Monday, July 04, 2005

Family Circus

There is a minimum ten year difference in age between me and my siblings, so they experienced their childhood in a different era than I did. They seem to have had a more innocent childhood; in fact, they seem to have come from a totally different family than me. I recently was sent a videotape from my ex-brother-in-law’s sixth birthday and found really poignant photos of a time long past. The all-white children laughed, ate cake, played drop the handkerchief and chased each other in circles. In their six-year-old faces, I could see their adult features of today, as if little or nothing could have changed the blueprint for their development. By the time my own birthdays were rolling around, I wondered why my parents sent me to an integrated school but then refused to allow me to invite my new black friends to our home…."What would the neighbors think?"

My family still gathers at Christmas with mom to have dinner, telling stories from our past. One thing we have learned is that everyone in every generation of our family witnessed an accident involving a vehicle and a pedestrian, many times resulting in death of the pedestrian. That notwithstanding, we also have stories that are funny right up until the moment we realize that it is our family destiny to be the butt of the joke. What I find interesting is how we have merged our memories to the point that things that happened to one of us are remembered with detail by another sibling who claims to be the actual victim.

This Christmas, my brother told two stories of his most humiliating moments. These were, indeed, his own stories. The first was of a family trip to the circus in Goldsboro, NC, a fifty mile drive from Delway. My mom, dad, and Bob and Lynn arrived at the parking lot of the event just as it grew dark. When they approached the entrance, there was a small area through which you had to pass to enter the circus grounds. This path was surrounded on either side by ditches. In my version of the story, which although perhaps not quite as accurate, but ever the more hilarious, has my brother claiming, "I can jump that ditch," before taking a leap that fell short of its goal. My brother claims that it was just dark and he thought that he was following the path. But, that is hardly the issue, because, you see….my brother fell into the ditch where the circus had been dumping its elephant feces. He went in up to his neck.

Once he was rescued from the ditch, the ‘adults’ in my family evaluated the situation and decided that if they hosed him off really well, he wouldn’t look so bad and they could proceed to the circus. After all, they had driven an hour to see the circus and by gosh, they were going to see the circus. So, they did go for the performances of the various acts which must have lasted forever for a lot of the people in that tent. My mother usually exclaims at this point in the story, as if she had no role in the decision to stay, that it just must have been awful to those poor people sitting around them. My brother’s retort is "How the hell do you think I felt?", which brings peals of hysterical laughter from the rest of us, including my brother and mom!

º º º

Another of his tales involves his second grade school play. Mother bought, washed, starched and ironed a new white shirt for his starring role in the play. The day of the big event, she sent the shirt with Bob with specific instructions that it was to be donned only minutes before the beginning of Act I. So, my brother, being ever anxious to be dashing, immediately upon arriving at school changed into his acting clothes and proceeded to class. That morning, of all the mornings in the school year to that point, the cafeteria provided chocolate milk at milk break. Of course, you can imagine my brother’s Hudson fate, that of having spilled his chocolate milk all over the white shirt he had been told not to wear until just before the play. He went on to star in the play, looking a bit like he was wearing a cowhide.

My brother, in telling these stories, laughs in embarrassment and with humor about the situation all at the same time. Of course, his laughter is contagious and gets us all laughing hysterically.

º º º

The laughter often reminds one of us of the day we moved our mother into the house she is living in now, and that story is pulled out of our repertoire and told once again for our enjoyment.

At the end of a long day of unpacking and moving, my brother and I, punch-drunk from fatigue, went out to dinner. I was craving a steak, so we went to a steak house. A few minutes after placing our order, a family arrived with a woman in a wheel-chair. I guess for her safety, like a helmet of sorts, there was a swatch of what appeared to be carpet strapped across her forehead. Unfortunately, it looked just like one of my mother’s dog’s favorite toys had been glued to her head. My brother saw her first and said "That woman has one of Boston’s toys on her head." I turned and looked and sure enough, it did appear that his toy was stuck right there. I turned back around and made eye contact with Bob just long enough for us both to do a spit take and to begin laughing uncontrollably. It was one of those events where the muscles of the abdomen actually start to cramp….for me at least, and just as we would almost catch our breath, one of us would start again and then the whole thing was off and running yet again. We must have laughed for ten minutes before we almost got calmed, when my brother said in a very high pitched voice, "We’re going to Hell!". That did it….we were laughing again. We were shameful about our behavior, but at the same time, I don’t think we have ever has a more therapeutic burst of laughter in our lives. I am very sorry to the poor victim of our silliness, but it really wasn’t as much about her as it was about us and our fatigue.

At the next gathering, I will try to get my sister to share some of her favorite stories.



Blogger Erin said...

omg Ron, I love this post! I truly hope that everyone has a story of laughing uncontrollably - whatever the catalyst was - they are indeed some very therapeutic moments. Of course, reading your post put me in the middle of one, I'm still laughing, and my kids are looking at me like I'm a nut!

7/05/2005 10:18:00 PM  
Blogger Vickie said...

Yeah, I enjoyed this so much that I had to make sure SHE came to see it Hope you're getting all organized for your trip. I'd love to hear more of these stories later!

7/06/2005 08:40:00 PM  
Anonymous susan said...

hahaha yes, and i'm still laughing too.
wonderful :D

7/10/2005 08:08:00 AM  

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