All wimps, raise your hands

Ed Smith
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It seems we are surrounded by wimps!

Everyone’s talking about the “wimp generation,” especially since the last snowstorm. Boards have been called wimps for closing schools, and people called wimps for complaining about having to “make do” without city buses.

OK, let’s assume there is such a generation and most people in it are wimps. I’d like someone to define “wimp” so that the next time I see one I’ll know what I’m looking at. Since no one else seems to be doing it, I’d like to try my hand at developing a definition. Perhaps I’d start with a survey of the general public.

First question: what’s the main characteristic of a wimp?

I mean, does he or she walk funny? Even if they have two good legs? Do they dress like, well, you know, like, funny? Do they look funny: really crooked teeth, crossed eyes, skinny as a gutted eel? Do they look like Justin B? Do they jump nervously whenever you speak to them?

Second question: how do wimps talk? Do they stutter? Do they mumble? Do they whisper? Do they hardly speak at all?

Third question: what is their spiritual state? Do they go to church morning, noon and night? Do they ask you to join them in prayer? Do they say grace before eating, even in restaurants, thus embarrassing you to death? Are they talking about becoming clergy?

Last question: do you have wimpophobia? Are you uncomfortable around people with one or more of the above characteristics? Why, in each of those characteristics, are you thinking of a male?

All of the above is inordinately stupid, or have you already figured that out? You can’t generalize what a wimp is, any more than you can trust a gay stereotype. It doesn’t work.

Hard stuff

So, what’s a wimp?

Someone who won’t stand up to the hard stuff, right? But hard stuff in what context? Face down a gang of toughs on a deserted street corner? Not hard to pick out the one who wouldn’t stand up to that. It would be a girl who looked as though she’d be scared to death by the sound of a gentle wind. She’d be skinny beyond skinny and look as though she didn’t have strength enough to break a stick of spaghetti in half.

That would be an accurate picture of my Nanny Penney. I doubt she ever weighed 100 pounds in her life. Her arms were like skivvers and her legs like the splits my father made me chop to start the fire each morning.

She bore 10 children, nursed them through sicknesses, washed them, fed them and clothed them. Buried some of them. On top of that, she usually had two or three “sharemen” to do the same for — men from Trinity, Bonavista or other bays down to share in the fishing as crew with my grandfather. When the occasion demanded it, which was more often than not, she’d be down on the stage cut-throating, or on the flakes scravveling to get the fish up before it rained while the men were still out in boat.

She could stand up to the really hard stuff. Hardly a wimp.

Tough youngsters

So, what’s a wimp? Someone from the younger generation perhaps?

Certainly can’t be any of the young men and women who join our armed forces, especially those who come back from war in boxes. Not old, not young. Probably not in between.

I know. Wimps are kids in school who will allow bigger, stronger and more numerous kids to push them around. “Allow” is the wrong word because usually there’s not much the bullied kids can do about it, at least by themselves.

Snow problem

That’s as close to a stereotype of a wimp that most of us come these days. Unless, of course, you count “snow wimps.” That’s becoming a popular term. It began with the great Toronto blizzard of ’99. I was in hospital in Toronto at the time and so was caught in it. Not out in it, just in it.

Other Half was caught out in it, although she didn’t intend to be. The weather forecast called for snow all afternoon and night and possibly into the next day. I don’t remember how much they said we’d get.

OH usually waited until just before dark, and then walked the 30 minutes to the small motel she called home for the eight months we were there. That particular day, flurries fell during the day and were still falling when she left to walk. As usual, she called to let me know she was safely there.

She had a lovely walk, she said. Made her homesick.

Next morning, I saw the paper that reported on the overnight storm. On the front page was a picture of the Canadian army rumbling through the streets to combat this great snowfall, complete with a picture of the mayor front and centre, proud as a peacock, in the lead tank.

OH came in during the morning. I asked her if she had any trouble getting through the snow.

“What snow? There’s no more than four or five centimetres down.”

Since that time, that particular mayor has been deemed the ultimate snow wimp, and Torontonians are wishing people like me would stop talking about it. Fat chance.

Are the people who closed schools last week for a storm that didn’t materialize wimps? Not if you’re not prepared to bet on the safety of your children.

Buckling up

OH and I used to drive to Delaware each summer with three girls playing out back in the station wagon without seatbelts or child seats. Are those parents who today won’t move without having their kids buckled in six ways from Sunday wimps? Only an idiot would say yes.

So, let’s put away the branding irons. There are no wimps, and every single one of us is a wimp.

All we need is the right situation.

Ed Smith is an author who lives in Springdale.  His e-mail address is

Geographic location: Toronto, Springdale

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