That's me, in the sweater. Years later, this photo was fodder
for all manner of family ribbing. At least I was able to blame
I grew up in a house filled with laughter. My father has always been quick-witted, and has a terrific sense of humor. Though my mom would often frown in mock chagrin at some of the racier jokes and puns he would run by my younger brother and I, it was always with an air of joyful exasperation.
It wasn't Leave It To Beaver by any stretch: my dad has always been just as ready with the advice as Ward Cleaver, but I don't think you'd ever see ol' Ward flash a mischievous grin at The Beav before playfully flipping June the bird. It wasn't that my parents weren't careful to make sure my sister, brother and I were properly trained and disciplined; I think it's more that they recognized us as smart kids with enough intelligence and social acumen to understand such "adult" kidding in context.
You had to have thick skin to grow up in my house. Life was hard, and we survived it through our collective ability to laugh at ourselves -- or, to be more accurate, each other. Through joblessness and varying degrees of poverty, right on through to the better days, we had our Faith, each other, and our laughter. My dad, who, as long as I can remember, was a touch overweight (and, it's time to be honest, that's how my kids will remember ME as well), had long since elevated self-deprecation to an art form on the level of Michaelangelo. But when that sharp tongue turned outward, man, you had to be ready. In my early teenage years, my Dad and I would literally spend up to an hour every day just trading good-natured insults. From the outside looking in, it must have seemed very dysfunctional -- but nothing made my day like hearing Dad just busting up at some quick jab I'd gotten over on him. And really, nobody ever got hurt. It's hard to take something personally when you're crying with laughter.
More than mere fun, these little sessions were lessons, too -- though I'm not sure my Dad quite intended for us to use them the ways we often did. My mouth often got me into -- and back out of -- trouble, particularly with older peers. I wasn't taught how to back down; if I believed I was right, I simply went for it, and damn the consequences. Off-hand, I can think of at least one situation where I was spared a backyard beating purely on the merit of sheer nerve. I was, I think, 14 or so, and our 17-year-old neighbor had caught a frog (it's amazing the circumstances you CAN recall, versus those you can't), and this had somehow led to an argument. He asserted his superiority as small-town 17-year-old boys do, and I responded by insulting his intelligence, his masculinity, and, if I remember correctly, his mother. He clenched his fist, and I discovered new and clever ways of calling him a girl. He laughed, dropped his hands, and said, "You got guts, kid." I never had a problem with him again.
I wasn't always so lucky.
(note: this is part one of an ongoing - and occasional - series of stories and anecdotes about my life: who I was, and what made me who I am. For anyone that cares. Or, hopefully, just enjoys reading it.)