While visiting my parents, I saw a watercolor I did years ago of my grandmother and her best friend, Lea. I wrote a story to go with the illustration . . . on a typewriter. Let’s just say it was early writing. I rewrote it a bit for God Glimpses. Here’s the story in a condensed version:
I can’t remember ever hearing my grandmother say an unkind word about anyone. Not once.
I often heard her exclaim, “If you can’t find anything good to say, don’t say anything at all!”
As a result, her friendship with her neighbor Lea was a puzzlement to me. Lea was large, loud and boisterous. Grandma was tiny and meek. Grandma was a sparrow, bright-eyed, darting about, rarely sitting down. Lea was an emperor penguin, landing with an “oomph” into whatever room or chair would accommodate her presence.
Almost every day Lea would come by, just in time to watch her favorite soaps with my grandmother. During the programs, Lea would exclaim, “Why I never!” and “Did you hear what he just said to her?” and “Don’t you believe him honey. He’s up to no good!” My grandma would simply “tsk, tsk” and shake her head. During commercials, they retold what they had just seen, as though they hadn’t both been sitting there the entire time. When the last show ended, they would both sigh, sorry that they had to wait another day to find out what would happen next.
That was when the real stories came out. The stories about politics, and the neighbors. Childish curiosity pulled me into the room when the TV went off. It wasn’t the politics — it was the stories. Two-headed calves, cattle rustling, jealousies over prize-winning quilts and jellies at the county fair, and other stories unique to farm life. But invariably, the influence of the soaps turned the conversation to the relationships between neighboring farmers, and especially their wives.
Grandma barely contributed to those conversations, but she hung on every word, just as she did when viewing the black and white TV. In her exuberance, Lea would venture farther and farther into downright gossip, and if she wasn’t stopped, could be vicious. That’s when Grandma would quietly remind Lea, “If you can’t find anything good to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.”
That always mad Lea mad. Sometimes she fumed and “humphed.” Occasionally she packed up her needlework and stormed out of the house, declaring that their friendship had no value if she couldn’t voice her opinions. Sometimes she wouldn’t come back for days. She always found a way to save her dignity and return without taking the blame, however. It was usually in the form of “Well, you sit there and listen, so that makes you just as bad!”
Even in my loyalty to Grandma, I had to admit that Lea had a point. Grandma should have, and could have, stopped Lea sooner. However, when the gossip made it to Grandma’s house, that’s where it stopped. Grandma lived up to her word. She never repeated the gossip she heard from Lea or from the other neighbors who came by with their versions of the same tales told.
We all have the right to remain silent, and not just the right, but the duty. It has to stop somewhere. We can choose to keep our mouths (and our ears) shut.
“But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.” Matthew 12:36 (KJV)