More memorable little mistakes

John Kelly
Columnist August 21, 2012

In a way, my last few columns have been about embarrassing faux pas — or as it might be pronounced, given the circumstances, fowks pass. They are the mistakes we make without realizing we’re making them.

For example, when Michael Hoyt’s late father, Homer, had his first meal in a Chinese restaurant, he was unaware of the Chinese custom of fortune cookies. “When the plate came with a number of cookies, he thought they were all for him and he ate them all — including the fortunes,” Michael wrote.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Janet in Fairfax” asked that I not print her last name. She didn’t want to embarrass her spouse with this story: “When my husband went with his first wife’s family to a restaurant for his first-ever shrimp dinner, he was asked what he thought of shrimp. His comment was that they were tasty but very crunchy. Then they realized that no one had told him to remove the shells.”

Boy, I sure would love to see him eat a lobster.

While we’re on the subject of food, Karen Goldman says she grew up in a “nice New York Jewish family,” where homemade chicken soup was a staple. When making it by herself for the first time, she followed the recipe carefully, simmering chicken, onion, celery, carrots and dill in a big pot of water. The next step was to strain everything so the cooked veggies could be tossed out and fresh vegetables and chicken could be added to the stock.

“So strain I did,” wrote Karen, who lives in Annapolis now. “Into the old metal strainer directly into the sink. Over and down into the sink drain went the entire pot of chicken soup that I had been nurturing for hours. Left behind? The soggy ready-to-be-thrown-out vegetables.” Karen still remembers wondering how she would get it all back.

Mickey Fitzmaurice of Gambrills said he was 20 years old before a girlfriend explained that white and dark meat come from the same chicken. “And we were in line at Popeyes!” he wrote. (That girlfriend is now his wife. You can believe she reminds him of that story whenever necessary.)

Potomac’s John Galuardi has a cousin who grew up during the Cold War, when fear of nuclear war was at its peak. Her father came home one day and said he had bought an “atomic washer.”

Wrote John: “After she had a fearful night and no sleep it was explained that it was an ‘automatic washer,’ replacing the old Maytag.”

Jem Waldman went to the finest schools and grew up in a family that loves words. Even so, she never knew what that weird word in the National Anthem, “dawnzerly,” meant. Wrote Jem, of Takoma Park: “I can still remember the visceral shock, the cold tingly rush, the ear buzzing and dizzy wave that hit me when, at age 13, the dawn’s early light of clarity broke over my thick skull.”

As a child, Takoma Park’s Brenda Platt never got new clothes. She had three older cousins who passed everything down, even after she’d become an adult.

Confessed Brenda: “After one generous box, I set about writing a thank-you note and asked my husband how to spell ‘hammie downs.’ ”

For years as a kid riding around in cars, Shaun Amos of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., heard adults talking about having the “right away.” Wrote Shaun: “You know: If you get to the four-way stop first, then you have the ‘right away,’ meaning that you get to go ‘right away’ and everyone else has to wait.”

Not until he took the written portion of his driver’s exam did Shaun realize that it was the right of way.

Peter Schott lives in Rehoboth Beach, Del., now, but he grew up in New York, where he remembers seeing many buses with the word “Charter” on the front. He begged his parents to visit Charter, since a city that had so many buses going there had to be impressive indeed.

Potomac’s Peggy Conn first read “The Wizard of Oz” when she was 6 or 7. “Upon coming to the sentence saying, ‘He was nowhere to be found,’ I became totally confused about why they kept looking for him,” Peggy wrote. “If he was ‘now here’ to be found, why did they keep looking? I puzzled about this for days before finally asking one of my parents why the characters were so dumb. I still puzzle over the English language allowing things like this.”

I, for one, am grateful to the idiosyncrasies of the English language. Without it, I wouldn’t have a job — or these last few columns.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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