Anyone who has ever met my Dad has also had the pleasure of encountering his unique sense of humor and his unmistakable whistle. When I say everyone…I mean everyone. I’ve heard him tell jokes to physicians, surgeons, nurses, home care workers, customers, neighbors, local shop-keepers, and of course, funeral directors. All have made note of the fact that he’s a one of a kind guy. Truth.
As a consequence of genetics, biology, and/or family imprinting, I tend to find myself in situations of dry-witted story telling myself. I am no where near as quick-witted as my Dad, I must admit, which is probably why I write stories more often than telling them out loud. Likewise, I have sometimes found myself whistling a familial tune in inopportune places and spaces, but with far more air and less flair than their originator. On more than one occasion, a story or joke will roll out of my mouth which arguably might have been better left in the family vault. But, there it is….a tribute to inter-generational wit and whimsy. Or at least, a solid attempt.
Yesterday, I spent the morning with my church choir at a three-hour retreat to kick off the choral season. At the same time, another group was gathered in the parish hall participating in a social program with adults from our neighborhood group homes. Mid-morning, we took a singing break and I strolled in to say hello to the volunteers and participants who were gathered. There were snacks, coffee, conversation, and even the beloved therapy dog of one of our parish volunteers circulating about in the parish hall. I sat down at a table with two elder gentlemen who were sipping coffee, but didn’t currently have anyone chatting with them. I introduced myself, and we exchanged names: Sarah, Isaiah, Leon. I told Isaiah that I could see we already had something in common…both having being named something biblical. “Oh yes, indeed” he replied, “and they never let me forget it!” I told him that was my experience, too. Being given a biblical name is like being born with an instruction manual: expectations are high. Leon then introduced himself and asked me if I was in charge of the church. “Oh no, no…not any more than any one of us!” I quickly answered. We are, in my mind, all in charge of being Church. I added that I was there practicing with the choir but we were on break so I thought I’d come and say hello. “Well,” Leon said in a charming voice, “then you must be the star of the choir!”
Isaiah piped in to offer his agreement. “Oh no, definitely not!” I chuckled, setting the record straight with the two finely-finessed flatterers. I wrinkled up my nose, thinking of my performance on the last piece we just sight-read before the break “Let’s just say I’ve been making a joyful noise.” Leon laughed. I went on to tell him that I did love to sing but that for me, the joy of singing in a choir is that I didn’t have to hit every one of the the notes, just enough of them so that between all of us, it comes out right in the end. [I was glad, in that moment, my choir director was not listening to my explanation.] At this point, Leon said that he remained sure I could sing a solo if I wanted to. I did confess that I do that in church from time to time, but also that it makes me a lot more nervous.
Suddenly, as if my father had entered the parish hall, I could hear his voice in my ear. In fact, one of my Dad’s jokes was ringing so loudly in my ear that I laughed out loud.
Both men paused to look at me quizzically as I laughed and shook my head. I grinned at Leon, “I was just remembering that my Dad used to ask me to sing solo all the time…” I began. Leon nodded, thinking a nice family story was about to unfold.
I leaned over to Leon and continued, “…he used to ask me to sing ‘So-Lo’ that he couldn’t hear me, that is!”
Well, to say that Leon belly-laughed would be an understatement. True to my father’s comedic style, I also repeated the joke for Isaiah and soon the three of us were in near hysterics over the incredibly bad pun and its perfect timing. Leon kept saying, “I ain’t never heard that one…oh my…that is a good one…I am going to remember that…oh, that is a good one!” It had clearly made his day, and it was probably the hardest I myself had laughed in a week.
My break was over, and choir rehearsal begged me back. I thanked my two table-mates for giving me some company and conversation and they did the same.
As I walked back to the choir room, I thought about the dozens of times that my Dad has dropped that line on me over the years. Sometimes I would chuckle, or groan, or roll my eyes. Sometimes in my angst-filled teenage years, I would feel offended and put-off in the way that adolescents do about air, water, and anything parental. Today, I thought to myself, it would be fine by me if that joke existed for no other reason than to have planted in my memory so that I could share some laughter with those two kindly souls who were seeking shelter and socialization that day. It was like a little piece of treasure, perfectly passed along exactly at the time it was needed. Grace, dignity, and humor all in a precious moment of human connection. Laughter is, indeed, the best medicine.
So, thanks, Dad. From me, and Isaiah, and Leon. Your one-of-a-kind humor was a small point of light where our paths intersected. Now, go whistle a happy tune. So-Lo.