You are currently viewing Failures in Behavior Modification
  • Post published:August 15, 2023

When my sister Nan was engaged to my future brother-in-law, Wayne Gurley, a big step in this development was for Wayne’s parents to meet the parents of the bride. Since his parents lived in Dallas and would be making the trip to Nashville, elaborate plans were designed so the Arnold clan could make the best possible impression.

With military precision the house was cleaned, the landscape manicured, and Nan’s strict orders regarding her three brothers’ spontaneous and unpredictable behavior in front of her prospective in-laws was, “Not while the Gurley’s are here.” The parents were in full support of this edict: bad table manners? “Not while the Gurley’s are here”; wearing sloppy attire? “Not while the Gurley’s are here;” ill-kempt bedrooms? “Not while the Gurley’s are here”; loud voices, coarse language, and boorish behavior? “Not while the Gurley’s are here.” There was no escaping it. We ended each day with the mantra, “Not while the Gurley’s are here.” And were the brothers to stray from the order at any point in the Gurley visit, well, hell hath no fury like a mortified sister.

The pressure was on. We brothers wore dress shirts and ties to the table; as rare a sight as Sasquatch. And we were called upon to act as servers for our guests during the meal. Things were going swimmingly when Mom asked if I would go around the table and refill everyone’s tea glass, an easy task I was happy to do.

When I came to Mrs. Gurley’s empty glass, I extended the pitcher with its deep bowl and long spout. I inadvertently bobbled the pitcher creating a tsunami effect. The tea formed a wave from the back of the pitcher that built in force as it flowed its way out of the spout and exploded everywhere except for intended receptacle.

In my attempt to regain control of the pitcher and reduce the spillage, I stepped back and caught my heel in the floor-length curtains hanging from the window. I then used my other foot to regain my balance but it too got tangled in the hem of the curtain. The flimsy curtain rod could not take so much abuse and came crashing down on top of me. In the shocked silence that followed my acrobatics I blurted, “Aw hell, not while the Gurley’s are here.”

And who said slapstick is dead? There is only so much one should expect when trying to mold one’s life through behavior modification. Some things are just impossible to man.