Creating Laughable Moments

I grew up in a family of jokesters. Aunts, uncles, parents, and grandparents, who joked and played tricks on one another. Sometimes on other people, too. Like the time my uncle Darrel and I were at the mall.

My uncle had been the victim of a factory accident, which tragically cut off two of his fingers. One day while at the mall we stopped inside the pet store. My uncle saw a little boy peering into a cage and walked over to him.

“Don’t get too close,” my uncle said, “Look what that lizard did to me.” He produced two stubby fingers, which sent a wild-eyed child running to his mom. We had a good laugh.

The prankster gene ran through the whole family, down to my little brother, who once taped the handle of a kitchen sprayer, aiming it in just the right spot, so when my mom turned the faucet on, she was soaked.

As my brother got older, even after I was married, we played jokes together. One time we buried a box with a random selection of things – paper, rock, deck of cards – and placed them in a hole in the garden where my husband was going to dig. He was very confused when he found it.

I taught my children to be pranksters. They learned quickly, once placing red Kool-Aid in the faucet, telling their dad it was rust. It’s a good thing my husband caught on to my humor, since I played more than one joke on him.

My dad wasn’t a prankster so much as a joke teller, though I often didn’t understand his jokes, perhaps because he was laughing so hard I couldn’t figure out what he was saying. His belly shook, and he sounded like one of those toy novelty boxes with that goofy, contagious laughter.

As for my mom, she was the story-teller, rambling on about her life in Sweden (which never happened, but many people believed it did), even reciting an authentic Swedish prayer.

It is from my mom that I learned the art of story-telling. It is from my whole family I learned to joke and laugh at life.

My husband and I have created our own funny moments, like the time we played restaurant when our kids were little, applying accents to our Midwestern voices, handing our children menus and serving them food. Even now, with children gone, we laugh and get silly, doing things others would probably never understand.

None of the jokes matter, none of the incidents anything special. Yet they live, forming a bond that can’t be broken, one we can never forget.

It is in those moments when we least expect it that memories live. The goofy, unexpected, laughable moments. The ties that bring us together.

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The Simple Key to a Beautiful Home

My husband and I didn’t own much when we were first married, an old flowered sofa that took up one wall, a stand on which our tiny television sat, a big scooped blue chair that promptly fell apart when someone sat on it, a tiny metal table with drop leaves plus two chairs for the kitchen, and a (fake) brass bed whose paint was peeling. Sounds hideous, doesn’t it?

But we didn’t care. We were young and in love, and just needed something on which to sit, sleep, and eat. And sometimes, you when you have nothing, you will take anything.

Time went by, and pieces fell apart. We grew up, and so did our furniture.

We moved into a nice apartment building, bought a formal oak dining set, and a living room set complete with a large brass lamp.

The furniture was nice, expensive, and just what everyone expected of us. But for me, it was a bunch of wood and material taking up space.

I never loved the pieces we owned, they were a reflection of what I thought others expected of me. They were formal, grand, straight-backed, not-cushy at all, and none of it my style. Sometimes, I wonder if they were purchased to prove we could, and to impress others.

Our furniture moved with us into our new home. We purchased a couple of indestructible loveseats for our family, ones that two boys and their friends could never destroy. They weren’t comfortable (hard armrests you couldn’t lay on), and not pretty, but they worked.

Barren spots resided in the corners of each room, and though my husband and I never minded, it wasn’t long before well-meaning family members filled the empty corners and walls with their own discards. We never had the heart, or the guts, to say ‘no.’

Our house quickly became a mismatched orphanage, complete with spindly-legged peach chairs, a large curio cabinet holding cups and saucers, a grandfather clock, and other random pieces. It was pretty, but none of it was my style (or my family’s, for that matter).

Our home became a house of formalities, a place I didn’t feel I belonged. I tried to fit into our house, wearing pencil skirts, perming my hair, and putting on too much make-up. But I never felt like me. I had become a tangled mess of emotions, a simple hippie trapped inside a formal body, and inside a formal house. I even tried to change my family, which of course never worked.

Everything around me felt foreign. When I closed my eyes, I imagined a new home, complete with a deep-sinking sofa and a place on which to rest my feet. I wanted to rescue old wooden tables, strip their paint like flaky skin, and make them new again. I wanted comfort.

One day, we moved far away. Most of our furniture was left behind. The few pieces we brought were eventually given to a thrift store. We purchased a sinking sofa, and a large, cushy chair. But by then, I no longer knew who I was.

It is only now that I’m beginning to figure it out. With each furniture purchase, I look for a reflection of my personality. I look for simplicity, comfort, and love. I still make furniture mistakes, but I think I’m getting closer to who I really am. The good news is, in each mistake I have learned a lesson.

Lessons Learned:
I have learned that no matter what sits in my house, it is beautiful when it becomes a home.

I learned that even when I hated my furniture, I loved my home. I never thought about furniture when family was near, while sitting on a hard sofa reading a book together, or while listening to a large upright piano being played by a child. I never thought about it while eating pizza and playing games around an oak table. Even while leaning against a hard oak loveseat, watching movies and eating popcorn, the furniture was erased from my mind.

I learned that life was never in the clock or the chairs, in whether my furniture was formal or relaxed, it was in my family.

I learned that when family was near, that’s when I knew who I really was.

Our possessions may be a reflection of our personalities, but our family reflects our soul. I guess that’s all that ever mattered.

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Full House, Empty Home

Children sit in the living room, texting friends while chowing down burgers from a fast-food restaurant, geometry and science books laying open at their feet. Game systems and electronics fill shelves beneath a blaring tv set. Knick-knacks gather dust. Chairs and sofas line walls filled with many pictures, relatives that no one knows.

In the kitchen, cabinets are piled with unopened mail. Gadgets, most never used, fill every drawer. The mom searches frantically for an ice cream maker she was sure they once owned. “Where is it? That was supposed to be our dessert tonight,” she yells out. But no one hears.

The father is in the garage, digging through boxes of items long forgotten. He has a reunion to go to and wants the jersey he once wore in high school. He doesn’t know if it will fit, or even if he still owns it. But he’s determined to find out.

A lone child plays upstairs, pushing little metal cars across the carpeted hallway. “Zoom. Zoom.” He rushes past one room and then another, stopping briefly in front of the guest room, where shiny ribbons strewn across an unmade bed catch his eye. Gift wrap and boxes, remnants of the holiday season, are thrown on the floor. Sheets and blankets lay haphazard on an old armchair. The little boy squints his eyes, imagining a room filled with children, a house where everyone plays. He looks longingly down the empty hall, then back at the bedroom, wondering why they have a guest room, but never a guest.

This picture is the norm, the scene of a full house. The site of an empty home. Families, even when together, are still apart. Communication is but words across a screen. Noise resonates through silent air. Parents search for things that don’t matter.

When did life pull families apart? When did we forget what’s really important?
I think it began when we crammed drawers with unneeded trinkets, and closets with too many clothes. I think it’s when we piled boxes in once-empty garages, and homes with needless gadgets. I think it’s when we embraced stuff, and let go of life.

We need to get rid of distractions. Whether a cell phone, a kitchen cabinet overflowing with unopened mail, or old boxes in the middle of a garage, we need to let it go.

Distractions are everywhere. Don’t let them be in your home. Turn off your cell phone, if only for a day. Clear a drawer. Toss a box. Stop searching in drawers and closets, looking for things that don’t matter. Everything you need is right in front of you.

What is your distraction? What will you let go of today?

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