When it comes to the close ties between humor and misunderstanding, of course, it’s easy to poke fun in loving fashion at the naïvely young, which is where I’ll begin with my younger granddaughter, Abigail.
Abigail has all the signs of being quite amusing in her own right for quite some time, but no matter what may make me laugh in the future when it comes to her, I think this anecdote will forever remain my favorite because it speaks to me on a far deeper level, since it hearkens back to a time long ago when I was doing my best to raise my two daughters, Shannon and Katie.
You see, during their formative years of working at home on their reading skills, there would be those moments when my little ladies would ask me a word’s meaning. Ever the teacher, even when not standing in a classroom, I wouldn’t just tell them right away. Annoying, I know, but that’s how I rolled. Instead, I’d say, “Use it in a sentence,” which prompted their reading the sentence in which the word appeared, allowing me to listen to any context clues that I could point out to them.
Well, that lesson from so very many years ago is now being used by Katie, now an educator herself at Karrer Middle School in Dublin, both at her school and in her home. So, when Abigail asked a while back, “What does muck mean?” she was hit with the old “use it in a sentence.” Not quite catching the drift of what Mom wanted her to do, Abigail hopped off the couch, walked briskly to the sink where Mom was doing a few dishes, tapped her on the side and motioned with her finger for Katie to bend at the waist for a face-to-face.
When Katie was properly aligned eyeballs to eyeballs, the wide-eyed little blond second-grader raised the volume of her voice and slowed her delivery in an effort to be better understood and said, “WHAT… DOES… MUCK… MEAN?”
Staying with my thesis idea, I’ll pass along my sister Joanie’s go-to story when it comes to our mother’s humorous dance with misunderstanding. Since the story is almost six decades old, I may have to blow a little dust off the tale. Now, Joan tells the tale with wonderful flourishes of hand and facial gestures with just the right voice modulations, all possible when telling a story rather than writing one. Nonetheless, please bear with me.
As Joan recalls, she was 12 or so when Mom, as moms tend to do, felt new clothes were in order for a big holiday, in this case, Christmas. Mom bought Joan a navy-and-Kelly green dress coat, one my sister recalls was far more popular back in the 1960s, especially with the moms, than they are today.
Recalls Joan, “My friends and I didn’t like them because they were too long, and we thought they made us look frumpy, but our moms were the ones doing the buying.”
Sure enough, at least by Joan’s standards, the coat was too long, and Sis begged Mom to have it altered to get the length to knee level or perhaps a tad higher, shame the devil. Mom, realizing that Dad groused a bit when it was decided that last Christmas’ garb in her estimation just wouldn’t do, began worrying about the cost of an alteration added, of course, to the cost of the coat.
Nonetheless, even with her preconceived notion that this was going to be expensive, Mom did indeed take the dress coat in, Joan seems to recall to Dewey’s in what she remembers as the golden age of alterations. Sliding the coat across the counter to the seamstress, Mom told her she wanted the coat shortened. Unemotionally and committed to the routine it takes to alter clothing all day in near solitude for eight hours a day, the dour-faced women began seriously fingering the material while examining it and rolling the hem, Mom was assuming, tacitly assessing the amount of work needed and the cost for the service. This went on for what seemed like an inordinately long time as Mom grew more apprehensive over what the announced cost was going to be.
Finally, the seamstress looked up and with great sobriety asked, “Do you know how much?” Now, the seriousness of the question, Mom took, as an indication that the charge would be considerable. So, with great trepidation, Mom looked at her and said with a slight rise in her voice, making it sound as if she were answering a question with a question, “No?”
The seamstress again dropped her head and again began smoothing and lifting the coat’s hem before finally elevating her eyes and saying to Mom, “Well, if you don’t know how much, how am I going to do the work?”
The light instantly snapped on, and our dear mother blurted, “Oh, oh, two inches, two inches shorter!”
And so it goes with humor and my loved ones and perhaps with yours when it comes to the main ingredient in the recipe for laughter — misunderstanding!
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.