The first belief that an individual makes, we’re told, forms in the twinkling of an eye, and it requires nothing short of an herculean effort to change that perception when it’s set. We have all been there. As we are leaving, we nonchalantly reach for the doorknob and gracefully open the door with a flourish, our eyes fixed on the person whom we want to impress. We wink as we casually but confidently saunter through the door, only to find ourselves in the hall cupboard.
There are dozens or maybe hundreds of times in all our lives when the first impression that we make on someone is a significant one. I can think of many examples from my life, right off the bat. The first day of school every year was a time when I’d attempt to set the tone so that the teacher would know I was none of those trouble makers. The initial impressions of potential hiring managers and police officers who pulled me over for speeding (incidentally, I was just given warnings both times, so the initial impressions must have been positive) have been important as well. Naturally, another first impression that could have a significant effect is the assembly of one’s future spouse.
One clear first impression not mentioned yet is that the belief that an individual makes on his future in-laws.
For reasons of privacy I won’t use my wife’s maiden name here, but let us suppose it’s Barnum, and let us call my wife Marie.
I was dating Marie for many months and I totally knew that she had been the one for me; Marie, likewise, knew that I was her knight in shining armor.
Ever since Marie was a young child, her family would spend their summers vacationing near South Haven, Michigan, in a cabin that her grandparents had bought back from the 1940’s. The cottage was located on a hill overlooking a scenic lake, and it was a favourite place to fish, swim, and escape from the summer heat of Chicago, where many of Marie’s relatives lived.
Marie’s mother had several sisters, each with kids, so Marie had a very long list of aunts, uncles, and cousins who also came around Michigan every summer. She would tell me stories about her sisters and brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents, but of course not having met them, I could not readily remember all those names.
It came to pass that the summer of 1985 came, and with it Marie was planning her yearly trek to Michigan to spend some time with her loved ones. She was going to spend two weeks in the cabin, and she encouraged me to join her during the middle weekend of her stay.
I was excited about meeting her loved ones and in demonstrating my worthiness at maybe getting Marie’s husband. I’d already met Marie’s father and I really liked him, and I was excited to satisfy up with the rest of her immediate family.
The fateful day arrived. I had made the long drive and arrived in the cabin just after lunchtime.
As we reached the door of the cabin, a woman walked out.
“That is Abigail MacPhee,” said Marie.
In that split second before anyone said anything, I was attempting to ascertain if I was being appraised and/or if they had been waiting for me to say something witty, but that split second passed and my time was up — one chance gone.
Marie immediately went round the room, telling me their names. There was an older man whose name appeared like Fyodor Drodgekey, after which I met Mrs. Drodgekey. I couldn’t recall Marie’s mum’s maiden name, but I did not believe it was Drodgekey.
I did recall that both Marie’s mother’s family and Marie’s dad’s family used to vacation on this lake — which was how her parents met — so the idea occurred to me that perhaps Drodgekey was the maiden name of Marie’s father’s mother. I didn’t understand.
I met many other people — Albert Thistlewhite, Greta Morocco, Celia Applebomb, and a couple of other people, and I smiled and said a quick hello to everyone before being hauled back out by Marie.
“Let us go down to the lake,” suggested Marie. “There are more people to fulfill.”
We walked back up the mountain and Marie suggested I get my swimsuit on so we can go swimming. I did.
Now, gentle reader, now in the narrative you might be expecting how the events of the day unfolded. I, however, was totally oblivious to it all.
Still, I was perplexed. My mind was swimming with names I’d never before heard — none of those names seemed like the names of cousins and aunts and uncles that Marie had said to me during our relationship, and I had this sort of restless feeling in my gut. “Marie,” I inquired, “When am I going to fulfill your loved ones?”
“Oh I know I have met all of your cousins and aunts and uncles, but how about your mother and your sisters and brothers?”
I suddenly felt myself turning beat red.
And we have given you a title — Oswald Skedelsky.”
“I … met … your mother?” I asked.
I was getting angry. I had wanted to create a great impression, and I had been so focused on fulfilling Marie’s immediate family that I just kind of said, “Howdy,” to all of the aunts and uncles and cousins with these odd names … and then it was that her mother and sisters were included in the mix!
“I am not going to guess,” I said. I was not quite pouting, but I sure was not in a fantastic mood.
“Abigail MacPhee is my mother.”
My mind raced back … Abigail was the first person I met upon arriving at the cabin.
I felt ashamed … I was humiliated and my pride was hurt. Marie made a remark about not having seen me be angry or upset before.
“I’m not mad,” I insisted.
“I’m NOT mad,” I repeated.
It did take me a while to get it over, I guess, or perhaps I never really quite got over it. I don’t understand. The thing I heard was it is irrelevant whether it’s the third cousin twice removed or the mother-in-law, we should always attempt to earn an excellent first impression.
Why create a fantastic first impression? We should not do it just because we want to be popular. That is the wrong motive.
Anyway, I did wind up marrying Marie and inheriting a amazing set of in-laws. Marie’s family has been great to me, and we are coming up on twenty-two decades of marriage.
Let us return to Michigan and complete this story.
For the remainder of the weekend, I had been trying my best to rectify any of the less than stellar first impressions I might have set. However …
There are times in a person’s life when he walks into a roomful of people and is thrilled to find all heads turn, all eyes look upward, and all ears attentive to what he’s going to say. There are other times, however, when he walks into a roomful of people, preferring to remain undetected and wishing for dear life that he could be invisible at the very moment.
The following day I had the chance to shout another word that people do not typically consider saying in this modern day and age, but if you thought about needing to say it you’d shudder. “Hey, I am stuck at the outhouse. Can somebody help me open the door?”