It happens a lot on long trips. As we zoom along eating up the miles my wife likes to ask me sometimes hypothetical, occasionally annoying, usually probing questions.
It’s something that started while we were courting over 15 years ago. It continues in many forms today. Often in an abbreviated format since usually our 12-year-old daughter is plopped in the back seat, playing Minecraft on her computer. She tends to play with ear buds in, but she’s been known surface at odd times and pick up on our conversation, so discretion is vital.
This weekend, my wife and I were driving for a little getaway for our anniversary, so we were without our child. And despite the fact I was coughing and hacking, felt like my head was stuffed with cotton, and that someone was gleefully sanding my sinus cavities, we played the game. I tried to smile and be witty between wheezes.
Shan asked one that I answered instantly despite my fogginess. She wondered: If you could thank your parents for one trait you gained from them, what would it be?
It was easy — humor.
My mother and father were both funny people. My mother had an expansive, life-of-the-party, everybody’s-best-friend, infectious-laughing personality and my father had a more subtle, witty and analytical disposition. I recall they would have other couples over to the house and they’d have a few highballs and soon the place would be filled with laughter. I never realized it at the time but I guess they were a pretty fun couple.
I recall them bringing home Flip Wilson and Bill Cosby records in the 1960’s, when some of Flip’s material was a bit controversial. My mom even tried a Redd Foxx album once but declared him too dirty saying he “worked blue” but I didn’t really know what that meant at the time.
The let me watch “Laugh-In” and “The Smother’s Brothers Comedy Hour.” It was considered a treat to get to stay up late and see Johnathan Winters on the “Joey Bishop Show.” When other kids sang or danced for talent at the Catholic school I attended, I did stand-up comedy routines swiped from my idols.
Later, after my folks divorced, my mother still never missed a chance to tune in to “All in the Family” or “Sanford and Son” or “M.A.S.H.”
Along with my two sisters, who were both funny in their own right, my parents cultivated an atmosphere where humor was always welcome in our family. Even in the grimmest of circumstances.
My mother would joke that when she died, she wanted a talking tombstone that would have her picture and a button folks could press that would announce, “Wait, wait I have one more thing to say!”
We never did get the talking tombstone, but at my mom’s funeral they had to move her casket up a steep stairway and as I walked along arm in arm with my sisters behind the coffin I heard my sister Nancy say, “I home she’s not sliding in there.”
On the way to the funeral, we were hung up in traffic and my bothers-in-law Ed and John kicked around the idea of doing a quick Chinese fire drill as we waited. No fire drill materialized but when we got to the cemetery, we had to wait because there was another funeral right ahead of us that had managed to lock the keys in the hearse. Yes, my mom was indeed late to her own funeral — rim shot!
To Shan, this sort of stuff is foreign, if not flat-out irreverent, but it’s how we showed love. We never made a joke at each other’s expense, it was just a way to deal with times both wonderful and horrible. You know, life. Celebrate with a laugh, face hardship with a laugh, but for God’s sake laugh.
Thanks mom and dad for the laughter. Your granddaughter is a funny kid. Your daughter-in-law is damn funny too but just a bit too respectful at times to go in for the big laugh. Though Shan couldn’t fathom facing death with a joke, she understands why her in-laws do.
And it is indeed a family thing. My brother-in-law John Donohoe, when he and my sister were going though trials that would have crushed me 10 times over, faced it all with a smile and just kept the funny coming.
During that harrowing time, John would answer the phone: “House of Job. Job speaking.”