The Laughing Life

The son tumbled out of his room with yet another joke. His teachers apparently tell them a joke every now and then, and he repeats them to me if he finds them really funny, or remembers to. One of the many gifts of the Covid lifestyle are little snippets like this.

I stood there waiting and wondering what today’s j would be about.

“Why did the skeleton not go to the party?”

“I don’t know – because it had too many bones to pick?”

“Ha! Good one. But no.”

“Umm…don’t know. Why didn’t the skeleton go to the party?” I said a little impatience in the tone. I had to get to that next meeting.

“Because it had nobody to go with. Get it? Get it? No Body to go with?!”

I moaned and laughed at the same time. A lovely feeling of warmth spread through the being as I headed off. 

Later that day, I sat musing about humor and how marvelous a gift it is to humankind.

My Family and Other Animals is a marvelous book by Gerald Durrell. This book has the distinction of being the first book that I read belonging to the Humor genre. I remember it as though it was yesterday. Sitting in class 8-B, the sun was shining outside, there was a butterfly in the lawns outside, but our English teacher seemed to prefer the miracle of the written word to the fluttering butterflies outside. She put on her glasses and whipped the book out of her handbag in one elegant motion and said we were going to read the book.

My Family And Other Animals: See how the author makes you laugh when you read the title itself? she said. We must have looked like Canadian geese being tickled for the first time, for she proceeded to explain the humor in the title. I don’t know whether you have tried tickling a Canadian Goose. I haven’t, but I think they would react the same way. Stern looking creatures Canadian Geese.

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Anyway, I hope for my teacher’s sake that we loosened up as the reading progressed. But, now that I look back, it was one of the first books that made me look for humor in daily situations. Mark Twain – especially the little story of Tom Sawyer painting the wicket gate was another. Swami and Friends by R K Narayan was equally memorable. I remember reading somewhere that R K Narayan when asked about his inspiration for Malgudi – that eternally inviting town that beckons you every now and then, said, he just watched life pass him by and that was all there was to Malgudi.

Pickwick Papers was slow going initially, but the humor in the book was unmistakable. These are the times I am thankful for growing up in a pre-Internet, pre-on-demand television era. I might not have stuck with Pickwick Papers otherwise. 

The ultimate guide was of course P G Wodehouse. When in high school, I changed upon P G Wodehouse, I did not immediately appreciate it. It took a few readings, but oh! What a gift?! What a gift! 

The father, of course, was and remains a constant reminder to find joy in every day life. His jokes were not always appreciated by the mater, but he could take a the rough with the smooth. Life was funny, curious, interesting and not always serious if only we stopped to admire the humor in them. The husband, the daughter and the son all joined the bandwagon too. My Family and Other Animals was taking shape in the Nourish-N-Cherish household.

Where am I going with all of this?! Oh yes! The blog itself. Nourish & Cherish started as an act of whimsy 16 years ago. It is a place that I regularly choose to don the sunny side up mentality in life.  As I started to write down this little skeleton joke, I mused on the thousands of little jokes that did not make it to the blog. For of course, I am guilty of thinking about writing and reading about writing far more than writing itself. But I am glad for the ones that did make it.

In over 900 posts over the past 16 years, life has taught me time and again, that you can choose the sunny side up.

To infinity and beyond!

The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

Days were blurring into weeks, and I had a flustered feeling. When days like these rear their heads, I reach for a children’s book to read. I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again, and again: Children’s book authors and illustrators are the true custodians of the human spirit. 

I had picked up a book left unwritten by Mark Twain, and finished by another author of today, Philip Stead. The book’s title is a mouthful, and its contents a mindful:  The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine: By Mark Twain & Philip Stead (Illustrated by Erin Stead)

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The Purloining of Prince Oleomargarine

Apparently, Mark Twain, after a long day’s work, was asked by his children for a story using a picture as a prompt everyday, and this story was told to the little girls in France. He liked it enough to jot it down, but did not quite finish it.

When a book like that comes along, it feels like perfect cure for the cold winds whipping the Californian hairlines. The narrative voice makes you sit up and wonder how brilliant it is, and brilliance in simplicity is rare indeed. The book suffuses you with enough warmth to get you going through the windy, cold days.

The story starts off with a simple note from the Author explaining the circumstances and getting us to believe that Mark Twain told him the story about our hero, Johnny, while sipping tea and coffee overlooking a lake on Beaver Island. This simple note then sets the tone for two unreliable narrators in the story, and the book chugs on towards the hinterlands of imagination giving us a healthy dose of incredulity, hilarity and thought.

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Our Hero, Johnny, lives a miserable life on a farm with his miserable grandfather and hen named, Pestilence & Famine.  One day, he is sent off by his grandfather to sell the hen, and off goes Johnny with Pestilence & Famine. 

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A Jack & Beanstalk-y bit later, Johnny finds himself with an kind, old lady who trades him the hen for some old blue seeds, with the promise that if tended to properly, a plant will rise, and “when a flower comes up, eat it, It will make you full and you will never feel emptiness again –

“I tell you this”, Twain said to me, raising his teacup in the air, “there are more chickens than a man can know in this world, but an unprovoked kindness is the rarest of birds.

“So, did the hen die?” asks the Author of today, and Mark Twain says yes, while the author today believes that the hen and old woman are living happily.

“Your version lacks credibility”, said Twain. “Surely the old woman is dead. “

“And it should be noted”, he added, “that if Charles Darwin taught us anything, it is this: The chicken is dead too. And, lucky for her, because there are many unflattering ways to leave this world, but none quite so unflattering as being forced to live in it.

The blue seeds turn out to yield the Juju flower, and Johnny finds himself hungry and desperate even after eating the Juju flower. He walks to the edge of the forest, and falls feint only to look up and find a skunk, Susy. After nearly losing his mind Johnny says to Suzy, the skunk: “How is it that you can talk?”

“All animals can talk! … A lion can speak to a squirrel can speak to an owl can speak to a mouse. A camel can spend to a pig who can speak to an elk can speak to an elephant. A whale can talk to a gull. A giraffe can speak to a hermit crab. It is only humans that no one can understand. It is why they are so ignorant and backward and lonely and sad – they have so few creatures to talk to” Susy added. “But I do not mean to offend, You do not seem ignorant or backward.”

“But you understand me?” asked Johnny.

“Yes”, answered Susy, “for evidently you have eaten the Juju flower. It is rarely given to anybody.”

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Please read the rest of the book to see what happens to Johnny and how he finds himself going to the King of the land.

Mark Twain’s words are still prescient:

“Terrible things are always happening to Kings. It makes you wonder why anyone would want the job at all.”