Inquisitor: So, if you don’t mind my askin’, ya got kids?
Victim: No, just haven’t…
Inquisitor: We’ve got four. They are gifts from God. You and your better half church-goers?
Victim: We’re kind of lapsed Druids I guess…
Inquisitor: (crinkling her nose in skepticism and simultaneously pleased to have solved the mystery) Well there ya go. They’re a lot of work but they bring so much joy. Can’t imagine life without them. JIMMY, GET DOWN FROM THERE AND GET OVER HERE NOW! QUIT YOUR SNIVELLING OR I’LL GIVE YA SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!
Stranger Inquisition, or S.I., is a little understood malady which strikes relentlessly and without warning. One in five Americans over the age of 21 are subjected to stranger scrutiny if they are unmarried, childless, or without grandchildren. Possible side effects include mood swings, anger, rage, homicidal thoughts, and jaw discomfort due to excessive teeth clenching. The Diagnostic Statistics Manual (DSM-5) has chosen not to address S.I.. There is no government or private sector funding, nor are there any current studies underway in the United States.
Stranger Inquisition literature worldwide is also sparse. There was Bachelors level research being done in Antwerp, Belgium and summarized in The Daily Twerp, a weekly shopper (June, 2006), almost a decade ago. What we do know is Stranger Inquisition is a result of close proximity of an inquisitor and a victim. Actual physical contact need not occur, but quite often (59%) the inquisitor will squeeze the arm of the victim and on occasion (22%) pinch the cheek.
Inquisitors are generally women over fifty (84%) and gum chewers (97%). They need only a few minutes of questioning to irritate a victim. Being an inquisitor may have a genetic link, and seems to grant one immunity. Two inquisitors alone in a confined space, an elevator for example, will quickly attempt to top each other with their quantity of grandchildren and the breeding prowess of their offspring.
Inquisitors would much rather attack what they see as an unbalanced molecule, namely a well coiffed person not bedraggled and frazzled to the point of exhaustion. Telltale signs like gum in the hair, Silly String embedded on suede shoes, or Happy Meal toys dangling from pockets signal a fellow parent. Inquisitors are relentless proselytizers. They attack early arrivals at business meetings, anyone not in a pack at social gatherings (pot lucks, community fund raisers, religious retreats), and in banks and grocery checkout lines.
JoAnne and I were married for almost ten years before having our first of two children. We endured the questions and unsolicited advice. Our daughter Rachael and then her brother Ben brought us not only great joy, but temporary relief from S.I. As I aged, the drumbeat for grandchildren began. Curiously, it was never sounded by anyone in the family. Only a woman with the tattoo Born To Raise Children, driving an SUV with decals of stick figure children in the rear window, and sporting a bumper sticker “Ask me about my grandchildren,” had browbeaten me. The arrival of granddaughter Charlotte a year and a half ago has not only been a wonderful addition, but has also silenced the inquisitors.
Now I am waiting for someone to say, “Only the one?” because by the time you read this we will hopefully be reveling in the arrival of Charlotte’s little brother, tentatively named The New Guy.
Tom H. Cook has never felt the need to wear a giant button with a picture of his children. He has never knowingly advised random strangers about their private business.