced as soon as I arrived, "You need a bath!" (In the child's defense as well as my own, I soon learned it was customary in that home for everyone to take a bath every night);
Another woman who, without knowing I was the young mother of two pre-teens, asked if I still had any children at home;
My own 10-year-old son, who sat in the front row during the last (formal) speech I ever gave in his presence, and gestured wildly at the imaginary watch on his wrist to let me know I had talked long enough.
Whether through ignorance, jest or intent, I suspect the national pastime of criticizing our public figures is here to stay. For their sakes I can only hope the higher they rise, the thicker their layer of skin. The only other advice I have to offer is, if you're going to keep opening your mouth, never leave home with your 10-year-old, or without your breath mints.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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