Dear Jack Reacher: Family is Forking Important

This week's guest columnist is Reacher, who just received three unusual deposits into his bank account for $2.06, $5.55, and $12.94, which clearly is intended to be a phone number with a Seattle area code: 206-555-1294. This leads to a problem, seeing how Reacher doesn't own a phone.

Dear Reacher,

My sister is a year older than me, and we grew up as best friends. I married a rancher in Nebraska and we've got a big, happy family—two boys, two girls—and she married an investment banker in New York.

The trouble is, we've packed up and driven to her place the last two years for Thanksgiving dinner with our parents, and the whole time, she kept correcting the table manners of our kids, especially which fork to use. This is the only time the whole family can get together, and her pettiness makes me want to skip it—except we can't. She even did it this summer when she visited our farm for a week.

How can I get her to stop?

—Sister, Up in Arms

Dear Sister,

I had a big brother. Grew up close—like you and your sister. Every time we moved to a new base and got picked on at the new school, we'd stand back to back and take on all comers.

My brother got killed during an investigation, so he's not around to harass my non-existent kids about their table manners.

But I can't help thinking about whether I could have been there.

Beside him, one last time.

Because taking out the men who pulled the trigger didn't bring him back.

Your sister is precious to you, just as your children and husband are. That's why this tears you up. Probably feels like you have to choose between your sister and your kids.

Except you don't.

You never do.

Petty fights about petty things are simply that: petty.

Nothing more. Nothing less.

Your sister is doing what would make sense if she had four kids of her own, kids she wanted to fit in with the other sons and daughters of investment bankers.

Tell your kids ahead of time to watch their table manners and do what Auntie wants—her house, her rules. Say that, and agree with your sister when she corrects them.

In her house.

When she visits the ranch, say the same thing: my house, my rules.

Your sister will get it. Your kids will get it.

And a little fight about forks won't turn into something big and stupid.

Now, I need to borrow the phone in this greasy spoon, because pay phones don't exist anymore and I figured out who in Seattle needs me. Here's to hoping they're not dead yet.


Guy Bergstrom is a speechwriter and reformed journalist. He's represented by literary agent Jill Marr and can be found on Twitter @speechwriterguy or at his blog, For etiquette questions you want answered in this column, try

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