By Kathryn Bush
We laugh alike. Exactly alike, my sisters and I. Even though we don’t really look much like each other, everyone always knows we are sisters because we share mannerisms and facial expressions. If we are at a restaurant together, people look over at the three laughing women. We throw our heads back, as if to crow, our shoulders and bellies shake, and the laugh which emanates from deep in our beings is raucous, and irreverent.
We got our laughs and our humor from our mother. When the four of us were together, husbands kept their distance, and children lingered near to discover what could possibly be so funny. I doubt they ever found out, because what we find funny is, well, different. My father always complained about having to attend funerals in my mother’s family because folks were in hysterics a few minutes after the formal ceremony was over. A funeral in my mother’s family was like a family reunion among people who–instead of speaking–giggled, laughed and guffawed what they had to say.
It’s not that we couldn’t appreciate other people’s humor. We could appreciate a good Henny Youngman joke:
On the last flight I took, I had 3 pieces of luggage. At the airport I told the ticket agent to send one bag to New York, one to Denver and one to Cleveland, Ohio. “ We can’t do that,” the agent said. “Why not?” I said. “You did it last week?”
Lucy and Desi could entertain us. We could appreciate a Charlie Brown cartoon. But mostly what made us laugh was ourselves. Or our “near and dear.” When my five-year-old nephew, Randy, the youngest of two boys, overnight had an instant two year old younger sister to contend with, he did not hit her or say mean things to her. However, at naptime, sharing a double bed, eyes closed as if sleeping, he would ever so slowly under the sheet, slide his hand with an outstretched finger to within a hair’s breadth of Brenda, who would then cry out full volume a victim’s scream. Without so much as touching her, he provoked her mercilessly. Now that’s funny. To this day, when we want to represent simple, sly, and intentional provocation we place one finger too close to our sibling. No words, just that gesture. Then we throw our heads back and laugh until we are content.
Now my niece, she’s one of the few in our family who is truly funny. Her dog sends my dog a bag of pet treats bedecked with a personal picture of – guess who? – her dog. She can also get a carload of hardened teenagers to chuckle. When my teenage son and daughter were joining their friends for a night out, she would stand on the front porch, conspicuously waving good-bye and yelling “Make good choices! Don’t get arrested! And, if you do, don’t call me for bail.” That is now a standard fair-well amongst my crew and their friends, and we laugh every time.
We aren’t funny people. We don’t say witty things, or word plays, or make double entendres. I was self-conscious about that as a teenager and began collecting jokes. I could entertain a bus load of Future Teachers of America for a field trip all the way to Springfield and back. I was voted funniest girl of my senior class. I wasn’t of course, but the funniest girls had already been voted “most likely to succeed” and “prettiest.” I felt a complete fraud, as I knew I didn’t have a witty bone in my body. And I really had to work hard to remember the jokes. How did Henny Youngman do it?
Sometimes we laugh at our silliness. Like when we took a proud picture in a foggy Boston park in our bright raincoats. Everyone else was wearing respectable black, and we were in canary yellow, tomato red, spring green, and royal blue. Now that’s funny. We have taken pictures with silly glasses, or sitting on an oversized rocker, or marching arm in arm through some public place. Now these pictures don’t evoke a full, throaty laugh, just a bemused chuckle.
None of our daughters have inherited this laughter; maybe because none of them belong to a trio. My mother, aunt and grandmother did it. When my mother died, the three of us kept up the merriment. I worry that something will be lost. When the three of us are gone, who, if any, amongst the living generation will throw their heads back, shoulders shaking, and laugh a full belly laugh? Anybody? Well, come to think of it, probably everyone at the funeral.
Ha! Now that’s funny!