Truth. We all want to know it. As Americans, we worship it. But is always knowing the whole truth really all that good for us?
* * *At a recent family reunion, I had a chance to reflect on this question, thanks to my obnoxious nephew and his wimpy, liberal-minded parents.
[quoteright]"We always tell little Jonathan the truth," my sister announced to a cluster of elderly aunts after giving a graphic explanation of what their Cocker Spaniel was doing to Buttons, the neighbor's German Shepherd. "We want him to grow up well-informed." Naturally, the explanation went clear over Jonathan's head and only reinforced everybody's notion that my sister was a jerk.
About half an hour later, during a sudden thunderstorm, the "well- informed" Jonathan climbed a tree so he could see the lightning better.
"But it's just a discharge of 'lectrical build-up," he insisted when I was forced to go out and fetch him, "and I wanna watch!"
"Electrical build-up, my butt!" I shouted. "Your parents told you that so you wouldn't know what it really is. That's God talking to His angels and he's saying 'there's a disobedient little brat in a tree down there, let's strike him dead.'"
He wouldn't come out from under his bed until the sun came back out.
Later that day, my sister tried to explain why his aunt Marie had come to the party without Uncle Ronnie. How do you say, "He was a male slut and he ran off to Atlantic City with the Avon Lady" in words that a five-year-old can understand? You can't. So why not give him an explanation he can understand and teach him a valuable lesson at the same time?
"You want to know why Uncle Ronnie isn't here?" I asked, after getting rid of his mother by telling her I had just seen her husband sneak into the tool shed with a six pack of beer and Cousin Elizabeth. "He's dead, that's why."
Jonathan's eyes widened. "How'd he die?" he asked gravely.
"He was running with a popsicle stick in his mouth."
Granted, my explanation may have strayed from the "pure truth" but there is one little boy who will never climb a tree during a thunder storm or run with a popsicle stick in his mouth. And that's what's really important.
© 1986 Michael Harling
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