Norman, OK. When I was eight or nine years old, in the 50s, there was an uncle in our family who was considered the jokester, always providing entertaining diversions at family events. I suspect most families have one of these types.
My uncle had the wit of Groucho Marx, the command of physical humor of Jackie Gleason and the understated power of Jack Benny. Times were different and we appreciated having this man around, although most of us were happy we did not have to live with him.
Now, nearly 60 years later, that family jokester and all of his generation are gone, and I have assumed some of his role. I am of a different breed than uncle Ruby. I was raised in world where Lenny Bruce, Woody Allen and the likes of George Carlin made a lasting impression on me.
Whenever my sister and I gather with our extended family I feel compelled to make wisecracks as well as rude and irreverent remarks. Perhaps it is a nervous affliction, for fear of having to be serious and actually talk about something of importance.
Yet, I do like the role and I have come to grow into it. Expectations are now high. One of the early feathers in my cap was planted 18 years ago at my nephew's Bar Mitzvah. Back then (and perhaps today) it was fashionable to have a theme party after the main religious event, which supposedly marked the passage to manhood.
The theme of this event was my nephew Adam's passion for soccer. All of the young teens had gathered for an evening of fun and they were all trying to display their best social skills.
It was at that event that I came up with something that has remained at the top of my family joking best 10 list. My sister had a laminated life-size picture of Adam at the door to the big party. Guests were supposed to offer their good wishes to Adam on the big event by writing on the picture.
It came to me suddenly. I saw an opening. Across Adam's groin area I wrote, "Adam, soccer is like life. The older you get, the harder it is to score." I thought it was brilliant and funny. When my sister first saw it I thought the look in her eye meant not to get close to her because she might kill me with the salad fork. She got over it and the kids loved it.
I often feel compelled to be as irreverent as possible and I enjoy making people uncomfortable. It probably has something to do with my disdain for organized religion. It was a few days after the death of my father and my mother and I were at the funeral home making arrangements.
The funeral director was showing us caskets and we were viewing the inventory and asking about prices. The caskets he was showing us were a third of the size of normal caskets, used only for sales and display purposes. My mother, in all of her naïve earnestness, asked the director how my father was going to fit into such a small casket. I saw an opening and went for it.
Before the funeral director had a chance to explain, I told my mother that they would have to chop off my father's legs and pack him into this small pine box. If looks could have killed, the funeral director's glare would have stuck me down on the spot. I could tell he really wanted to knock the crap out of me but he showed a great deal of professional restraint and just moved on.
Around the time of the casket event the family met with a rabbi to talk about ritual and funeral details. She explained that certain prayers had to be said over a specified period of time in order for my father to pass through purgatory and into heaven.
I loved my father and I would have done anything for him, but he did have a nasty streak that made life very difficult for my mother for many years. The thought of his bad behavior was with me at this meeting and I voiced the opinion that having my father remain in purgatory for eternity might be fitting.
The rabbi did not agree, but she humored me and realized that I was making jokes to try to hide my sadness. Or at least that is what her manner seemed to indicate to me.
I am now at my nephew's wedding 18 years after his Bar Mitzvah and I have yet to come up with a good line. I'm sure it will be revealed.
Richard Davis is a registered nurse and long-time health care advocate. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.