One Funny Mother
People sometimes ask me how I got so funny. When they ask, I’m always glad someone besides me finds what I say entertaining. Being funny is a skill that has to be developed. You have to practice it, like the stand-up comic who tries out new material at open mic nights, or the jokester who repeats a phrase for different friends and family members to gauge their reactions. But sometimes it takes work. I’ll let you in on a little secret that helps me in my process, though: I surround myself with people who have great laughs and varied (and generous) senses of humor.*
The one laugh I remember working the hardest for when I first realized the power of telling funny stories was my mom’s. She has a range of laughs, from knee-slapping guffaws to what I can only describe as “The Dickerson Giggle,” a kind of higher-pitched stream of talk-laughter she and her sisters (especially my Aunt Peggy) sometimes fall into when they’re telling a story that is so funny they can’t even form the words without cracking themselves up, their faces becoming my grandfather’s. They sound like they’re hyperventilating. The audience ends up laughing without even knowing the story, merely because this laugh is so infectious, so ridiculous.
Both of my parents have great laughs, and as an approval-seeking (middle) child, I worked to make both of them chuckle, but I especially remember feeling like I’d won something when I could get my mom to chortle. Preferably with something liquid in her mouth. She has a dry, Midwestern wit and an impish side that came out in the “games” we played as kids, such as “Let’s See How Many Dishes We Can Wash in 8 Minutes” and “I’m Going To Try To Push Your Head Down on the Bed, You Try To Keep it Up.” She thinks the movie Dodgeball is hilarious, and one time I had to write haiku for a class assignment and she called me with a bunch of nursery rhyme haiku she had written.
“Little Miss Muffet/still sitting on that tuffet?/time to redecorate,” was my favorite.**
“The Bed-making Fairy didn’t come today,” she’d say, gliding into the room I shared with my sister. “I’m afraid you girls will have to make them yourselves.” It seemed as though this Bed-making Fairy was the laziest of all the fairies, as I only recall her coming a few times in my childhood, and usually these visits coincided with that of company. My Halloween costume from last year–which won a costume contest (thank you very much)–was inspired because of my mom being goofy with a flip-top garbage can lid, which she put in front of her face and pressed the button, causing it to fly up, revealing her exaggerated smile in a “Peek-a-boo” pose.
It’s easy to imagine my mom got this sense of humor–which we all call Dickerson humor because its penchant for puns and malapropisms reminds us of Grandpa Gene–from her father (the aforementioned Gene) alone. But my mother had a funny mother, too.
Gram used to spoil us with cookies, candy, and pop, the quintessential grandmother staples that endear them to grandchildren everywhere. One time when my cousin Lisa and I were in the kitchen, Gram kept offering us treats, to the point that she had been flitting about the room.
“Sit, Grandma, sit,” Lisa said. Without missing a beat, Gram put up her arms like two paws and panted like a dog. I remember her laugh, too, a full-body ha-ha, during which she would sweep her long, elegant right arm up and gracefully swing it back down, a more ladylike version of the knee-slap. “Oh ho ho,” she would titter.
One thing my mom didn’t get from her mom, one thing she and I don’t share, the way we share our sense of humor, is the affliction of laughing so hard you wet your pants. She, a cousin, and some of my aunts have this; my sister and I do not. So, being imps ourselves, we use this to our advantage. One time on a canoe trip that has supplied us with many funny stories, my mom parked in front of our hotel and went in to check in. My cousin Lisa and I yelled out the window “Peepants!” to her, causing her to turn, run back to the car, and burst out in laughter in the driver’s seat. “I didn’t even hear what you said,” she told us, having maintained continence only because she made it back to the car and could sit. “I just knew it was funny.”
My mom and I don’t look related, her thick red hair and creamy freckled skin vastly different from my fine, wavy brown locks and olive complexion that tans easily in the summer. My sister doesn’t resemble either of us, with straight blonde hair and blue eyes that must come from our Swedish paternal grandmother, my dad’s (funny) mother, whom we never met, sadly. The three of us look so different that I’ve often thought when we go out that we’re the beginning of a joke, that old standard, “A blonde, a brunette, and a redhead went walking…” Maybe that’s why we laugh so much whenever we’re together: we’re the only ones in on it.
Happy Mother’s Day to all funny mothers out there, especially my own. Love you, Mom.
*My friend Jenny has an amazing laugh. So do Lindsay and Carlee. And Erin, Dawn, cousin Lisa, Charlie, and Stephanie. And making someone funny, like Spud, laugh makes me feel even funnier.
**I realize the last line has 6 syllables instead of 5, but we learned you can bend the rules a little. “To” is barely a word, anyway.