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I come from a family of talkers, conversationalists, humorists, commentators, storytellers. Whenever two or more of them are together, they talk. If it’s a big group — which is very likely since I have 11 siblings, a bunch of inlaws, a slew of nieces, nephews, greats, and an assortment of hangers on — two, three or even four conversations can be going on at once around the same table. People weave in-and-out of stories without missing a comment and never insulting the person they were just talking to. It’s amazing, very impressive — and just a wee bit intimidating to me. If I’m “doing” while I’m chatting I’m better. Give me dishes to wash, potatoes to peel, cats to pet or floors to sweep and I can talk with the best of them. But I begin to get antsy if there’s nothing to do but join in the conversation.

How did I end up so different from the rest of them? I thought maybe it was my early departure from the family home at age 19. I didn’t have those additional years of practice sessions to hone my conversational skills. I wasn’t around for Easter-egg-hunting, Christmas-night parties, weddings and funerals and all the other gatherings where family exchanged words and laughter. But that reasoning doesn’t really hold up since my sister Julie left at the same time and she’s terrific at these family gabfests.

If I’m honest about this, my withdrawal from family group conversation began even before I left home. I remember going down to my grandfather’s house on Sunday afternoon. We seemed to be there for hours and hours and hours because the adults had so much to talk about — gardens and relatives and weather and politics and bingo et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Maybe my withdrawal from those conversations and all the other ones that followed handicapped my skills for life? Of course, my shyness didn’t help matters at all.

Could this lack of conversational skills have something to do with the fact that I’ve spent most of my adult life single or divorced? Hah! Has my lack of throwing my two-cents worth of comments into the pot kept me alone? Or maybe it’s the nature of my two-cents worth that I have thrown in that’s done it. The murmuring ex-husband certainly thought so. He used to lecture me after dinner parties when I interrupted his pontifications with a comment of my one. “Hostile,” he would say. “Your comment was hostile, Annie!” I thought I was just being direct. After that, I saved my conversation and comments of any kind for when he was not around. It worked better that way.

Honestly, truly, I really do just fine with one-on-one conversations, small dinner parties at my house, or chance encounters on the subway. But, sometimes, especially when I’m just back from a family grathering, I wish I was more like those wonderful, chatty, laughing conversationalists in my family. It always makes me a little sad that I’m not … I guess I’ll just have to keep practicing — or writing about it which might be easier.

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