It didn’t take much doing to convince the men that they should keep their own council at the family gatherings. The hard part was convincing them that it was their idea.

It’s family lore – at least among the women of the family – how Aunt Meg set the plan in motion many years before. A few days prior to one of the big family barbecues, she casually mentioned to her husband Don that her sister Ida was very excited about a new canning recipe that she wanted to share at the party; a few days later she said her niece Vivian just got a Viking sewing machine and was eager to discuss the newfangled bobbin assembly. Meanwhile, Ida was planting similar seeds in her husband Sherman’s ear, so it didn’t take long for Don and Sherman to realize they needed an alternate activity that would spare them long discussion about knitting and how to boil potatoes. Don told Meg not to be upset, but he and Sherman felt it was important that they take their sons and nephews fishing, to establish a tradition of the men bonding with nature. He promised they would be back by dinner time. Meg said she’d be disappointed that the men would be gone all day, but she understood. It sounded like a great tradition.

The women developed their own tradition – a big pot of Ida’s famous juniper tea. Every year Ida would suggest the men enjoy a cup before they went off to the river, and every year the idea of sitting around drinking tea with the women accelerated the men’s efforts to gather their gear. When they were gone, Ida would pour her famous juniper tea – which was actually Beefeater’s gin with muddled limes – into a pitcher with Meg’s homemade lemonade. The tradition included serving the drinks in tea cups just in case their husbands and sons had forgotten something and suddenly reappeared.

Contrary to what the men suspected, there was rarely any talk of knitting or sewing bobbins or canning vegetables. The tea made sure of that. More common were animated complaints about men – both general and specific – and a lifetime of stories from the family matriarchs Meg and Ida. Cigarettes were smoked, decadent snacks devoured, tea cups drained, and the daughters of daughters were welcomed into a realm of family that their uncles and brothers would never know.

It wasn’t that the men were poor company – it was simply that they were constant company. The friction of day-to-day life slowly wears on a woman’s patience and pleasantness, and juniper tea and long spells of laughter were the perfect lubricant for those spots that had been rubbed raw by life. It was only for a day, but it was a good day – and it was only by the men walking into the woods in the morning that the women could genuinely welcome their return in the afternoon.



© 2014 WPReagan. This is one story in the series Everyday Fiction: 30 Stories in 30 Days Inspired by 30 Stranger’s Photographs

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