Humor in the Family: Growing up Funny
To begin with, I must credit the idea for this hub to Larry Rankin, a fellow author, who wrote about funny things parents tell their kids, and funny tricks that can be played as a device for teaching the kids either a serious lesson or to develop a sense of humor.
Often as not, both can be accomplished together. Some of the funny traditions he mentions are pretty widely seen throughout our (North American) culture, such as warnings about what will happen to you should you swallow chewing gum or fruit seeds. We've all heard those implausible stories, right?
But moving on, from his point of inspiration, I must now share some of our family's cherished pranks. Some were a fond tradition; others were a one-off on the spur of the moment.
Humor at Every Turn
You might say I have a warped sense of humor. Blame my parents. They both had a deeply ingrained mischievous streak.
I recall a story that my folks used to relate from way back when I was a baby, and most likely down for a nap. My father was a very good mechanic, both with working on cars and engines, and even to the point of being able to craft a specialized tool if he needed something unusual. That was his hobby; his avocation. But, by trade, he was also a mechanic. He worked his day job repairing aircraft cockpit instruments, and that required knowledge of precision measuring and use of specialized tools.
It happened that on this particular day, Dad was messing about tinkering with something on the car--the one he had bought from his brother shortly after my birth. It was a troublesome vehicle, and he was always fixing something.
At any rate, he had been using a funnel, and then needed to go over to the wash trays and rinse a container or wash his hands. Just then, my mother happened to come downstairs, probably to check on laundry, and spied the funnel Dad had stuck into the hip pocket of his coveralls. It was too much to resist. Mom snuck into the guest bathroom, filled a small cup with water, and yep, poured it right into the funnel!
Ah, to have been a fly on the wall and witness the reaction first-hand! This is but one of many fond, funny memories I have of growing up.
Dad was a great storyteller, and I begged him to tell his stories over and over; it is the reason I have such good recall of things that happened well before my time.
Even the Accidents Became Funny Stories
When I was approaching my teen years, I was fully sick and tired of the color my parents had chosen for my bedroom: yellow with gray trim. Yuck! I suppose they wanted a gender-neutral color scheme, as back then, you had no idea of the baby's sex until it was born. But I hated the colors. I don't mind yellow, but I hated the gray.
Anyway, I decided I wanted a pink room with white trim. All well and good, and the paint was bought. Of course, before painting, the paint had to be stirred, so downstairs to the garage it had to go. I wanted to carry it, by my mother declined, saying that it was heavy, and I might drop it.
Famous last words! Scarce were the words out of her mouth, when the paint can slipped from her grasp, and somersaulted all the way down the steps, popping open on its way. Pink paint adorned every tread and riser, the walls, the banister and the bottom landing. I cried and hollered, and was nearly inconsolable. We mopped up as much of the mess as possible, but I'm here to tell you; that stairwell bore pink paint spatters for the next 40 years!
Of course, the paint was replaced, and I got my pink room. But my mother never lived it down. Every time she would go to tell me to 'be careful' about anything--to the day she died--I'd have to reply, "Yeah...and who dropped the paint?"
Christmas was always fun. We were not a religious family, but we enjoyed decorating the tree, family parties, and seeing the children open their gifts. Well, at least when we were visiting at the time. At home, it was just me and the folks, for I am an only child.
My dad, however, exercising his own wicked streak of humor, developed what became a tradition: the outrageous gag gift. Every single year, you could count on he and my mother exchanging some ridiculous and useless item.
One year, my father carefully and beautifully wrapped a box containing old curtains that had been fished from the rag bag.
The year my father retired, my mom wrapped up a set of tires from a toy car. "Here's so you can re-tire."
Another time it was a box of logs. When I became of an age that I could appreciate this kind of fun instead of being puzzled and hurt at getting a 'weird and useless' gift, I was on the receiving end a few times.
The tradition has carried on with my kids, though these days it mostly takes the form of a circulating lump of coal, gifted to the family member deemed to have been 'most naughty' throughout the year. The question is always, "Who will get the coal this year?
"Beware the fanciest-wrapped present, for it is likely to contain the gag gift!"— Liz Elias
This date of course is famous for pranking people, and my family was no exception.
Some pranks are funnier than others, as I learned early on. When I was about eight years old, I found it hilarious, (but my mother was not quite so amused) when I dumped the contents of the sugar bowl back into the canister, and refilled the sugar bowl with salt. Funny, but she didn't care much for her coffee that morning.
My father got me good one year. I had just graduated from high school, and was looking for my first job. I came home from an errand, and Dad gave me a phone message, that I was to call this number, and ask for "Mr. Lamb."
I called, and was told that there was no such person there. I was miffed. Dad must have written down the wrong number. I confronted him, and he burst out laughing. I had completely missed, and not paid enough attention to how the phone had been answered: "American Wool Growers Association..." That ended up as a double-prank, as I'm sure the people there thought I was the prankster. Indeed--Dad probably set it up that way on purpose.
My personal best prank though, was played on my own kids when they were quite young. Older than toddlers, with one barely kindergarten age, as I recall. They had their own little kid-sized table in the dining area.
This one April First, I called them out for breakfast, and there on their table, all laid out and ready to eat: toast, a fried egg, and a banana. ...... All cut out from construction paper! They gave me a very odd, almost pained look, at which point I cried out the obligatory, "April Fool!" and served them their real breakfast. It remains a talking point to this day; and that's a long time, for I now have grandchildren, some of whom are adults themselves.
The Left-Handed Compliment
This is an expression that may not be in wide use, but it refers to telling someone 'good job' or other praise, without actually using positive words, but coming at it from the backside, as it were, pretending to scold or complain. It's rather a form of sarcasm.
The one that sticks in my mind most, happened well after my dad had retired, and I had married and had kids of my own. Dad had decided to go out and buy a radial arm saw. That is a table or bench-mounted saw, the blade of which can be pulled forward on a stationary arm, cutting through lumber that is held on the table. This one had its own stand and table, and was on wheels, for there was no place to mount it permanently in his shop.
This particular day, Dad was trying to trim an inch off the hallway doors, as new carpet had been laid, and it was too thick to allow the doors to close. So, off the hinges, and down to the shop they went. I was helping him, as the length of the door was too much weight to be just hanging off the saw table. He clamped on the guide, and was ready to start the saw, when I noticed that the position of the clamp would interfere with the full passage of the door across the table.
Dad looked at it for a moment, realized I was right, but couldn't quite admit that directly, so instead he said, "You want a punch in the nose for being smarter than your father?"
We both had a good laugh, and I've enjoyed the memory these many years since.
An Adult Wedding Joke
No naughty words; I promise. Only your imagination is needed. My mother told me this joke about the time I got married, and was thereby deemed "old enough" to know about such things.
It seems a dentist got married, and his buddies had a fine time playing all sorts of the usual wedding pranks.
When he caught up with them after the honeymoon, he said, "Okay, the cans on the back of the car were fine. The rice in the bed was fine. The salt on the pillows was fine. But...I'm going to kill the S.O.B. who put novocaine in the vaseline!"
Way back in the old days, marrying couples would be 'treated' to an embarrassing ritual known as a "shivaree;' a noisy celebration of horns, pots and pans banged together, along with hooting and hollering, often right outside the bedroom window of the newly married couple at about the hour it would be expected they would turn in for the night.
As far as I know, such antics are no longer practiced, but plenty of other wedding traditions meant to prank the new couple remain. These range from the obligatory streamers, tin cans and old shoes tied to the bumper of the post-ceremony vehicle, to jokes played with their bedding.
Since my parents married during wartime, a few months prior to the end of WWII in July of 1945, there would be no honeymoon trip. My father already was buying the house in which I would grow up, so they just stayed home; even the wedding ceremony and reception was in the house. Perhaps they went out to dinner; I don't know. I'm guessing they had to be away from the house at some point for my father's siblings to prank them as they did, with a funny outcome much later.
Since the siblings did not know which of the bedrooms they were going to use, they gave "the treatment" to both: salt and rice liberally sprinkled between the sheets. When the folks went to turn in for the night, they discovered this, had a good laugh, then got out the vacuum cleaner and took care of it, and went to bed. They never gave it another thought.
Not until quite some time later, at which point a spinster cousin came to visit, and slept in the guest room. In the morning, she stated, "Well, I was a bride last night." To my parents' quizzical expressions, she replied, "When I turned back the covers, the sheets were full of salt and rice."
My parents apologized profusely, figured out what had happened, but having had no reason to check the guest room, the prank had stayed in place those long months--maybe a year or more. The cousin was their first guest.
My mother said, "Oh, you should have said something! We'd have vacuumed it out for you." Cousin Evelyn said, "Nah, I was too tired; I just cleared myself a path and climbed in and went to sleep." She was a Navy nurse, visiting on leave, and had probably slept in worse conditions, so she merely thought it was funny.
All photos by Pixabay; some have been modified.
© 2015 Liz Elias