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Dad, The Practical Joker

Updated on June 25, 2019
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As a baby boomer, Denise and millions of others are becoming senior citizens. She explores what it means to be over 60 today.

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Dad at Christmas 1967, with me in the background.
Dad at Christmas 1967, with me in the background.
Dad at Christmas 1967, with me in the background. | Source

Taught Me To Laugh At Life

My dad had a great but unusual sense of humor. He didn't tell jokes or one-liners. He pulled off elaborate practical jokes. Most people like to be present when the "bomb" goes off on a practical joke. Not my dad. He didn't mind setting up a situation that wouldn't come to a head for days, even weeks, and then sit back and enjoy all the fall-out.

Photo credit: All photos were taken by me unless otherwise noted.

“My father didn’t tell me how to live. He lived, and let me watch him do it.”

— – Clarence Budington Kelland
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Black and white taken on my Brownie of my grandmother, Frankie. No one's granny.Grandma with her Pekinese puppy.
Black and white taken on my Brownie of my grandmother, Frankie. No one's granny.
Black and white taken on my Brownie of my grandmother, Frankie. No one's granny. | Source
Grandma with her Pekinese puppy.
Grandma with her Pekinese puppy. | Source

The Unsuspecting Waitress Story

My dad and his mother-in-law didn't always get along well, so it is no surprise that he played more than one practical joke on her. She hated with an unchristian passion to be called "granny". For this reason, my dad loved calling her that. He used the term so often at home where she couldn’t hear him that it became natural. One day, I slipped and called her "granny" to her face. Immediately I knew I was in big trouble, but she just squinted at me and said, "Don’t think for one moment that I don’t know who put you up to that!" I would have protested that my dad didn't put me up to it but his practical joke side saved me that day, so I kept my mouth shut.

My favorite story is the one about the waitress. My dad was working for a chain of restaurants and would periodically show up to fix dishwashers and other electrical equipment. On this day, he was in the kitchen working on a machine when one of the waitresses came in and addressed him.

"I just hurd you awe welated to Fwankie."

"Yes," my dad said, "she is my mother-in-law."

"I just wuve Fwankie," the waitress divulged. "She comes in evewy Wednesday night wiff hur fwends. She is a deawo."

"You know," my dad sets the bomb, "her dearest friends call her granny."

She thanked him for telling her and promised that the next time Frankie came in, she would call her granny.

It seems to me that it would be fun to be a fly on the wall for that confrontation, but my dad was just as content waiting to hear about the fall-out later.

“Having children is like living in a frat house – nobody sleeps, everything’s broken, and there’s a lot of throwing up.”

— – Ray Romano



Trouble With Frankie

Weeks later when he was back in the restaurant, this time under a dishwasher fixing it, he said that someone started kicking his legs and yelling, "You got me in twuble wiff Fwankie!!" Apparently, that Wednesday when my grandmother came into the restaurant, the poor unsuspecting waitress yelled at the top of her voice, from across the room, "Hi, Granny" and my dear sweet little grandmother stomped clear across the restaurant floor to punch her in the arm. Yes, that sounds like my grandmother. She HATES being called granny. I'm sure the waitress only had to mention my dad's name to get off the hook with her though.

Dad said he couldn't come out from under the dishwasher for quite some time, not because he was being kicked but because he was laughing so hard.



Ghost Stories

He did stuff like that. Once when my sister and I had a sleep-over, he couldn't resist making all of us scream. Six pre-teens in nightgowns up past midnight telling ghost stories in a darkened bedroom, suddenly hear growling noises and then scratches on the window screen. We pictured were-beasts of some sort and this sent us screaming and running to find mother. We only calmed down when we saw him come in from outside laughing his butt off. Now that's just mean.

Practical Jokes

Do you like practical jokes?

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Royalty-free photo from iStock of terrified man.
Royalty-free photo from iStock of terrified man. | Source

Practical Jokers Together

He did, however, get his come-up-uns, as he would say while working with another practical joker. His best friend and co-worker, Clancy, and he were unloading a freight elevator one day. On the second load, my dad began unloading boxes when Clancy jumped out from behind one of the crates. Dad was incredulous when he described a grown man jumping out from behind a crate and yelling "boo." He never would tell us if he wet his pants that day or not.

Practical Jokes for Practical Jokers

Some jokes are funnier than others. Be careful when you pick practical jokes that cause others pain. Those aren't usually very funny for everyone. The best jokes make everyone laugh not just the practical joker.

Uncle Butch

Dad told me another story about him and his little brother Butch. Living very near the Ohio River meant that they could go out fishing often. Fishing for catfish was done from a small boat in the early morning hours before the sun came up. In one story they fished till the day began to dawn and it was time to come back to shore. Dad reached for the outboard motor cord and gave it a pull but nothing happened. He gave it another sharp tug and still nothing happened, so he took off the top and began tinkering inside the motor. That's when my Uncle Butch began pestering him. "Anything I can do to help?" "Common, let me help." "There must be somethin' I can do to help." Finally, Dad pulled out two wires and told Butch, "here, hold these." Happy to help, Butch took the two wires, one in each hand. Dad gave the cord another hard pull, which gave Butch a shock of respectable voltage. With his hair still smoking a little and his eyes bugged out somewhat, Dad took the wires back from Butch and said, "Well, it's not the battery. Thanks, that helped a lot." Butch didn’t ask to help anymore.

That's my Dad. Got to love him.

Photo credit: My watercolor painting of early morning fishing with a dhōge. Dad said he went ever'where with his dog (pronounced with a long "o"). He said a dog is just some little, fluffy lap critter but a boy must have a dhōge to go huntin'.

Practical jokes

Some are funny. Some not so funny. I love that fright brings out the fight or flight reaction in people.




I love that he taught us what humor is like. He taught us not to plan a joke that would cause injury or sickness. The day I put salt in the sugar bowl was really an accident, but I saw that messing with a man's meal is not funny. When my dad passed, the mortician, as they normally do, put make-up on him, but also a little crooked smile. It seemed like the same crooked smile he used just before one of his joke bombs went off. I remember looking at him lying there in the beautiful soft casket and thinking, he really looks like he could jump up and say, "boo." So as much as I would have liked for him to jump up, I told him he better not say, "boo" or I would wet my pants on the spot. Unfortunately, he didn’t say, "boo."


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