…and sometimes that whispered challenge was all it took.
The worst episodes of helpless and badly-timed snickering in our 1950s farm home occurred around the breakfast table when Dad was reading the daily devotional sheet that he took each morning from the little wall dispenser. It was just a short Scripture reference with some devotional thoughts following, and then a short prayer which he read before we prayed the Lord’s prayer together and then sang a song from our miniature Danish hymn books. During our preteen years when my brother and I were the only two of seven still at home, we would occasionally get a horrible laugh attack of that genre that just gets worse because it must be resisted, kept silent at all costs.
I can’t remember the reason for a single one of those eruptions but when they happened, all we could do is hope to endure the balance of family devotions without permanent injury. It was awful. And painful.
Having observed five other children in such scenes, Mom had apparently decided that ignoring us in our plight was the sensible solution, and that’s usually what she did.
Our parents often lapsed into Danish when they were together with family. It was the heart-sound of their childhood homes and the playgrounds of the one room country school houses. Mom and her many sisters enjoyed singing in Danish after the tables had been cleared after a family dinner. We and our cousins didn’t speak Danish, but I remember an atmosphere of comfort and stability embracing the house with the lilt of Danish hymns being sung around the large dining room table by Mom and however many of her nine still-living sisters were present. Good times.
One day, Danish talk brought extended hilarity into our life and it began at one of those large family gatherings. We overheard Dad and some of our uncles laughing wildly as they were conversing in Danish and after the company left, we asked Dad what had been so funny. He immediately starting laughing again and just said, “It was a Danish joke.” And he kept laughing so it was obviously a good one. Our curiosity had to be satisfied, so we pestered him to tell us the joke. Well, he fulfilled that request as simply as possible and told it to us (and for Mom’s enjoyment) in Danish–and laughed just as hard again.
Well, now we had to know what was so funny to put Dad off the edge like that so we asked him to tell it in English. He sat there and thought about it for a minute and then shook his head and said, “It doesn’t translate.” As he says that, his shoulders are shaking with laughter.
Well, now we really had to know. He finally yielded and transliterated/translated the story to English: (abridged for your mental comfort)
Henpecked husband is running to the village store and is terrified of forgetting what he was supposed to pick up there. Running. Over hill and over dale. Saying over and over, out loud, “Cookies. Cookies. Cookies. Cookies. Cookies. Cookies.” Falls and hits his head. Gets up and keeps running, still reminding himself of what he’s supposed to pick up at the store, only now he’s saying “Turpentine. Turpentine. Turpentine. Turpentine.”
It loses a whole lot in the translation–and now we’re laughing at Dad who is still laughing just as hard because he’s thinking the joke in Danish, so the new pester for awhile was: “Daddy, tell us the Danish joke.” We didn’t care if he told it in Danish or in English. We just wanted to watch him laughing until his sides hurt.
There’s another falling-down-laughing episode the origins of which I absolutely cannot reconstruct.
This is what I do remember: Mom was carrying a butcher knife from something she had been doing in the kitchen or the garden (cutting rhubarb perhaps?). I was about 11 or 12. She and I were talking about something outside, near the back door and got started laughing about something silly.
And this is my memory of what followed: we’re hootin’ and hollerin’…and she’s chasing me. She still has the knife and is waving it wildly. I’m running headlong across the big farm yard toward the garage, yelling and laughing, and she’s chasing me, trying not to fall down.
I remember turning around to see if she was gaining on me and saw her staggering because she was laughing so hard.
Good times….inhabited by Bible reading dads, henpecked Danes and knife-wielding mothers.
Those were the days, my friend, I thought they’d never end.