"That's how we do things in America!"
I'd like to say I pulled that quote off some uber-patriotic banner or online ad for the military. Or I could say I heard it in a country song on the radio, but I didn't because I don't like country music.
Fact is, the quote came from the mouth of my Lovely Wife while we were in the middle of Colonial Williamsburg, one of our nation's most popular historic tourist attractions that was restored and is maintained, according to Wikipedia, to educate the modern world about "how diverse peoples, having different and sometimes conflicting ambitions, evolved into a society that valued liberty and equality."
Well, the people from Wikipedia never met my Lovely Wife. They also never met the woman we encountered during our day at Colonial Williamsburg two years ago. But I should set the scene before I get into the details.
For anyone who has not visited Colonial Williamsburg, it is the restored former center of government of the Colony of Virginia. The houses, shops and other buildings are as authentic to the period as possible, while actors in period garb speak and work like those who lived in the 18th Century.
Unfortunately, on the hot July day we attended the site, the festivities were not very festive. It seemed the curators of this living museum were going to great lengths to show us that dodging horse manure and shifting a few inches at a time to stay in the shade of the largest tree along the dusty main street were the most exciting things colonial-era people had to do each day.
To escape the glaring sunshine, a hundred or so of us gathered in a small outdoor amphitheater behind the historic coffeehouse to hear one of the few costumed actors who showed up to work that day pretending to be some famous historical figure who did something important in knee-high stockings and a powdered wig a couple centuries ago.
Across the amphitheater from us sat a couple with a young son who kept whining in that special way only certain simpering brats can accomplish. His mother was no better. She prattled on in some eastern European language, unsuccessfully reprimanding her child out of one side of her mouth while clearly brow-beating her hapless husband out of the other. When he reached the point most of us in the audience had already surpassed, the husband stood up and started walking away from them. All I could think was, "Ten years too late, buddy."
His son launched after him loudly squawking "Papa" over and over again. Showing the same lack of fortitude and self-esteem that likely got him married to his shrewish wife in the first place, he returned to his seat for the remainder of the show.
When the performance was completed, it was announced that there would be a short wait before the re-enactment of the reading of one of our country's founding documents from the balcony of the Capitol building next door. While many of us sought out ye olde lavatory, my brother found a spot along the edge of the street where his kids and ours could sit while watching the re-enactment. My Lovely Wife and I joined him as our family rejoined us for the event.
Long story made short, the prattling nag from the Eastern Bloc attempted to annex the space we had saved for our children and seemed intent on parking herself in front of them, blocking their view with an ass as wide as the Berlin Wall. Gestures and nasty glances gave way to angry mutterings which eventually led my Lovely Wife to ask the woman if there was a problem.
I hate to sound like I'm rationalizing, but given the heat and the overall lack of enjoyment of the experience to that point, we were already a little cranky. The prospect of a late lunch wasn't helping, either. So, when Helga, who clearly was accustomed to getting her way, decided to square off with my Lovely little Italian Wife, she might not have expected a retaliatory strike to rival Operation Shock and Awe.
Starting off by explaining how people attending these kinds of functions usually don't stand in front of each other, especially in front of children, my Lovely Wife decided to go for the big finish by adding -- "That's how we do things in America!"
There are times when everything seems to slow down and you realize just how much data you're capable of processing in a very short span of time.
I remember with great clarity the "Oh my God" sensation in the pit of my stomach and how it mixed quite uneasily with my desire to burst out laughing at what I thought was the most deservedly, harshly, caustically funny thing I had heard all year. I remember the "she didn't really say that" look on my brother's face as his eyes popped open. And I remember the instantaneous rushing of blood to every surface of Helga's face and the complete draining of color from her husband's as he took a quick step away from his wife.
Perhaps realizing that her husband would not be backing her up, Helga simply sputtered that she was an American, too. Not content to leave a wounded animal writhing in pain, my Lovely Wife went for the finishing blow by saying, "Then act like it!"
Upon reflection, I am appreciative that the woman's husband was by degrees more spineless than I, and that the woman herself backed down like most schoolyard bullies do when someone stands up to them.
Do I think Helga deserved what she got? You betcha.
Do I love my feisty little Lovely Wife? Hell, yes.
© Mark Feggeler