There’s Always Room for Silliness

The Wriggling JellybaggleDigital illustration: The Wriggling Jellybaggle

The Wriggling Jellybaggle and his relatives all laugh

at their own selves, each other, and at each faux pas and gaffe;

at funny things, ridiculous and silly things, and too,

at serious and sober stuff and fretful folk like you;

if you think you’re too dignified to snicker, laugh, and giggle,

you obviously haven’t seen a Jellybaggle wriggle;

and, furthermore, if you have failed to join the goofy gaggle

and goggle and guffaw a bit, your average Jellybaggle

would pity you, at best a fool, at worst, a stubborn stinker,

too stupid to enjoy yourself and thump your sullen thinker

with just the touch of tickling that takes the harm and haggle

out of your life, when you could be a Wriggling Jellybaggle.

The Strangest Kind of Strangers on a Train

The old tale of complete strangers meeting in transit, discovering they have identical problems, and “solving” the problems by trading crimes to eliminate the people they see as the root of their unhappiness, makes for a striking mystery drama, in fiction. Ask Patricia Highsmith and Alfred Hitchcock fans! But I was reminded recently that we give too little credit to our commonalities as a positive solution to our problems, and end up missing crucial opportunities as a result.

The filmic version takes as its thesis that the two strangers who meet can find not other, or at least no better, solution to the problem of having bad relationships with inconveniently incompatible people than to murder them, and by ‘exchanging’ murders with each other they hope to escape detection by each having no apparent connection to, or a motive for killing, the other’s nemesis.

While this makes for startling and even compelling imagined mystery, it’s horrific if imagined in real terms. Yet we do similar things all the time in this world, don’t we? Because I tend to agree with a particular point of view in general, say, a specific philosophy or political party’s policies, or my country’s traditions, does that mean it’s wise or humane or practical or generous to follow along without question, no matter what my group, party or nation says and does? We mortals are remarkably good at noticing and magnifying our differences, as genuine and large as they may be. But we’re frighteningly weak, in opposing measure, when it comes to recognizing, focusing on, and building upon our true kinship. This, I believe, easily outweighs in both quantity and importance, our separating characteristics. Digital illustration from a photo: Opening Doors

The recent train outing in Sweden that reminded me so pointedly of this also confirmed my belief that it’s an area where youth is wiser than experience. In a railcar where a young father, not a local or a native speaker of the language, was keeping his fifteen-month-old daughter occupied and contented during the trip by helping her practice her tipsy walking, she made her way with his help to where another family, also foreign but not of the same culture as father and daughter, was sitting together. That group was of two adult sisters and their four or five school-age children. The toddler was naturally attracted to the friendly and spirited older children, and as soon as they saw her, they too were enchanted. What followed was perhaps twenty minutes of delighted interaction between them all, with occasional balance aid from Papa and photo-taking by the Mamas. And barely a word was spoken, much less understood by any of the participants, during the entire episode.

The greatest among the many beauties of this endearing one-act was that the conversation essentially began, continued and ended with the kids reaching toward one another with open hands, waving and gesturing and generally putting on an elaborate pantomime together, and above all, giggling and chortling with peals and squeals of ecstatic laughter.

Needless to say, all of us adults in the railcar grinned, giggled, chortled and otherwise became happy kids right along with them. Resistance was an impossibility and a pointless attempt, at that. And isn’t that an excellent lesson for all? Adults are too busy being territorial and fearful and downright feral to remember that the open hand of welcome and sharing is as quickly reciprocated as any gesture, and a smile of greeting and acceptance is contagious beyond any language, age, or cultural barriers. We can nurse our terrors of the unknown as supposed adults, or we can choose to laugh together like children.Digital illustration from a photo: As If in a Mirror

Resistance is Ridiculous

I could try to avoid smiling when I’m thinking about this topic, but I’m not sure it’s possible.
digital illustrationAnd is there any good reason to, anyway?

I can be a silly goose in so many ways; I can duck the inevitable for great lengths of time, and I’m certainly bird-brained enough to think myself above the flighty affectations and affections of lesser beings. But one good thing I learned pretty much when I was still quite a little hatchling is that letting my spirits take wing with every avian in sight is a fine and healthy practice. When I let my thoughts go to the birds, my well-being begins to soar. Who am I to argue with the brilliance of our feathered friends?

Sonnet for Sisters

restored antique photoMy Sisters’ Names

Three sisters, three have I, each one a star

to light the night or day with brilliance new,

a spark these shining few, though rare, bring to

the darkest, deepest places where they are–

Fair Wisdom bears a gleaming cup, as thirst

for knowledge waits in ev’ry darkened realm

to sip the learning springing from her helm,

sweet Wisdom bringing in this treasure first–

The next is gracious Kindness, in whose charms

of sympathy and care is safety found

when she with gentle strength wraps all around,

encompassing the world within her arms–

The third with equal radiance inclines

to lighten hearts as much as sun can do;

Laughter‘s her name, and like the other two,

her sparkling wit enhances how she shines–

All three, my sisters light the corners of

The universe: their other name is Love.digital artwork from an antique photo

Beauty Sleeps

Masked Olivia

The sleeping lady whose closed eyes

Conceal the wisdom of the wise

Contain the laughter children know

And barricade a world below

Keeps in closed eyelids cool release

And in her heart a realm of peacegraphite drawing

Dear Me! What was I Thinking When I Wrote That Thing?

graphite drawingHere Lies a Loon

Once upon a tombstone

I read an epitaph

whose sentiments ridiculous

were prone to make me laugh;

the information set thereon

gave me to ridicule

the marker and the makings of

some great exquisite fool;

now lest you think me callous and

a soulless Frankenstein,

you ought to know the coup de grâce:

the epitaph was mine.

Foodie Tuesday: Birthday Dessert (and Boy, Wouldn’t This Taste Great with Some Chocolate Ice Cream!)

He’s a wacky fella, my dad. One of his finest features has always been his excellent and distinctive sense of humor, and there was never any question that having a father who’s delightfully silly is one of the finest advantages a kid could have in her upbringing. No surprise that, with Mom being the sort of hospitality genius that everyone loves and Dad providing much of the comic relief in that hospitable package, our household was always a popular place among the friends and classmates of all of their children. Both were also compassionate and reasonable and practical parents, and I don’t have to tell you what a rarity that is in general, so our home was a kind of hangout-central among the school-kid cognoscenti.

Since today is the anniversary of the birth of that Hardest Working Dad in Showbiz, I am drawn to reminisce on the many years of service that my father has given as the resident chief goofus in our family.photoThat in itself is gift enough, but his life of service has always been so much broader and deeper than mere lightheartedness. As a pastor, as Chairman of the Board of Regents for a university, as bishop, and as president of a hospital board, among many other roles he’s filled in his life’s work, Dad has never taken his labors lightly, even when the best tool he had for doing any or all of these jobs may have most often been the humor he brought to the table. He’s just never been one for sitting around and letting the world rush on around him.

photoI wish I could say that I inherited a tenth of his sense of humor, let alone a hundredth of his ambition and work ethic. Instead, I guess I should thank him once again on his birthday for not only being a dandy dad but also helping to fill the requirements of the universe in these services where I may have left some gaping gaps. So thanks, Dad, from the bottom of my full heart, and may you have not only a very happy birthday but all the warmth and laughter that can be wrung out of many more years. Oh, and cake. And, since you clearly are your father’s son when it comes to all of the characteristics noted above and we all know Grandpa would have felt the cake was best completed with some, have your cake with a couple of sizable scoops of chocolate ice cream.

photo

Okay, this one’s not ice cream, but it’s chocolate dessert and it’s homemade. And it tastes pretty great, if you ask me. (1 ripe avocado, 1 ripe banana, 1 heaping tablespoon of cocoa, 1 teaspoon of vanilla, a pinch of salt, and honey to taste, all blended together until the pudding is smooth.)

You have a Lovely Forehead

photoI was Auntie Ingeborg’s favorite great-niece. Of course, that’s potentially a less impressive achievement if you happen to know that each of my three sisters were her favorite great-niece, our father was her favorite nephew, his brother was her favorite nephew, and so on, ad infinitum. Potentially less impressive, I say, but not at all so in reality if you happened to know Auntie Ingeborg. Because she had a peculiar talent that is very rare indeed among humans: the capacity to make every individual she knew into her absolute favorite. It was completely sincere, unforced, and unquestionably real, and we never doubted it, any of us Favorites.

Auntie had a perpetual delighted smile and an endless twinkle in her eyes and rosy cheeks just made for children to pat affectionately, a lap that was always at the ready for clambering kids to pile on and around for stories, and a genuinely exotic store of entertainments few aunties of any sort can aspire to offer. But by popular standards of style and glamor, you’d never have given her a second glance. She found a perfectly prim schoolmarm look in simple crepe dresses and orthopedic shoes that suited her right down to the ground, and once she established that as her comfort look I don’t recollect her ever deviating from that significantly in the remaining decades of her life. She certainly wasn’t a magazine cover model, with her rather crooked teeth, and with her heart-shaped face accented just a touch too far by her under-bite. But that radiant smile, those softly blushed cheeks, and those merry blue eyes showed off the ethereal beauty of her heart to perfection, so I never once thought of her as ordinary at all. And she most certainly wasn’t ordinary.

Auntie had skills, talents, powers and exotic resources that no one could have guessed on first meeting her. First off, she lived in an apartment, quite the exotic concept to little kids raised in American suburbia. It was already a well-worn building of that vintage that had all sorts of wonderful creaks in its hardwood floors and hallways, a cage-style elevator that was just about the most mystical contraption I’d ever seen and carried us slower than a kid carries his books to school on Exam Day. And it had a Murphy bed. One of those fantastical metal monsters that stood on end, hidden in a closet, by day and pivoted out to unfold down at night.

But also during the daytime, as we learned, it stood guard in front of Auntie’s toy chest, an old and very slightly musty trunk filled with even older and rather odd and very delightful toys, including one of the earliest versions of a small robot I can recall, a little metal man that, when the key on his side was wound, began to walk stiff-legged across Auntie’s carpet in a cheerfully menacing zombie sort of way as the sharp little metal spikes that protruded through the soles of his metal feet would push out to raise up each one alternately from the rug. It was the sort of toy that would never be allowed by modern parents and other legal experts, because the foot-spikes were incredibly sharp and the metal was hard-edged and undoubtedly the paint on it was full of lead, and we loved to play with it almost endlessly.photoThere were other bits of magic and mystery stashed in the toy box, to be sure, not least of them that we quickly learned to dig into the box thoroughly on arrival, and as quickly as we could wrestle the bed far enough on its pivot to release the box to us, to find the box of Barnum’s Animal crackers that Auntie happened to have hidden along with the toys in there. Those who grew up eating them tend to agree that they are fairly insipid of flavor and texture, but the fact that they came in a charmingly decorated little box that looked like one of Barnum’s mythic circus train cars, full of exotic beasts, and it had a string handle on it for carrying around with us as we played with the toys and we got to dole out the little biscuits at our own leisure from the little wax paper lining inside the box–why, this was the stuff of dreams!

In truth, the toy box, though it was the object of our beeline in the door on arrival, was not the most crucial of entertainments at Auntie’s–that status was Auntie’s alone. For, as a lifelong grade school teacher, she knew how to amuse and occupy the caroming minds of wriggly kids about as well as anyone on earth ever did. She quizzed us about our wide-ranging and rarely accurate knowledge on any number of topics, showing more genuine interest and enthusiasm than any such conversation with miniature humans deserves, she played her old upright piano and sang silly songs and very old hymns, and best of the best, she would let us all pile up around her as she told fascinating folk tales, the finest of which were accompanied by her making pencil marks on her paper tablet to illustrate the path the story’s protagonists took from one episode to the next, the drawing of which ended quite miraculously in a picture of something–perhaps a giant vegetable with a person who lived in it looking out its window, or our favorite, a cat whose tail curled in a wild spiral that ended both the tail and the tale.photoShe was no specimen of the more refined social graces that might be expected by a more patrician crowd than her circle of family and friends. Physical or athletic grace was clearly not her great gift any more than it’s mine–when we moved the Christmas tree into the middle of the room to join hands and circle it singing old Norwegian Christmas songs, as was our sometime tradition, Auntie managed not once but in two different years to bump into and topple the decorated tree. I’m not even absolutely certain that the second time could be credited entirely to her, because it’s not as though there wasn’t the previous experience to tell my father, for example, that we could consider just doing that little ritual on one of the days when Auntie was celebrating at another relative’s house. But given that no one was harmed in the event and that we all had an excellent laugh not only on both ‘tipsy’ occasions (no, Auntie was not–only the tree was) but for all the years since as well, he can hardly be faulted if he did suspect a repeat in the offing. Auntie, as it was, laughed harder than any of us.

Auntie’s driving history, too, had certain mythic qualities to it, ending when she was at least in her eighties and still chauffeuring needy Old People (some of them undoubtedly much younger than herself) to the doctor’s office or the grocery store or church, or to where she taught English as a Second Language to immigrants for a very long time. The beginning of her automotive life was illustrated for us by the awe-inspiring story of the day that my father, then a high school student, came home after classes and found Auntie reclining on the family couch in a somewhat dazed state, from whence she plaintively asked if her nephew would mind going out to retrieve her car, which she had left at the neighbors’. He was puzzled as to why she hadn’t, evidently, brought it along with her all the way to his parents’ house, until on arriving at said neighbors’, he could see that her slightly skewed understanding of the operations of centrifugal-vs-centripetal force in driving had resulted in her cutting the corner of the street, jumping the neighbors’ front rockery, and landing the car in the midst of the garden border under their front window. It is unclear how, precisely, he was able to successfully remove the automobile from its highly artistic position in the neighbors’ front yard, but apparently this did occur, as did eventual restoration of the yard’s normal, more vegetal, aspect. Auntie’s driving was somewhat tamer after that, though occasional indications of her earlier style did leave us all wondering over the years how it was that she never seemed to get in any further accidents, or even get a police citation, out of all her miles on the road, an outcome for which we were all profoundly thankful.

It may be presumed that among other things, the lovely lady we knew alternatively as her self titling of Jog-along Julie did indeed keep on moving through life at a steady pace but because she had so many commitments to her teaching at school, community and church locales and to her watchful companionship of nearby friends, she didn’t need to drive very far when she did drive.

She was, after all, far too busy taking care of and cheering up a multitude of others, writing letters prolifically to family far and near, and reading–to herself and to others as well. Any birthday or holiday was almost guaranteed to be celebrated with the gift of books, and she can certainly claim much credit for how much her nieces and nephews of all ages learned to love a good story not only at her knee but in the pages of the books she doled out to us. Every story, even the books of silly rhymes and jokes she shared with us, may have had some subtext of educational purpose, given Auntie’s lifelong commitment to teaching, but we knew in addition that the central theme was simply how much she loved us.

She constantly made sure to say something supportive and complimentary to everyone, even on days when and to people with whom it was quite a stretch. When we sisters reluctantly sent her the dreaded school portrait photos that we always thought were hideous representations of who we were rather than what we hoped and wished we looked like to others, she would tell us how marvelously sweet and attractive we were, without fail. When one sister sent the photo that she hated most to reveal to the light of day (because she despised how far she had her hair pulled back on the occasion, thinking it made her face exceedingly exposed) Auntie wrote to her with great kindness that she had ‘a lovely forehead.’ Nothing could, for us, more simply and clearly have illustrated how gifted Auntie was in finding beauty in us even where we felt most flawed.

Though she seemed so fixed in time by her perpetual uniform of the schoolmarm look, by her continuity in writing letters, sending books, telling stories to the youngest members of any party, and driving, albeit more slowly, the Old Folk she knew to their appointed rounds, Auntie finally did actually grow old and die. But of course, even her funeral was occasion for us to hear her piping voice cheerfully chirping out how amazing and fantastic we all were. The relatives who gathered to plan her memorial service were suitably impressed to compare notes and discover yet more of her Favorites among their number. And the whole day of togetherness not only confirmed that her love was what we all had in common, but was filled with laughter at the same old stories of Auntie’s antics, and the warmth of her boundless thoughtfulness and selfless kindness toward all and sundry in the family and in the whole wide world.photo