My son recently returned from a happy reunion with good friends. They’d gathered to celebrate the marriage of a college pal whose family threw themselves into celebration with great abandon. Families are tricky under any circumstance and downright dangerous when the spirits rise. A relatively jolly round of toasting had warmed the room when the groom’s grandmother grabbed the microphone and annonced:
“The time has come for me to rank the grandchildren.”
The plug was pulled, the amp cooled, and most of the audience was spared grandma’s itemized assessment of an entire generation. She went on at length, with brio, but without amplification. One or two tender shoots may have been bruised, but most of her spawn were spared.
Awkward? Certainly. Worst ever? Probably not.
Toasts are almost guaranteed to bring acute embarassment and lingering regret. The Best Man stands and raises a glass to the groom and a former girl friend, the Father of the Bride describes her toilet training, a friend tries to make a profound connection between favorite food (hot dog) and husband to be -“He’ll be the hot dog you swallow now.”
Fear of public speaking is endemic, and a spur-of-the-moment toasting raises the stakes for anyone not comfortable ad-libbing in front of a crowd. On the other hand, some of the most carefully prepared toasts can miss the mark every bit as grotesquely.
“60% of marriages end in divorce, and in the rest you get to live happliy until death.” Glasses raised. “”Here’s hoping you die.”
I’m old enough to have heard my share of mangled speeches welcoming new employees to the team, one of which went south immediately and sank more emphatically with every effort to recover some slight vestige of dignity. The speaker, a man of about sixty-five, hoped to introduce a new employee who had been a childhood friend of his daughter.
“Here’s Leslie” would have sufficed, but, no, the impulse to get personal could not be squelshed.
“I remember when Leslie used to come over to our house, a cute kid with braces and a pony tail. She was more developed than Emily who was jealous of her figure…”
This aside was intended to prepare the audience for an appreciation of Leslie’s mature judgement and precocious ability as a manager, but slid sideways from the start.
“Boys were crazy about Leslie, surrounded her in droves, but she managed to beat them off without hurting their feelings.”
He must have been aware of the sudden shocked silence in the room. He reddened and tried to recover.
“I mean with a stick or club.”
“Not hurt them, you know. She’s always had a great touch …”
By this time, Leslie had left the room, his wife and daughter were seething, and the event was permanently scarred.
I’ve made more than my own share of bungled announcements, almost all of which were delivered in earnest and all of which backfired even as I spoke. Intending to thank the chair of the school’s prom committee, a school mother named Hickey Bitsy. I’m pretty sure I called her “Titsie”. I’m still blushing. Later, also in school setting, I tried to call returning students to a higher purpose: “Don’t hold back. Let a Math teacher share his fascination with Math with you, let an English teacher carry you into books that can change your life, let a language teacher French you …”
Just shoot me.
Actually, looking back on a career and life filed with things I most profoundly wish I hadn’t said, ranking grandkids seems relatively benign. I am determined to keep my feet out of my mouth, but I may need a designated interrupter on hand at all times to prevent me from digging yet another trench from which there is no escape.