My wife has a relative we call “Aunt Trudy”, who is perhaps the most pessimistic person I have ever met. There is nothing she can’t find a problem with – nothing but herself. To her, the weather is always too hot or too cold, life always has too many challenges or is boring, and people think they are too smart or are all a bunch of morons. She can take a happy event and turn it into a miserable experience with a flair uncharacteristic of anyone else I have ever met. One time she went as far as to criticized one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. She had the audacity to say that the colors were mixed all wrong.

I wanted to say, “And I suppose you could do better,” but even though my wife and I were only recently married at the time, I had more than once been on the receiving end of one of Trudy’s verbal barrages, and I knew to keep my mouth shut.

In contrast, my wife also has a relative whom we call “Uncle James”. James can find something good in everything. If we were caught by a rainstorm that cut our work short, he would simply say, “Isn’t it nice that we get rain now and then so we can take a break?” If some politician were to present a ridiculous proposal, he would comment, “Isn’t nice we have people like him to help us contrast to ways that are good.” If the whole world seemed to be conspiring against us, he would simply remark on how exciting life was. He is one of the most optimistic people I have ever met. That is why it is hard for me to believe James and Trudy are even related.

The contrast between these two people goes deeper than just their personalities. Though James and Trudy are cousins, and the pictures of their youth show their similarities, that is where it ends. Trudy truly had been a beautiful lady in her youth, but the negativity of her persona has long since been absorbed into her features. The wrinkles that now abundantly highlight the corners of her eyes have formulated themselves in to the shape of a frown, just like the ones at the corners of her mouth.

On the other hand, the wrinkles that emulate out from James’s eyes turn upward in a smile, like the rays from the sunny sparkle in his eyes. These match the smile that always dresses his face.

Trudy has been married and divorced enough times that the marriage license secretary is on a first name basis with her, and is one of her closest acquaintances. Trudy is always the essence of grace and beauty until after the wedding, and then her true demeanor shows through like dark clouds on the horizon, warning of impending doom. With each divorce, she has come away with a small fortune that allowed her to survive until the next marriage. James’s marriage, on the other hand, has lasted over thirty years.

I had never seen the two of them together, and I always wondered what it would be like. I figured it would be like putting a humidifier and a dehumidifier in the same room and seeing which one came out conqueror.

The opportunity to see them together finally came in the form of a barbecue at James’s house. Trudy was invited, and we all sat in lawn chairs in James’s back yard. It was a beautiful day, but to Trudy the sun was too bright. James said when it was bright it warmed the heart, and not just the skin. Trudy said she couldn’t understand why he wanted to live in the country because there were too many critters around. James said the variety of creatures gave spice to life. Trudy was sure the clouds would come and ruin the barbecue. James said he had to admit that the couches inside were more comfortable anyway.

The food was finally ready. As we approached the table loaded with food, Trudy saw what James was cooking on the grill, and unloaded her full arsenal. “I can’t believe you cooked meat! You know very well I’m a vegetarian!”

She continued to berate him, but he didn’t seemed ruffled at all. When she finally took a breath, he turned to her with half the items from the grill in his tongs.

“Well, you’re in luck tonight,” he said, grinning, “because, besides hamburgers, I also cooked hot dogs.”

Then, dumping all 16 hot dogs onto her plate, he finished. “And everyone knows hot dogs don’t have any meat in them.”

 (Daris Howard, award-winning, syndicated columnist, playwright, and author, can be contacted at [email protected]; or visit his website )