Don’t Say That!

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As a seasoned adult, I’ve realized there are some things better thought than said. The few times I’ve forgotten and started to say things I shouldn’t, a gentle kick under the table, a polite poke in the ribs, or a stern look from The Wife has been a helpful reminder.

She’s right to remind me, of course. Even though my parents believe you could wash words out of our mouths with a bar of Ivory soap, if you say the wrong thing, words are still out in the universe and can’t be washed away.

For the first story of 2022, let’s look at two things I’ve learned to never say again. The first I only said once. The second I’ve said only three times … so far. After all, this year’s just getting started.

For those seven magical years we spent growing up on Flamingo Street, there wasn’t a day that went by one of us kids wasn’t in some kind of trouble. When caught, our parents punished us by sending us to our rooms, making us cut or rake the yard, or writing a sentence a hundred times stating we would never do it again.

If what we did was bad, Dad sent us to the backyard to fetch a switch. For years I thought they named our tree a weeping willow because if we had to fetch a switch from it, one of us was gonna be weeping soon.

Now I don’t want anyone to think my parents spanked us constantly — they didn’t. I can still remember the seven times I did something really bad. For six of those, I was told to fetch a switch for punishment, and I did, but not for the seventh. For the seventh, Dad stood up and sternly inquired, “What did you say?”

What not to say to your dad when you’re a teenager who just got into trouble. It was the seventh year we lived on Flamingo, and unbeknownst to any of us, it was to be the last. That spring I’d turned thirteen and thought I didn’t have to follow my parent’s rules anymore. After all, I was a teenager.

After fighting with my brothers all day and then being disrespectful to Mom right in front of him, Dad had had enough. He told me to go to the backyard and fetch him a switch. I immediately responded, “You can’t make me.” Dad stood up and asked me to repeat what I had said, so I did, “You can’t make me.”

He looked at me for a long time then his face went sad as he turned and slowly walked away without saying a word. Later that night I apologized, but he still didn’t speak to me for almost a month. It was the worst punishment I ever received, and I never said those words to him again.

As an adult, I’ve learned there are many other things you should not say, but I have only enough room in this column for one. At the end of 2018, a particularly hard year for The Wife and me, we went to Five Guys for our traditional New Year’s Day burger and fries. While waiting for our meal, I said, “This year can’t be as bad as last year.”

She was shocked and told me not to ever say that — things can always get worse. I dismissed her comment, and we enjoyed our traditional meal, but The Wife was right. That was the year I had eight operations.

On New Year’s Day 2020, we ate lunch at Five Guys, I stated again, this time with utter confidence, “This year can’t be as bad as last year.” The Wife reminded me what had happened the last time I had made that statement. Hadn’t I’d learned my lesson? Guess not, because I shrugged off her comment and ordered extra fries.

The next month the pandemic hit, everyone went into lockdown, and we lost The Boy in May.

On New Year’s Day 2021, we ate lunch at Five Guys again, and thinking back over the previous year I sadly whispered, “This year can’t possibly be as bad as last year.” The Wife hugged me and again asked me not to say that. Things could always get worse. We ate our burger and fries without saying another word. None were needed. It had been a dreadful year.

On New Year’s Day 2022, The Wife and I ate our traditional meal at Five Guys. Looking back on the past year, the pandemic is still raging, in-person school was on-again-off-again around our house due to kids being twice exposed and sent home for ten days for quarantine and virtual learning, most store shelves were bare or hard to stock, home fuel bills were sky high, gas doubled in price, plumbers and electricians were impossible to find, doctors weren’t taking new patients, and now hospitals are overflowing with Covid patients once again.

And to make everything worse, Little One, Sweet Caroline and their mom moved out in August for a new home of their own, leaving their Big Papa and Gigi alone in a big house.

But I’d learned my lesson. As we ate our burger and fries, I realized I would never again say, “This year can’t be as bad as last year.” And you can’t make me.

[Rick Ryckeley has been writing stories since 2001.]