by Ramona DeFelice Long
Now that two months have gone by, I think it’s safe to say the E word again.
Delaware has a peculiar little post-Election tradition. Peculiar little traditions are not unusual in peculiar little Delaware. We have Punkin Chunkin, which celebrates the art of hurling fruit across a field; on Separation Day, we celebrate chucking our Pennsylvania founders off our turf; and the Lifeguard Olympics celebrates the might of the American summer beach hunk.
In election years, the most anticipated peculiar little tradition is Return Day. A few days after voting, opposing candidates travel down to Georgetown, to ride in a carriage in a parade and then hear the ceremonial reading of the election returns by the Town Crier. After that, the candidates take hold of a hatchet and bury it in a box of sand.
This gesture ends election season and puts to bed the snarky rhetoric of the past months. (“You’re bad, you raised taxes.” “It was part of my job, which you’d understand if you ever had one.” “Oh yeah? Well, you’re a short bald Marxist.” “At least I’m not a witch.” “At least I know what the First Amendment says.” “Uh, actually, you don’t.”) Everyone then goes off to enjoy ox sandwiches with a renewed sense of goodwill and other such falderal and fiddle-dee-dee.
The burying of the hatchet is a symbolic gesture to show that the candidates won’t hold a grudge. That this tradition occurs in early November is apropos, because it’s just before the holiday season, when people traditionally sharpen and polish their family hurts and arguments.
Which brings me to the question: Do you hold grudges?
Grudges are a gift if you are a mystery writer; they offer the option of revenge on paper. It’s an accepted form of literary therapy to take out an old foe in a story. The only caveat is that your grudge can’t recognize himself, so if your foe is a tall blonde dude named Joe, change him to dark-haired fella named Carlton, and feel free to maim or murder him to your heart’s delight.
In real life, it’s not healthy to hang onto hard feelings, but not everyone is endowed with perfect emotional health--including moi. For the longest time, I held one grudge: the college boyfriend who dumped me. As grudges go, that’s probably cliché and boring, but I get along with my family and I liked high school. I clung to my one grudge option because, in part, I think that having an enemy, even a benign one, makes a person more interesting.
After a couple of decades of hating this guy from afar (because I had no idea where he lived, and made no attempt to find out), I received an email from him. He had Googled my whereabouts. Ha! He was all friendly and “Hey, just catching up!” but I am not a rube. I’d clung to my grudge for a loooong time.
So I tested him: (“Are you really you?” “Do you remember our song?” “Does your wife know you’re talking to me?”) He passed the tests. It was him. So I demanded an apology and, darn him, he admitted he’d always felt badly about being a jerk to me. Then he added insult to injury by reporting that his home life was like an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, and the thought of him married to a Debra made my grudge wither. How could my one sworn enemy be somebody this pathetic? So I forgave him, which made me officially grudge-free.
This, I soon discovered, left a hole in my life. With my long-distance grudge, I could focus my hostility on someone I never encountered. I didn’t feel guilty because, thanks to his unwise mistreatment of me, he deserved whatever nastiness karma decided to dish out. Without the grudge, I might have to be hostile to people I saw on a daily basis. This did not seem good.
So I started a grudge hunt. It took a while, but over time, I bagged one, and then for good measure, added a second. Yes, I’m proud to announce that there are two people out there that I have chosen—because it is a choice—to despise. Yay me!
I can’t share names, but I can give a few clues. One is personal; one is professional. One is a man, one is a woman. One knows about my dislike; one is clueless. One would be bothered; one would not—would, in fact, probably enjoy the knowledge. One’s offense is slight and possibly petty; the other was born of some pretty serious stuff.
My life feels balanced again. Neither of my grudges deserves the honor of being one of my characters, even a dead one, so I won’t take literary revenge. In fact, I think of them sometimes when I’m working. I’m pretty sure that any success I have would bug them. While bugging my enemies is not what motivates me to be a better editor and writer, it doesn’t hurt.
And so, I win. And they don’t.
Do you hold grudges? If so, does it impact your life in a negative way, or can you tweak your enemies and make them work for you? Can you forgive and forget, or do you stay steamed until death do you part?
Oh, and since we all like videos, here is an appropriate one for the season: