My mom has this story that she sometimes shares about growing up and spending time with her older cousin, Paul. Paul was an only child who grew up in New York City, but spent summers living under the suburban reign of his Aunt, my grandmother Anne McVittie, and inheriting, for a time, three siblings. My mom often refers to Paul as the older brother she never had, and her admiration for him goes a long way.
Like any other oral tradition of storytelling, I’m sure the details of the story have morphed with each telling, including this one. It bears more resemblance to family folklore at this point than it does to serve as a historically accurate description of events. Fuzzy on details, but strong on heart.
It’s late 1950s, early 1960s. It’s summer, and Paul is a teenager, and there is a girl. The story goes that Paul has the chance to spend some time with this girl, and her family, but has my tag-along mom with him. Paul is eager to make a good impression, both with the girl and the family, and ropes my mom in to join his cause.
The story goes that Paul coaches young Rosemary on the type of etiquette that he expects out of her. I’m sure he covered his pleases and thank yous, and these would have flowed easily off my mother’s tongue. Raised by the nuns and Anne McVittie, Rosemary knew to dot her “i”s with poise. Next, Paul reminds her not to be a burden. Knowing that this family would of course be hospitable, Paul was concerned that he and Rosemary not take advantage. It was possible, even, that the visit would extend through a conventional lunch time.
Paul coached her specifically: “If they offer us lunch, just say that we’ve had a big breakfast.” This way, he figures, it wouldn’t be perceived as an offense against the hospitality, but it would work to save face on the good manners and impression that Paul wanted to make.
The visit is going well. The family likes Paul, and Rosemary is doing well to prop him up in his best light. Paul was right – lunch is offered. Rosemary repeats her lines, “No thanks, I’ve had a big breakfast” and there is no harm, no foul. The visit is, in fact, going so well that they linger throughout the afternoon. Lunch plates have been cleared, and now cocktails are being stirred. It’s eeking towards dinner time, and as the kitchen is buzzing with dinner prep, cheese and crackers, crudites begin appearing. Rosemary is hungry. She looks to Paul for guidance. Paul looks at the food, scans the scene, and holds fast to his end game: “No thanks,” he says to the hostess. “I’ve had a big breakfast.”
No, thanks; I’ve had a big breakfast.
It’s one of those things, now, that we say in jest in our family. We poke fun at our own inability to receive what is being offered.
Because, of course, as you’re seeing the story unfold from the outside, you know exactly where this is headed. The absurdity grows. You can see the misdirected advice here, you can understand where that hard line becomes thin and easily bendable. But Paul can’t. Rosemary can’t. Inside the story the pressures are real, the lines hard and fast.
I wonder how often in my life I’m stuck inside a script, inside a story, and I miss what is being offered to me. Sometimes it seems that the easier thing to do is simple say, “No thanks, I’ve got this” to save face, or to make some sort of impression. But often, I’m not paying attention to the rumble in my tummy that says I’m hungry for something else. Maybe my breakfast was a long, long time ago. It’s hard to go off script, to upend the expected outcomes. But what if Paul and Rosemary had eaten a sandwich for lunch? What if they had stayed for dinner? Maybe that’s where the beauty of life and grace comes out. What if the next time someone offers of their self to me I gracefully receive it?
When I button myself up so tight, when I strengthen my inability to receive help, I have fortified my inability to receive grace. If I can never allow myself to feel the hunger, I’ll never know what it feels like to be full.
Maybe you had a big breakfast, and maybe you didn’t. But I’m not going to stop offering food, offering love, and grace, and hands to hold the door for you. And may I have the courage to receive all that is held out to me, too.
This is part of a series that I post occasionally about the family sayings and folklore that are meaningful to me, especially in my family history, as a way to explore my own Story. Similar posts can be found here: back to zero, or here: near ‘nough. or here: it’s not that windy. or here: FHB. Tell me some of yours!