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(There is no) Curing a Ham

January 23, 2010

Things are not always what they’re cracked up to be.  I’m learning this and it is a good thing to learn before you die of disappointment. To start with, cake is never as good as it looks on the box.  I could list a whole bunch of things that fall into the disappointing category, but what I’d like to talk about instead is how to make them into a good story.  I’m finding life is a veritable kit for stories. First, as an exercise it beats complaining. The conversion takes a little time, usually – it’s a bit like curing a ham. Plus you need the right spices, so to speak, but I am telling you: if you are patient and resilient, you will have the best cache of stories right at your doorstep to keep you and your neighbors in stitches, if not in tears.

First story I recall: I am a little kid, my parents and their in-laws decide what a great idea it would be fly them and their eight children in a tiny, fragile plane to a little-known island in the Bahamas  and stay in a ramshackle house.  What we don’t know: the kids all get sick on the plane, there are no airsick bags, the island’s just been through a hurricane, the beach is full of jellyfish, the toilets won’t flush without a few buckets of water from the ocean, there is only powdered milk to drink and not enough beds so one person gets to sleep on a coffin carrier and the baby sleeps in a drawer.  Rough on the parents, maybe.  Kids: best trip we ever had, forty-four years later still paying dividends. Made us what we are.

Next: my brother and his girlfriend decide to go to Parma. The Breadbasket of Italy! Cheese! Bread! Ham!  I’m picturing rolling hills, terraced gardens, bread emerging from ancient wood ovens just for them, and everywhere the smell of ham. Instead they’re sandwiched between two semis on a four-lane highway in an unremarkable landscape, they get into a minor car accident in which no one is hurt but the car must be returned, they spend the next two days quietly huddled under synthetic blankets watching reruns of McCloud in Italian without subtitles at a Best Western on the edge of the industrial city of  Modena (home of Ferrari, also known for its production of excellent balsamic vinegar, but do they care?); which was, it turns out, the perfect balm for a small, travel-size nervous breakdown. Did they have fun watching an old American TV show in a language they did not understand? Yes.  It was just right. Would they have signed up for it in advance? Doubtful. Did they have fun telling the story? Did it bring tears to our collective eyes to hear it?  A resounding yes.

The list is endless.

Let me be clear: I am not proposing we look under every rock for a comic anecdote. Some rocks are heavy and just need lifting, also a great exercise unless one is Sisyphus.  All I’m saying is: in certain moments it pays to know how to cure a ham — or to recognize an incurable ham when you see one coming, and duck.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Matt Nicodemus permalink
    January 24, 2010 4:22 am

    Michelle, it’s wonderful to start reconnecting with you via your blog. Your rich awareness of your experiences, which comes through so well in your wonderfully engaging writing, is a joy to engage with. Thank you!

    Hoping we’ll get a chance to talk while I’m in the States next month,

    Matt

    • January 24, 2010 8:34 am

      What a lovely thing to say. I was just told my topics were too mundane. I write about what
      happens to me and I figure enough people are writing about the rest of it. So thank you.
      And yes, it would be great to hear from you.

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