Friday, December 10, 2010

There’s One In Every Family

I like all sorts of humor. My favorite kind, it turns out, is the humor found in every day life. This may be because I grew up reading Readers Digests. Not all of the magazine caught my attention, just the quirky little zingers delimited by scrolls or lines that filled up the empty space at the end of a story, the pages dedicated to the humor abundant in the people and animals around us. . I loved Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. I scoured the cartoons in the New Yorker, read the funnies faithfully every day, savoring Sunday’s colored editions. While other children my age were swooning over the Partridge Family or the Jackson 5, Andy Williams and Carol Burnett were my idols.

Now that I am an adult I find myself still drawn to the same things. I love the waiting room of any doctors office because Reader’s Digest will surely be there. Many magazines have a pages at the end dedicated to stories from readers, little vignettes that show we are a lovable and funny kind of species.  My mother was a perfect example of a good life lived humorously. While she did not always see the humor in her life and didn’t always appreciate the fact that we did it keeps her close to me, and gives me something to smile about on those dark days of mental winter.

My nephew had been coerced into saying the Thanksgiving Day dinner prayer a couple of years before she died. He was seventeen and a mumbler (they all are, teens speak there own weird language). When he finished up and said God Bless Us, my mom, who hadn’t understood a single word he had said asked “Did he say school bus?” in a loud and rather cranky voice. The room was dead silent for a second, but then the thought of a prayer that could have ended with the words school bus took hold and we all lost it, chiming in our own versions. It is now a staple in our family lore, the phrase she uttered being trotted out anytime someone is speaking actual or metaphorical gibberish.

Another story involves her standing in a Churches Fried Chicken. She and my youngest brother, a diminutive older white woman and a teenager, were sandwiched in among a sea of black, brown and tan faces.  While my mother was a liberal she was born and raised in the Deep South and a Catholic to boot. In other words she had a triple whopping dose of guilt. She was so afraid of saying the wrong thing, of the people surrounding her thinking poorly of her, or thinking her a racist redneck in blue Keds, that she sweated and fretted and practiced her order in her head. The rather young and well built and deep ebony man behind the counter asked her what she would be having with the same bored look as every other fast food cashier in the entire free world and probably China as well. My mother, trying to avoid an incident that might set race relations in Atlanta back 50 years and cause riots in the streets,  took a deep breath and said “I’ll take the black meat.” The man stoically entered the order, my mother exploded in a flaming flush of crimson and groaned, doing her best imitation of the witch in Oz, melting, melting into a puddle of shame on the floor. My brother broke out in laughter so loud and raucous that the rest of the restaurant joined in.

My favorite story though, the one which exemplifies my mother in my opinion, is about the day we went on a high speed car chase in a mall parking lot. My brother and his wife were visiting from out of state and wanted to go to a new mall which had just opened. After swinging by to pick me (an almost blind woman, keep that in mind, important story element) up, my mom and, also in town and out of her element, sister and I followed them to the mall. There was lots of talking and joking going on, not much paying attention (in our car at least). We turned into the parking lot and realized that their car was no where to be seen. What the hell my mom wondered aloud as she started to circle looking for them. We spotted them several rows away looking like they were heading for an exit already. Gunning the engine of her Mustang (my mom was no slacker) she raced across just to have them speed away as we got nearer. Looking confused and irritated she sped up after them. They sped up more, she started blinking her lights furiously and honking, they started evasive maneuvers. Tires squealing, horn blaring, mother cursing, we almost didn’t notice the little white car trying to catch up with US. My brother and his wife raced along beside us with “what the fuck?!” looks on their faces…. We had been chasing the wrong car.

There is one in every family, and I thank God for that small favor.