To meet my grandpa’s approval, you could be thin, good looking, rich, a fellow Christian, or none of those things. Only a sense of humor was required. Often opinionated and gruff, humor bridged his connection to others.
Visitors to his home were greeted with “Sit down and make yourself homely” and dismissed with “Well, I’d better get to bed and let you good people go home”.
We children collected jokes, gifting him with endless “knock, knock” variations, just to earn his smile. He rewarded our weakest efforts, giving a joke in return.
Whatever the holiday, our family feasts ended the same way. While we were still at the tables, Grandpa would stand up at the head and do about twenty minutes of material. Many were long, involved stories, meandering to the punch line. Family members comprised most of the audience, so many of the jokes were familiar old favorites to them.
The adults laughed in anticipation as each joke began, getting more hysterical as he moved from story to story. Observing from the kids’ table, the laughter-to-tears of aunts and uncles entertained us as much as the jokes, but I still strained to listen for the one joke I never heard him finish.
As grandpa wrapped up one long story (about how the farmer finally figured out he could tell his two horses apart because the white one had longer ears than the brown one..) it happened again. Grandpa said something about two men in a boat while all the adults howled with laughter. Then he grinned and sat down. Foiled again, I wondered why they never let him finish this last joke…
Years after Grandpa’s death I had the chance to visit with a cousin who spent many childhood years living with or near my grandparents. A great story-teller and comedian in his own gentle way, he told me a few of his favorites from Grandpa’s collection. His retelling of the old jokes prompted my memory, and I asked him if he’d ever heard the end of the boat joke, expressing my frustration at never hearing the whole thing.
He gave me an odd look, and asked what I remembered of it.
“Something about two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain.”
He grinned Grandpa’s grin. “There were two men in a boat, and one of them was the Captain. No…no…the OTHER man was the Captain…”. In chagrin I realized I’d heard the whole thing all along.
I think of this joke every time I hear someone needlessly correcting the details of a story, and I smile, remembering Grandpa.