Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The Importance of Having Humor

First, go read the excellent article about "American Culture" written by The Anchoress. I'll wait.

Back again? Good.

Okay, one of the reasons I think her article is excellent is that I happen to agree with her. But, then, I have noticed that I have a somewhat odd sense of humor, one of the many legacies my father left me.

My father--in fact, his entire family--loved a bon mot, the more bon, the better. Sitting around the table at family gatherings, especially when the wines and the liquers had flowed, I learned the fine art of verbal sparring. My first attempts were crude and clumsy, more like broadswords than rapiers, but with practice I improved.

Of course, I had to learn the hard way that not everyone appreciates this sort of humor. Nor is it appropriate under every circumstance. You have to know your audience. (I also found that age improves the acceptability of this sort of humor. What got my children into no end of trouble in grammar school is now considered "witty" by their peers and adults.)

Rocky & Bullwinkle were right up my dad's alley. It was one of the few "kids' shows" we were encouraged to watch. What I didn't realize until I watched the shows on VHS many years later was how rich they were. While I caught the essential silliness of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Peabody & Sherman, Aesop & Son, and the Fractured Fairytales, what I didn't always understand was the context and the puns. I did a mental double-take when I first heard of the opera Boris Godunov.

Of course, Rocky was not the only cartoon my dad enjoyed. He liked some of the Warner Brothers and Disney classics, especially the ones that skewered the Hollywood elite or the pompous. He liked the Goofy cartoons were purported to teach safe driving skills or skiing or how to be a good dad. Or the ones were Donald Duck courted Daisy and ended up having to take care of Huey, Dewey, and Louie. (When we thought Sis#2 was going to be twins and started coming up with appropriate names, Huey, Dewey, and Louie were mentioned. Along with Faith, Hope, and Charity, as well as Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperence. Sis#2 is very glad she is a singleton!)

Dad also loved comics. When he discovered that Sis#1 and I had been buying them fairly regularly with our allowance, he asked, "Do you have any more?" We brought out our stash, thinking we were in Big Trouble. Instead, he told us, "I'd like to read them when you're finished." We should have known better--after all, we usually had to wait in line to read the funnies on Sunday. He enjoyed the action/adventure comic books (he would have laughed at the pretentiousness of "graphic novels" as well as shudder at the price), he enjoyed Prince Valiant and The Phantom, but the strips that focused on the foibles of everyday life were the ones he bother to bring to my attention.

"Did you see Zits this morning?" he would ask. Or, Hagar the Horrible. Or Sherman's Lagoon. Or BC. The theme was usually parents and kids or husbands and wives. The stuff of everyday life that drives us crazy while its going on and becomes fodder for stories around the table many years later. Okay, or just months later.

This gift of finding humor, appreciating humor, sharing humor, got me through my dad's final illness and his funeral.

"Father John came by," my mother said at the hospital when we came by to visit my dad. "He heard your dad's Confession and gave him Communion."

"Really?" I said. Turning to my dad, I added, "And he made it out of here in time to preside at evening Mass!"

Dad gave me his Evil Eye(tm) and shook his finger at me.

At his funeral, one of his close friends commented that while she had often seen my dad lying down, she had never seen him with rosary beads. She was standing in front of his open casket at the time.

"He should have the remote," Bro#1 replied. And we all cracked up, including my mother. And, I want to add, one of the few times I can remember where Dad didn't have the last word.

Today would have been his 81st birthday. To celebrate, I think I'm going to pull out my Wassamatta U. sweatshirt and visit Frostbite Falls. After, of course, picking up DS#2 from soccer tryouts. Maybe I can find a gentle bon mot in his tan knees and white legs...