I’ve been reading a hilarious, laugh-out-loud Fanny Flagg novel. Not only do I burst into laughter alone in my chair, but in a room with others who may not want my disruption. It’s so bad that my side aches when I can’t stop, and my daughter has recorded it with her phone, possibly sharing “crazy Mom” videos with her siblings. I was reading a particularly silly part to a friend over the phone, which threw us both into laughing/coughing fits to the point we had to end our call with tears running down our cheeks.
A good chuckle can recall laughable moments from the past. This book has reminded me of Will Stanton’s, “The Golden Evenings of Summer”, one of Gramma Best’s favorites. I have her golden, fabric bound copy and chuckle through it again and again. As Stanton tells small town, growing-up tales with his brother/partner-in-crime and their teenage sister in the Great Depression, I’m quite aware that people haven’t really changed at all. I was a snooty older sister to my embarrassing brothers at times I am sure, and my girls – well, I’ll stop there.
Sometimes comic relief is welcome because life’s difficult journey leaves us hungry for the temporary diversion of humor. Sleepless nights thinking of tragedies in the world or lives of people we love, help no one, but as I read stories of the universality of life, I’m awkwardly laughing at oddities, even in strange and sometimes sad circumstances. T. R. Pearson’s memorable novel, “A Short Story of a Small Place” was actually tragic, but written in a style that magnified common human quirks, to the point I even had to run next door to laugh with my neighbors when my kids responded by blankly staring to gut-splitting quotes about a crazed postmaster trying to keep pigeons from roosting on his window sill and a belligerent hardware store customer in a huff over a paintbrush.
Laughter was a mainstay when I was growing up. Our dinner table sometimes became a circus. Once, Dad plopped a serving spoon into a bowl of red Jello. When he picked it back up, a perfect impression of a butterfly was in the top of the glassy smooth Jello. What a miracle we thought. What are the chances of that happening. Of course, he had to try to replicate the unexpected work of art to provide a companion butterfly for the first one (which didn’t work) and then we all needed a turn at slapping the back of the spoon onto the mangled red mess that day and for years to come.
Laughter is contagious, as Mary Poppins’ friend, Uncle Albert, taught us. Even if others don’t know the original funny thing, they begin laughing just watching others laugh. I think those contagious nervous giggles can become terrible. That happened for my girlhood friends and me during a solemn Job’s Daughters meeting as well as in the choir loft during a sacred Christmas Eve service. Quiet giggles and lip biting erupted into snorting, fake coughing and follow up laughter. I learned while young that the rude ruckus gets you into trouble.
My parents enriched our lives with hilarious Erma Bombeck columns for breakfast, and silly Odgen Nash poetry for lunch. Funnies from the newspaper were shared out loud and even my grandfather, who hadn’t allowed his own children to laugh at the table, became a mealtime jokester for his grandchildren. I won’t even mention the sick, yet funny jokes my uncle shared at the table. Oh my, I think it is just human nature to use humor in trying to find sense of sadness.
Even things that aren’t funny at all can make us laugh out of some strange reaction to oddness (the evening news?). One of my friends, recovering from a knee replacement was telling me of being knocked down and run over by a long moving train of shopping carts pushed by an unmanned cart handler. My mind pictured a cartoony Roadrunner and Coyote scene as she described herself lying on the ground, carts running over her and her new knee, as a flurry of people scrambled to stop the cart handler grinding away at the obstacle (her) in its path. As awful as it was, my first totally inappropriate reaction was to guffaw at such an incredulously unlikely happening (miraculously, she and the knee weren’t hurt badly).
Science suggests that laughter can be the best medicine for some things, and as Proverbs states, “a merry heart doeth good like medicine”. With my husband’s dry sense of humor, and a daily dose of Pickles, Dilbert and Crankshaft spurring me on, I invite you to join Mary Poppins and me in singing, “I Love to Laugh, ha ha ha ha…!”