DEAR MISS MANNERS: At lunch in an elegant restaurant with my mother, who is almost 70, and friends of hers that I don't know well, one of the friends related some sad and traumatic events from her past.
My mother interrupted to say that one of her daughters had been born brain-damaged, but had managed to live an almost normal life, thanks to Mother teaching the deficient little thing to read and interact socially with regular people. This effort occurred over many years and with countless sacrifices on my mother's part.
I almost jumped up and screamed, "Have you gone senile, lady?"
I would like to think that manners restrained me, but it was probably only the fear of looking like a deranged lunatic shrieking at a feeble old woman.
Miss Manners, the entire story was a complete crock. My sister is not brain-damaged and, although she is not as financially successful as me and my other sister, she holds down a demanding job in health care and, with her husband of 20 years, has raised two lovely children. I am the oldest sibling and would remember any long tutoring sessions, if any had occurred.
Mother has been known to enhance the truth for dramatic effect, although never so publicly (as far as I know) and with such a detailed, well-thought-out story, complete with painful pauses and pitiful glances.
The next day I told Mother that if she started to say bad things about any member of the family, I would leave the room or hang up the phone. This reproof was somewhat diluted by my bursting into tears.
So what should I have done, Miss Manners? I'm not repeating any of this to my two sisters, and I'm not too worried about what they'll think of Mother's version of events. After all, they grew up with her, too.
Still, I feel bad about not defending my sister at the lunch table and am a little worried about Mother's effect on her depressed friend. What are the proper manners in a situation like this?
P.S. No one was drinking.
P.P.S. Come to think of it, I had ample warning. Mother prefaced her touching little fable with "I really shouldn't say this..." which was my opportunity to reply, "Then don't."
GENTLE READER: As you must have included yourself in the first postscript, Miss Manners congratulates you for not letting this drive you to drink.
As you know, the proper thing is to exhibit family loyalty. All you had to do was to protect your sister without attacking your mother.
While loyalty to your sister demands squelching the misconception your mother saw fit to launch, loyalty to your mother demands protecting her against embarrassing herself. This would be even more necessary if she were losing her faculties than if she simply enjoys spreading false rumors.
The way to do both is to admonish your mother affectionately, saying, "Oh, Mother, you are so wicked, you're going to have her believing you." Then turn to her guest and say, "This is an old family joke, because my sister was such a precocious child."
Should your mother be reckless enough to insist that it is true, you can humbly reply, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to spoil your fun."
DEAR MISS MANNERS: How do you deal with people who invite themselves?
GENTLE READER: By apologizing profusely for being unable to let them in.