Tag Lines

I’m just back from a week of family camping. Blended family camping at that. Probably the most likely way to cause people to rub each other the wrong way is to stick them in close quarters. In the rain, even a six person tent gets tiny real fast. Getting them to set up the campsite in the rain is also likely to cause some frayed nerves. I’m thrilled to say that no nerves frayed, no toes were stepped upon and a good time was had by all. Also, it didn’t rain the whole time because that would’ve made for a very boring trip.

Why “tag lines” as a heading for this article? Because it occurred to me that every good yarn has some sort of tag line that makes it a memorable thread of shared history. One good friend has a pair of often-told stories about his family. One involves an “adult tree house” and another references to “tossing the salad.” Neither of them have anything to do with the smutty ideas both invoke. Each is a story unto itself, and not mine to tell. My point is that any such classic story evolves among friends. All someone needs to do is mention a word or phrase to set of gales of laughter among those in the know.

Here’s another. A group of my co-workers at one time included a fellow who never did anything but grumble. This took a very specific form: Everything sucked. The morning commuter traffic prompted a churlish snarl of “It sucks. I’m certain of it.” The weather? “It sucks. I’m certain of it.” Those chocolate chunk cookies someone brought in to share? “They suck. I’m certain of it.” You get the idea. His use of the phrase became a source of mirth for the rest of us. It could very well have been irritating in the extreme, but we turned it into something funny instead. We actually had to edit the phrase “it/that sucks” out of our vocabulary for a while. One of us might inadvertently remark, “Oh, wow. Dude, that sucks.” Only to be answered with the query, “But are you certain of it?” This invariably caused a few snorts of laughter and prompt the reply, “I’m certain of it.” Some one else might then echo, “She’s certain of it!” It got positively viral.

Songs do it too. A friend sent me a photo text that, when opened, began to blare Daniel Powter’s tune “You Had a Bad Day.” It was accompanied by a very twisted, totally NSFW photo involving a mice and a mouse trap. (Don’t even ask.) I laughed myself silly. To this day, if the song pops up on the radio or the canned music list in a shop or mall, I’ve got to suppress a snicker lest everyone around me assume I have lost my mind.

So too, it went on our blended family holiday, complete with the family dog. Will we ever forget the dog basket car seat? Or how it took a solid week to wear out the dog who normally operates in only one gear: non-stop earth orbit? Who could forget how we got cheerfully and politely busted–twice–for having her someplace she shouldn’t quite be? New England from Massachusetts to Maine is the most dog-friendly place I’ve ever been. who knew every shop and restaurant in town would welcome her with a treat and a bowl of water?

And then there’s the wrong turn someone emphatically stated was the right route. My better half’s boys are identical twins. They are identical in looks only. Their personalities and opinions are another matter. Both are adventurous and have a fair bit of Venture Club mileage, as well as numerous backpacking tales of mischief with their dad. This time, we ended up on a very, very long hike. It was totally worth it for the view, but my daughter–the only one under age 13 in the group–was, by the end, getting pretty sick of walking. I was only marginally behind her. She hugged the Jeep when we got back to the car, but don’t think it didn’t occur to me as well.

In any event, as we were getting close to the end of the trail, we had a choice: There was one way out and one way that would loop us back to the un-dog-friendly place we started from. Alex was convinced of the way to go. In fact, he was so confident that although his brother disagreed the consensus was to follow his lead. The dog fell in the creek, we wound up right back where we started, and my daughter instituted the defining joke of the trip. She dropped in agony to the ground and moaned, “This is all Alex’s fault!” From that moment on anything and everything became cause to blame poor Alex. Rain? All Alex’s fault. Wet tent? Wet dog? Missing items? All Alex’s fault. Poor Alex. He took it with grace and good humor. But it may be a long time before anyone forgets to tease him with this one.

Kathleen Ronan is a writer and a nurse, specializing in meditation for medical applications. She’s also a harpist, a bookworm, and a renaissance woman.

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