Everything has to be a contest in my family. Seriously. Everything. Maybe that kind of thing happens whenever you take a bunch of people with different personalities and tell them that they have to like each other. I personally believe that it’s an Incan curse of some kind. Either way, there were times when it could get really bad.
Such as my brother Fred’s wedding. Fred and Jane were an excellent couple. These aren’t real names, because as you will see, we have reason to protect our anonymity. Anyway, I was more than happy to get the chance to give a speech when Fred asked me to. It should have been a lovely occasion. But then my family’s competitveness messed up everything. And believe it or not, here’s how.
I won’t go too carefully over my speech. Suffice it to say that it was reasonably innocuous. You know. The good times that I had with Fred. How wonderful Jane is. I’m sure that you guys will be totally happy together. Innocuous, but utterly heart-felt. When I had finished, my cousin Arthur came in.
I won’t say that his speech was identical to mine, because there were in fact significant differences. In the wording. And nothing else. But we weren’t done yet.
Because my father hadn’t quite thrown in his oar. “Two fine speeches!” he said. “However, they’re both missing something.” He took a long pause. But long pauses are only dramatic when there’s some suspense as to what’s going to come afterwards, and for us there was none. “Both of those fine, fine, only fine speeches are missing any reference at all the good Lord in heaven above! Because after all, what’s the use of giving a wedding speech unless that wedding speech indicates how the wedding is blessed by God? Because without that, such ‘fine’ speeches could be blessing the marriage of two people of the same gender, and there’s nothing fine about that. So let’s all have a toast to God! And heterosexuality!” Mother nudged him. “Oh. And, um, to you two, one man and one woman as well.”
That certainly wasn’t the end. Next up would come in one of my other cousins, Bob, in predictable response. “Another toast! This one goes to rationality! Rationality and logic which, opposed, not aided by foolish blind faith led us from our state of primitives to our current state of having mastery, one might say dominion over the Earth and all things. Rationality! Guider of the greatest of human thought.” Someone nudged him. “And also guider of you two meeting. Because your coupling is, um, rational. Surely.”
Before Father could reply, Aunt Helen was already toasting. “I give a toast to hate. We have come to celebrate the love of two wonderful young people, but what is the use of love when not composed to hate? Hatred, say, for a man, pardon, person, who never interacts civilly, who never cleans up, who never thinks, who never does anything but exist? Does not this hatred deserve equal recognition along with their love? Um, because of the opposite thing that I just mentioned towards the beginning.”
Aunt Helen’s recently estranged husband hurriedly rose up. “I also offer a toast! A toast to speedy separations. Because, um… I guess the opposite thing that horrible, horrible creature just mentioned. Or whatnot.”
Another cousin, Ethel, stood up before that argument could continue. I shall offer a similar toast. To myself. Because I am a wonderful person. I am working on a doctorate in science, and have recently published a book that may be purchased for 16.99 in hardback or a mere 7.99 in paperback and containing much useful and fascinating information that only one such as I could have written. Because, um, as a couple you will surely follow my example of stunning ability.
Then it was my grandfather’s turn. “Oh yeah? I offer a toast to the year 1482. Although I wasn’t there I read about it, and I happen to know that that was a time when age was respected and people knew their place! Unlike these young whippersnappers nowadays with their skateboards and algebra and paperback books that cost money. Give me trade and bartering any day! Which is a good toast because, um, you two will be as good a couple as 1482 is good is a year. Whippersnappers!”
And the next second, in a pure display of collective family love, the entire family stood to give many, many more toasts simultaneously and with increasing love represented by the passion of our voices. I say our because about halfway through this, I realized that somehow I was doing too, toasting not-plagiarism or not taking more cake than is your share or something. Meanwhile, the bride family, not feeling that it could compare to our love, stayed silent, and the bride and groom silently stole away. The curse had struck again.