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American Pie: The Language Of Love

…After more than twenty years of marriage I’m long accustomed to the idea that the call of “Honey” isn’t likely to infuse me with warm, fuzzy feelings…

Columnist nonpareil John Merchant muses on the meanings of that supposedly sweet word “honey’’.

To read more of John’s columns please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/american_pie/

Before I met and married my American born wife, I imagined it would be rather nice to be addressed as “Honey” day-to-day. My two previous wives were English and not given much to endearments; perhaps the very occasional “darling,” but nothing more than that. So the chance to be on the receiving end of this, so American, expression of love was very attractive. It wasn’t until I met my present wife that I discovered how I had deluded myself.

After the high heat of our romance had simmered down, I then discovered that “Honey” is in fact just a preface. What follows is usually a faintly veiled demand to take some action, more often than not something that I would prefer to avoid, as in “Honey, I just noticed this pool of liquid under the car…,” or “Honey, my mother called to say there’s a strange clicking noise coming from behind her dish washer...” The end of the accompanying sentence always is left dangling.

“Honey” can also be an imperative. Probably the best example during the course of our marriage came one Sunday evening as we were returning home from a weekend away. As we carried our things from the car to the far end of the house, I heard my wife, who was ahead of me, emit a sharp and quite loud “Honey!!! At the time she was looking out through the atrium door in our kitchen, and the object of her alarm, as I saw over her shoulder, was a large and deep hole in our back lawn, big enough to drop a small car into.

I knew immediately what it was – an old and decayed metal septic tank that treated our household sewage. The farmyard smell immediately confirmed what I thought. Many times since we purchased the house we had wondered where the tank was located, and the survey map that came with our deed was of no help. Now we knew. It was the first time that I had been on the receiving end of a “Honey” when I was totally at a loss as to what to say or do.

Without going into the tedious details, I was dismayed at the thought of what it would take to replace the tank. Clearly the house had been built after the tank was installed, and the only available route to bring in a replacement was a narrow strip of level ground between the house and the rocky slope that rose steeply behind it. Modern septic tanks are built from 6-inch thick concrete, and the 1200-gallon version that we needed weighed as much as a small elephant.

I had visions of spending the next week calling a succession of excavating companies, only to have them refuse to take the job. Amazingly, the first one I called turned out to be a one-man operation, and the owner had enough of a drinking problem that he wasn’t the leashed bit dishmayed by the prospect.

There were times during the three days it took to install the new tank that I had to hide in the house and turn on loud music to distract myself from the perilous work that was going on outside. But in the end, good booze triumphed over gravity, the job was done and the mountain of redolent earth smoothed over.

I was ready to hug the contractor – well almost. It wasn’t until he was about to drive his backhoe away that I noticed his business logo, painted in 8-inch high letters on the bucket arm: “JACKSON EXCAVTING.” Being the compulsive editor, I pointed this out to him, to which he replied “Th’ “A” musht ‘ave worn off,” as he rode off into the sunset.

After more than twenty years of marriage I’m long accustomed to the idea that the call of “Honey” isn’t likely to infuse me with warm, fuzzy feelings, but there is another form of ostensibly affectionate communication that I don’t think I’ll ever get used to. This is related to inquiries about my comfort and wellbeing.

My immediate reaction to such solicitations is initially one of appreciation, but almost immediately a little bell rings in my head. These inquiries from my wife follow one of several forms. “Would you like the air conditioning on/off?” Or, “Would you like to have dinner earlier/later than six thirty?” are two examples.

If I don’t hear the little bell, and answer “no” to either of these solicitations, my wife’s response is almost always “Well I think I’d like it on/off because I’m a little warm/cold,” or, “I’d like to eat early because I’m hungry,” or “Can we eat later because I’m still full from lunch?” When occasionally I have my wits about me, my usual response to her inquiries is “Are you asking for me or for yourself?”

Don’t get me wrong, my wife is the most loving and caring person I know, and her concern for my welfare is unsurpassed. In fact she’s a real honey, which is why I keep falling into the trap.

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