Ketchup, Culture and the Old (not angry) White Guy

Lee Foote
3 min readJul 25, 2023

Hard-headed, but soft-hearted is a tough combo. I insisted to my 20-something daughter that I needed more than two of those thimble-sized ketchup cups at A&W restaurant. She challenged me to think outside the box, or in this case, the ketchup cup. Then she carefully expanded the pleated sides of the tiny paper cups to quadruple their size so each held ¼ cup of the precious red condiment. Doh! I ate a little crow along with my French fries.

The same sort of obdurate thinking fell out when I insisted I could not comfortably refer to our 10-year household friend of our family as “queer” even though my girls insisted it was an acceptable and even preferred term for Sydney. There had been too many years, nay decades; in my southern upbringing where queer was a term of denigration. But time moves on and language is dynamic so I thought I would cast a trial balloon to the linguistic winds. “I found Rocket Man to be a rather queer movie” then I waited for the response . . . (did you see what I did there? I could retreat like a hermit crab to the meaning “odd” or bravely sally forth into the “gay” meaning). My risky foray floated like a gull in the wind. No substantive response other than them all agreeing that the soundtrack was very danceable. Hmm . . . how to be polite, comfortable and supportive?

Some words are being wrested away from me too. When I described the cur that launched an attack on my retriever Roxy as behaving in a savage manner, I was warned against using the “S word” lest it connote an antiquated Colonial attitude toward Indigenous peoples. Really? REALLY? Damn, the cur got the best of Roxy AND of me even though I used an adjective. I suppose I could say the cur was lacking benevolence or something.

Don’t get me wrong, I avoid the Jordan Petersons, David Dukes, and Tucker Carlsons of the world as influences of ill-intentioned and self-referential privilege. I also know I am playing catch-up in understanding today’s modern culture through which my daughters move seamlessly. Early on, they learned a lot from me when they were moldable clay in their pre-teens and I love the values they espouse in all their charity, consideration, manners, and honesty. Now the tables have turned and I become their project and MY values, attitudes, humor, and language are in play for re-shaping.

The problem is, clay hardens over time and I fear unacceptable Lee-isms will be snapped off and discarded like a broken tea cup handle- but wait — maybe there is another way. If unfired, clay can be softened with generous application of love, understanding, tolerance, and explanation. We can revisit key tenets of the International Declaration of Human Rights that reminds us of the primacy of human dignity and respect, regardless of age, status, race, gender, ableness or nationality. Yes, it takes work, explanation, and some forgiveness by my offspring evaluators but they are up for it and they own the virtue of patience. It is my role to test that virtue I guess but we are moving through this world with change and we are ultimately all the better for it. Thank goodness, I got my ketchup too.

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Lee Foote

Southerner by birth, Northerner by choice, Casual person by nature.