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My face reddens easily, but never more quickly than when I say something I shouldn't. I can take back what I write, at least before the paper goes to print, but words that leave my mouth can't be retracted.
I had one of those, "you didn't think before speaking" moments recently when I ran across two women at a Christmas parade. I had common friends with one woman, who was standing there with another lady. They favored one another greatly. The friend of a friend with whom I was speaking referred to the person standing nearby and said they lived in the same city in Kentucky. I then said something like, "Oh, is this your mother?"
The other woman, who was definitely several years older than the friend of a friend, turned and nearly shouted. "I'm her sister."
I apologized, twice, three times, but the damage had been done. I wished I'd have been anywhere else. If thoughts could kill, I'd have been evaporated on the spot.
How many years' difference were there in the sisters' ages? I don't know and wasn't about to ask. I slipped away into the darkness.
I've made similar generational mistakes before, once asking one man in his 50s if the two children in the stroller he was pushing were his grandkids. He had married in later life. The boys were his. Ouch.
As a kid of 12 or 14 I once derailed a 4-H cookout. As the adults cooked and chatted, we 4-H'ers played Red Rover, the game in which kids form lines by holding hands and try to hold back a player from other side as they run and try to break through.
When it was my turn to call another girl, I added a few words to the usual script, "Red Rover, Red Rover, send (girl's name) right over. Because she's a tank!"
The girl was large.
Her father heard me and instead of coming over and lecturing me about being insensitive, grabbed his wife and kids in a huff, packed them in the family car and drove off.
He overreacted and I felt bad about for about 10 minutes. Then we laughed it off and I was famous among my friends for a few days.
Like most adults who try not to be cads, I'm conscious about what I say, not using foul language around people who don't already talk like sailors or talk about topics where I know I have views different from someone else within earshot. But mistakes are bound to happen.
Once, while talking about a vacation to France I mentioned that I'd eaten a horse steak at a restaurant. A woman listening on the other side, who I knew was an animal lover, nearly fell off her chair. She didn't yell at me but I knew she would have liked to have served me for dinner that night.
I didn't kill the horse, I later told her in a defense that never got me very far. I was just curious about what a slab or horse would taste like.
"What if you wanted to know what your dog tasted like. Would you cook the dog? Some people eat them, too," she quizzed me. I told her I don't have a dog but would never eat one.
Verbal slip ups and faux pas are bound to happen, but I'll try to avoid the generational ones that can be avoided by never assuming someone is someone else's daughter, kid, mother or grandparent.
I'll let others provide me with that information. Assumptions sometimes miss the mark.