The Dark Side of Humor

My family has a strange, sometimes irreverent sense of humor.  I find this useful, because it opens me up to the juxtaposition of ideas that can lead to new lines of thinking.  These ideas, which more sensible people might flee, are excellent fodder for my stories.

Socially, this can be a problem, and I have learned to conceal my stranger thoughts from people I do not know well.  I habitually self-edit my speech, and if you are one of those people with whom I have shared one of my bizarre free associations, it means you are someone I trust.  Self-editing has its own difficulties, as when I studied acting, but it seems to work out better than the alternative.  Still, unusual humor hasn’t always worked out so well for the rest of the family.

More than a decade after my Nana died, my grandfather, still mourning his loss, sent a letter to his brother in Pennsylvania.

“I visited her grave last night,” he wrote.  “It’s cold, and it’s dark, and I hate it.”

In response, my great-uncle dodged the emotional depth of his letter, and instead sent him a Christmas present:  a flashlight and electric socks.  The whole family hailed this as a brilliant joke.sox-flashlight

And then my grandfather got sick.

Cholesterol was beginning to impede blood flow to his brain.  The doctor recommended a “Roto-Rooter” operation–they would open up the affected blood vessels, clean them out, and put him back together.  This same surgery had worked for another man my grandfather knew, and he had no reason it wouldn’t work as well in this case.

While under anesthesia, however, my grandfather’s blood pressure shot dangerously high, and when they gave him medication to control it, his BP crashed.  He was dead from the complications of his stroke within a week.

As they were packing up his belongings in the hospital, my parents came across the flashlight and electric socks. From what we can tell, he had considered the hospital where his wife died a significant enough health risk that he wanted to be ready to leave it in a hearse.  In response, the family decided to put the socks and flashlight into my grandfather’s casket when he was buried.

Except I can’t help but wonder.  So much of our health is predicated on our willingness to fight against entropy and live.  And I wonder if my grandfather chose not to do it.  I wonder if our inability as a family to face suffering and talk about how we really feel made him give up the fight.

I wonder if we chose to be funny instead.


Hardwood Gaming

A friend once told me that it is not so much the big events that our children will remember as they grow, but the longstanding traditions.  For me, the best-held tradition is without question Sunday dinner. I don’t mean the meal, though my food preferences still lean towards the New England style I grew up with.  I refer instead to the hour or two of family time I had each week before that meal was served.cribbage

Every Sunday after church, my grandfather came over for dinner.  I don’t recall what my siblings did during those hours, but he and I spent them playing games.  Occasionally it was checkers or something else, but mostly I recall cribbage.  Unless you’re a Red Sox fan, you probably haven’t even seen a cribbage board, but we played endless matches.  As I grew older, I was even able to win some.  And I my head still resounds with the count.

Fifteen-two, fifteen-four, fifteen-six, and a pair is eight.  Fifteen-two, fifteen-four, fifteen-six, fifteen-eight, and a double-double run of sixteen makes twenty-four.  The occasional fifteen-two and let your voice fall.  And once, in all those games, twenty-eight, a single-point short of the perfect hand.  I remember dumping a pair into my grandfather’s final crib in the hope that I could count out before he ever got to see them, knowing that as dealer he was guaranteed at least one point for last card.  It was strategy.  It was probability.

It was relationship.

My children grew up a hundred miles or more from their grandparents, and we never made Sunday dinner a tradition. Sandwiched between homework and the press of outside commitments, even our family supper hour is rushed.   And we stopped playing games back when Arthur and Candy Land grew old.  Is it because they feel unfairly challenged?  I don’t know, but I’m confident they could beat me today if they had taken up the challenge in their youth, as I did.

It’s too bad Minecraft graphics make me feel nauseous, because that might be the best way to interact with the next generation these days.