It’s the oddball, unexpected and often hilarious experiences of life that brighten our days and our memories. These breaks in the continuity of our daily routines keep us going and give us the resolve to face the more hum-drum and stressful aspects of our daily lives.
I love collecting the odds and ends of absurd humor that are part of the legend of family and community. I have become the keeper of laughs that should be stored and polished right up there on the memory shelves with the shiny trophies and awards.
Thankfully, both my mother and father’s families have provided me with countless such stories, as have my friends and this sometimes quirky community.
One of my favorite examples of community wackiness revolves around our then volunteer fire department in the 1960s.
At that time the sound of the firehouse whistle for a summons to gather for not only the intrepid volunteer fire fighters, but also a good portion of the town’s residents. A long tail of cars, trucks, bicycles and hurrying pedestrians would almost immediately form behind the fire truck to follow it to its destination.
On one particular Sunday afternoon, George, a home-owner on North Washington Street, had raked up a small pile of leaves and debris and was burning it in a ditch in front of his property. He stood, leaning on his rake, watching with interest as the fire truck came hurrying up the road with horns blaring followed by its growing entourage. To his amazement, the truck came to a screeching halt in front of his place; the firemen jumped from the truck and their cars, proceeded to uncoil and hook up the hose, and then blast his burning pile of leave with a strong stream of water. By then the vehicles of the camp followers were parked willy-nilly up and down the street, and a good crowd of on-lookers gathered in his yard.
Just then, a car with blazing blue-light on top and siren screeching, pulled up; a red-faced fire chief jumped out and shouted, “Not here you idiots!! It’s a house fire up the street and around the corner!”
With that, hoses were packed, firefighters quickly returned to their cars, and with their avid audience in tow, went hustling on up the street. Leaving George to stand looking in bewilderment at his small pile of now sodden debris.
Several of his neighbors had remained in the yard, most doubled up with laughter, when one of them came over, patted George on the shoulder and said, “I’ll say one thing, George, you really know how to liven up a Sunday afternoon!”
A community keepsake from back in the early 1900s was shared with me by a friend of my father’s, who told about herding cows down Columbia Street on the way to the Delassus train station. He recalled that as a young boy, he and some of the other youngsters would be hired to get a herd of cattle safely from the fields near the old quarry on the east side of town, through the town’s streets and out to Delassus where they would be shipped by freight trains to St. Louis. He said it was a hot, dusty, smelly and frustrating chore, as the cows were far more interested in investigating yards and buildings along the way than they were to hustling along to the train depot. Seems the cows had particular penchant for the well-kept and lush lawns and shrubs along West Columbia Street. They especially loved to nibble on the grass and more inviting flowers they found growing there. He said the very respectable and house-proud ladies along the street would be out in force with their hired girls, armed with brooms and clanging pot lids in an effort to rout their bovine intruders. According to his recollections, the young boys thought this was hilarious and probably didn’t try as hard as they should have to keep their charges in control.
I take great delight in visualizing these very proper, well-groomed social ladies out shouting imprecations and swatting unimpressed cows with their brooms.
Our family loved to gather in the afternoons on the large and shady front porch of the old family home on Liberty Street. It was a wonderful place for “taking the air”, relaxing and talking. Often assorted aunts, uncles and friends would also be there to visit and, at times, depending on who was in attendance, the noise level, led by bursts of laughter, could get quite high.
One Saturday afternoon, my mom, one of her brothers and his wife, my cousin Gloria, and another aunt and a friend were all sitting on the porch, having a good time talking and telling family and other stories. My uncle had very loud, hooting laugh, as did my mom. By the time the counterpoint laughter of the others was woven in, it became quite a raucous party.
They were laughing heartily over a story my uncle had told, when they were surprised by the sudden appearance of the next-door neighbor on the porch steps. As they watched, he held out an empty egg carton and said, “Well, with all of the cackling going on over here, I thought I’d come gather the eggs!”
Well, that set everyone off again and he joined the impromptu party to contribute to the hilarity.
Silly, unimportant recollections. But I cherish them all as it shows the commonality that binds families, communities and generations together through shared laughter and love.
Keep the stories you best love alive by sharing them with family and friends. They have a place on the shelves of memory right up there with all of the family awards, accolades and trophies. You keep them shining and bright through the retelling.