"I've read lately that scientists have found problems with filé powder. They're saying it's a carcinogen. What do people in your neck of the woods think about it?" I said this to a woman during a dinner at which I was a guest, almost uninvited really. The woman had said something earlier which indicated that she was from Louisiana. I'm totally amazed sometimes at how easily I can make a fool of myself. But I'm jumping ahead.
Here is the background of my remark. First of all, I was once married, for 18 years in fact. (She walked, by the way, not me.) My wife was, in many ways, an extraordinary person. Her mother was also an extraordinary person, and, among her many accomplishments, she was a member of the board of directors of the Southern Baptist foreign mission effort. She had, at the time of the incident which I'm about to describe, held this honor and responsibility for more than 10 years.
Now it was the custom of the board to meet several times a year, and after each meeting the women of the group would hold a dinner. And to one of these dinners my mother-in-law had invited my wife and myself.
At one point in the dinner conversation, my mother-in-law asked me what I had been doing with myself since she had last seen me. (She lived in Arizona, whereas my wife and I lived in Maryland.) I then began to make up something which I felt would amuse both myself and my listeners. Well, not really make up: my narratives on such occasions are usually based on facts, but as I relate the facts I am unable to resist tinkering with them. I mean, what is conversation worth if its not amusing, and is there anything so unamusing as untinkered facts?
After about three minutes of my response to my mother-in-law, the devil got hold of it, and I put that question to the woman from Louisiana: "I've read lately that scientists have found problems with filé powder. They're saying it's a carcinogen. What do people in your neck of the woods think about this?" The findings of the scientists was a fact. The tinkering with the fact was the omission of another fact, that is, that the link those scientists had found between filé powder and cancer was very weak. Louisiana is the home of filé gumbo, a prime ingredient of which is, of course, filé powder. The woman whom the devil had chosen as his victim, answered that she had not heard of the findings.
Now I must release another piece of background information: to these dinners each participant would bring a gift for each of the other members. Need I tell you about the gift from Louisiana?