Conversation Stoppers

Cornel Wilde
Cornel Wilde Wikimedia Commons

When I first met my wife, Gail, on a football weekend at the University of Arizona, she was 17. She had huge brown eyes and high cheekbones. Just another beautiful, intelligent, high-principled college girl, but I thought I could live with that.

Unlike me, she was no blabbermouth. After a few dates, we parked one afternoon outside Tucson and watched the lights come on while I spoke of all my hopes and dreams. When I paused for breath, she took my hand and said earnestly, "I don't want to see you anymore."

That was 40 happy years ago, during which time Gail's conversation stoppers have never been in short supply. Without trying to, she usually gets the last word, and without meaning to, I usually end up playing George Burns to her Gracie Allen.

Several years ago we were watching an old movie on TV. Gail pointed to the leading man and said, "Who's that?"

"Cornel Wilde," I said.

"Didn't he die?"

"No, not yet."

"Who died?" she asked.

A few summers back, when Phil Rizzuto was still a New York Yankees broadcaster, she and I agreed that listening to him was the best part of the games.

"He's terrific," I enthused. "It doesn't make any difference what he's going on about, bowling, cooking, movies or whatever. I can listen to him talk all night." We continued watching the game for a minute, then I added, "But you don't seem to like it when I talk all night."

She smiled. "I can turn him off, can't I?"

Another evening we were listening to a violin concerto when she said: "Is it Pinchas Zukerman I always think is Itzhak Perlman, or the other one?"

When I returned from a trip to a local store recently, I mentioned that something I'd bought had cost only six dollars. "Only," said Gail. "If I had a pocketful of your 'onlys' I could go to France."

We did go to Italy. When we arrived at our hotel, the manager complained that we were late. "Do we have a room or not?" asked Gail.

He drew himself up. "I have given your room away," he said.

He stared at her imperiously. She stared back at him. At length he seemed to wilt. "Yes, I have given your room away," he said. "But it so happens I have another."

One spring day as I drove her to the airport I announced, "When I get home I'm going to mow the lawn." She didn't say anything, so I rattled on.

"I've always been a little worried that someday the tractor might overturn on that steep bank near the pool and pin me underneath. The neighbors are on vacation, this is Monday and you won't be back till Sunday. I could lie pinned there from now to Sunday."

She thought a minute and said, "The garbageman comes on Friday."

There was a time when I figured I had the last word, but I was wrong. For many years I've been criticized for not listening. "I told you that just yesterday," Gail will say with a weary toss of her head. At last one morning she asked me a question and I knew I had her.

"Ha!" I said. "I told you that yesterday! I said it to you twice!"

"You've never said anything just twice," she replied with a weary toss of her head.

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