Archive for April, 2010

To an outsider, Mom probably appeared to be a dour person. She was nice to people, and she always taught us to be respectful. But unless she had a reason to really be friendly to someone, she didn’t necessarily smile. Now to her family and friends, she laughed more often. But to people who she didn’t know, she gave a grave impression.

My Mom Smiling

Part of the reason for this was because her childhood was difficult (See: Archiving Photos and Videos – Preserve the Family Story). Another reason to keep an austere demeanor was that she was ashamed of her smile. She feared dentists from a very bad childhood experience. I recall a story about the dentist in the mountains where she grew up wasn’t a dentist at all, just a town barber that owned a chair that would tilt back. The only remedy for a toothache was to have it pulled. Out of fear, she simply didn’t visit the dentist. My mother conserved her smiles and laughter.

But when my mother did find something funny  –  Oh My! – laughter would erupt out of her. She had no control over it. One event that triggered this was someone falling down. She couldn’t help it. She wasn’t mean, in fact, she would empathize over the embarrassment and certainly hope they weren’t hurt. But if someone fell, particularly an awkward fall, my mother would start to quiver. She’d bit her lip, her eyes would start watering, she’d hold her side and then explode with laughter. She would laugh for a long time. Just as she would get it under control, she would catch someone’s eye who was enjoying this spectacle, and she would start all over again. It could go on for what seemed like an hour. We grew up in Ohio and the winters were icy. There could be several episodes of people falling on ice each winter. She was never able to control herself. Each time was like the first time that she had ever seen someone fall.

Another instance that would elicit this outburst of laughter from Mom was someone mixing up their words while speaking. Actually, Mom did this quite more than most people, and she laughed at herself as well. If, for instance, someone said “amn dapple”, meaning to say “damn apple”, she commenced into another spell of uncontrolled spasms.  Man, she would crack up. An hour later, she would return to her serious expression, as if her portion of humor was over for the day. That is, unless she tried to relay the story to someone else. She would start laughing all over again in the re-telling.

I remember when I was about six years old an event that made the top of the all-time story-telling list in our family. My younger sister and I were playing on the swing set in the back yard. My 5 year-old sister wore corrective shoes and one shoe was larger than the other on the sole of the shoe. There was an old tin coffee pot in the back yard (perhaps used to water plants) and while we were playing, my sister ran and accidently put her shoe into the coffee pot. Her foot wouldn’t come out of the shoe and the shoe wouldn’t come out of the pot.  My sister was crying because she was walking around very awkwardly with the coffee pot stuck to her shoe. I ran inside to tell my Mom what had happened. When Mom saw the predicament that my sister was in, she started laughing so hard that she could not do anything but convulse into laughter onto a swing on the swing set. She couldn’t  help herself. She was hysterical.  Eventually, the neighbor man saw that something was amiss and came over to cut the coffee pot off of my sister’s foot with tin snips. My sister was fine. There wasn’t a thing he could do to help my mother.

My Dad a few weeks before he died

When my father died unexpectedly at the age of 60, laughter was Mom’s best medicine.  She mourned and cried to be sure. She weeped uncontrollably many times. But two episodes happened during the course of the funeral that caught her off-guard and the laughter started. She didn’t mean to be disrespectful – in fact, my father would have enjoyed the circumstance. He agreed that laughter – even through tears – is the best emotion.

At the funeral, Mom stood at the casket and greeted the MANY people who came for visitation at the funeral home. As the night wore on, a trio of ladies that she didn’t know came into the room. They seemed to move in one unit as if they were tied together. They all had scarves tied under their chin and huddled together as they approached the casket. The site of them was humorous. Mom stood the side, and waited to talk to them. One of them said while dabbing her eyes, “Boy – he must have been really sick for a while.” (Pause) Another one said, ” Yes, this just doesn’t look like him at all”. (Longer Pause) The third finally said, “Wait a minute, this isn’t John – we must be in the wrong room.” Mom heard all of this and just started laughing so hard that she started crying and couldn’t stand up straight. She summoned me to come over and escort her out of the room. She thought that people would think she was crazy because she was laughing so hard, so she pretended to be breaking down crying. She left until she could compose herself. It took several minutes for the laughter to stop.

A few weeks later, my two sisters and my Mom went to the National Monument Memorial Stone Company to pick out a headstone for my father’s grave. My father received a flat military stone for his gravesite (See: The Front Line) , but my mother decided that she wanted a headstone as well. On the way, they started talking about some of the “memories” of Dad and they started laughing. As they pulled up to parking lot, they were already laughing pretty hard. Then my sister opened her door and caught her foot and fell out of the car.  My mother witnessed it and you can guess the state she was in. As they walked into the place uncontrollably laughing, the fellow that was trying to help them was fairly perplexed. I imagine that was the first time anyone came into his store acting like that. They really tried to stop and gather ourselves before we went in but it was impossible. Somehow they managed to purchase a double headstone for both my father’s grave and one that would serve in the future for my mother’s as well. It had my father’s name, his date of birth and his date of death. On the other side, it also had my mother’s name, her date of birth and a placeholder for the future date of her death.  I would have liked the grave stone to also say “A smile starts on the lips. A grin spreads to the eyes. A chuckle comes from the belly. But a good laugh erupts from the soul.”

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