June 21, 2023–You know my biggest fear about getting older?
It’s not senility. It’s not immobility.
It’s not hair growing out my ears or having a house that smells like mothballs.
It’s getting the “repeating disease.”
Repeating disease is the tendency to tell the same tale over and over. It’s especially rampant in old men, although I’ve known my share of old women that tell you a story for the 20th time with the same verve as if it just happened yesterday.
And age is not always a factor. Those “back of the bus” stories we heard in junior high were often retold and supplemented over subsequent years.
Why do we repeat ourselves?
Often old stories are retold by people who have stopped creating new stories. These are people in nursing homes, retirees, and generally anyone who has stopped traveling, trying new foods, or going on adventures. They get their news from cable 24/7, their entertainment from reruns, and their opinions from letters to the editor.
I am especially apprehensive because I am a dad. Dads are the biggest culprit in repeating stories. My dad often repeated stories, often in the same day. I attributed it to him not being able to keep track of which of his 9 kids he had already talked to. But I think some of the repeating disease is genetic, which really worries me.
Because my grandma and aunts were Midwest champions at wringing 30 minutes of talk out of a 7-word sentence.
“Sure was a bad storm last week.”
“Sure was… I heard they had a foot of snow over in Ainsworth.”
“Yep, saw that on the Channel 9 news. A whole foot. In one day.”
“Yep, over in Ainsworth.”
“That’s where Aunt Isabel’s cousin got trapped out in one snowstorm in ’48 and nearly died.”
“This storm wasn’t that bad. But it sure was a bad storm, for Ainsworth.”
“Nearly a foot of snow, I heard.”
“Was it that much? Don’t think we got but 8 inches here. But then, I didn’t see the Channel 9 news.”
“Yep, that’s what they said. A foot. Bad storm.”
During dinner, they’d come back to it and rehash all the high points. No starving mongrel who stumbled on a week-old deer carcass got more nourishment out of a pile of bones than those ladies did out of one banal observation.
We all do it. And we all enable others to do it. When your good friend sets off into a tale that he thinks is fresh, but you’ve heard him tell it three times before, what can you do?
“Hey, you already told me that pointless story.”
No. You just smile inanely and think about that foot of snow you had in ’78. You’re too nice to interrupt him.
So the cycle repeats.
I don’t want my kids to enable me. I want them to tell me if they have heard the story before. George Burns wrote that he and Gracie developed a system to turn off awkward conversation. It was meant to keep from talking about sensitive topics, such as Gracie buying another hat or George’s alleged infidelities. But it would work for anything.
The trick? Whenever one of them broached a sensitive subject, the other would simply say, “Pass the salt.”
The subject was dropped.
So, kids, friends, dinner mates, casual acquaintances at church socials–please do that. When I launch into a twice-told tale, stop me by prompting me to “pass the salt.”
Let’s all do that. Maybe it will add spice to our conversations.