Punch lines

Habits of friendship and community
Laughter was a hallmark of my family’s life as I grew up. Our family dinner table was so often marked by jokes and storytelling that we were the embodiment of those old canards about communities that know the jokes so well that all you have to do is call out the numbers and everyone laughs.

Even my paternal grandmother, a “stern schoolmarm” type with whom we were always on our best behavior, would occasionally join in the repartee. One day when I was about 12, I was shocked when my grandmother told our family that she had a “naughty joke” to share. She said a kindergarten teacher asked her pupil Johnny, “What is 2 + 2?” Johnny thought about it a moment and then answered, “4.” The teacher replied, “That’s pretty good, Johnny,” to which Johnny replied, “Pretty good? Hell, that’s perfect.” As disappointed as I was to learn that “naughty” consisted of only one slightly off-color word, I was nonetheless reassured that even my stern grandmother enjoyed making others laugh.


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