Saturday, October 27, 2012

Thanks for the Laughter, Thanks for the Love

When our mother passed away this week, I was touched by the memorials my sister and brother posted on Facebook. Susan spoke of Mom's selflessness and generosity, and David mentioned her love of music. The one thing they both remarked on was Mom's wonderful sense of humor.

She came by it honestly. I'm told that her father, my Grandpa Shorter, who died when I was too young to remember, had a famously dry wit. My Grandma Shorter, who I remember well, had a wonderful, infectious laugh. As I recall, she was nearly always laughing—usually at something one of her children said. They were all funny, my mother and her siblings. When the whole family got together, the laughter would just about shake the rafters.

In my mother's family, sharing laughter was a way of sharing love.

My mother could always make me laugh. Once, when I was a kid, we were eating at a drive-in. She was in the driver's seat, and I was sitting in the passenger seat, drinking a cup of hot chocolate. I don't remember what she said, but I remember that it made me laugh, and hot chocolate came out of my nose. Have you ever had hot chocolate come out of your nose? Let me tell you, it burns. But no matter how much my sinuses were burning, I could not stop laughing.

Whatever my mother said to make me spray scalding, chocolate-flavored milk out of my nose, I'm sure it wasn't a joke. My mother did not tell jokes. With practice, anyone can be good at telling a joke. (My father, like his father before him, was a skilled joke-teller, although the jokes themselves were generally pretty corny.) The sort of spontaneous, observational humor practiced by my mother and her family can only be inherited.

For example, several years ago, when my parents were still in their house, I was trying to convince them to get someone to come in and help with the chores, especially the laundry. "Those basement stairs are dangerous," I said. "I don't think Dad should be going down there."

"Don't worry," my mother said, without missing a beat. "He hardly ever goes down there when he's been drinking."

I like to think I inherited some of that Shorter sense of humor. I have always enjoyed making people laugh, and I think I'm pretty good at it. Making my mother laugh always gave me a special joy. It made me feel like I was repaying her in some way for all of the laughter and all of the love she gave me over the years.

As if I ever could.

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