Monday, September 21, 2009

Wisdom from My Funny Folks

By Joyce Mason

I feel fortunate to have been raised by “older” parents, because they started young and had experience. By the time I came along, they had experimented and refined their parenting technique on my much older brother.  My folks were 35 and 36 when they adopted me. At more than 35, Dad in particular was considered so old back then; he almost had to get a dispensation from the Pope for Catholic Charities to let them take me home.  (Well, OK, it was actually a dispensation from some monsignor who knew my dad’s boss, who once had an audience with the Pope.)

In the 1950s, parents in their late thirties were considered quite elderly for the job.  How our ideas have changed over time!  For the better, I believe. I still say Mom and Dad rocked when it came to infusing my childhood with sage ideas, nearly from Day 1.

Mom had a significant auditory loss in one ear, which caused her to hear things in an unusual way.  Many of her wisest words were misconstrued, a fact that honed my sense of humor early on and caused me to realize something amazing. We say “out of the mouths of babes” when a kid says something profound, possibly without realizing it.  Mom did the same thing.  Sometimes she was just downright funny.  Often, her verbal “mistakes” made more practical sense than the original expression she was approximating.

Example of just plain funny: On our vacation through Wisconsin, we stopped at a rest area with a burn barrel for trash. “Louie,” she called to Dad.  “Throw the garbage in that insinuator over there.” (He would have, but he was afraid it would insult him.)

A better expression than the original: Mom was upset when my cousin took up “scoop diving.” She thought he was in terrible danger under water, even with a scoop/scuba tank. (They do scoop things up down there, right?)  On the other hand, he might learn new things on the bottom of the lake or sea.  You know, get the scoop.

Plain profound: “It takes two to tangle.”  Dad didn’t dance, so she knew well that she couldn’t tango without him.  She was Italian American, a dyed redhead, who—I’m afraid—was quite a hothead. I’m sure her fiery nature went up exponentially when she took on that red hair.  When I said, “I’m afraid” a couple of lines ago—I was! What a big temper for such a little woman. I’m quite sure mom thought “two to tangle” was the real expression. Only after I started my long spiritual journey in my late twenties, not to mention therapy, did I realize the wisdom in that mangled expression. If one person does not engage—or disengages—no tangle, no fight—but also, no dance.

I learned many interesting things from Mom, like the fact that medical professionals grocery shop at the feed store. (“These expletive doctors take their oats under false pretenses,” she said, when she thought her granddaughter’s medical treatment was substandard.)  Her host of verbal stumbles made everyone laugh around her—and she laughed, too, even if she wasn’t sure she got the joke! (After all, she said it like she heard it.) She wanted in on the fun, even if the joke was on her.

What a gift to learn so young, by example, to laugh at myself.

My parents were a team, and in many ways, a comedy team.  Dad had timing that would be the envy of any stand-up comedian.  One of my favorite examples involved Aunt Donna, Mom’s sister.  Aunt Donna was always on the prowl for a man, and she especially had designs on doctors.  (She should have tried the feed store.) If a person even mentioned a handsome man or actor (like “Gary Grant” or “Fred Aster”—yeah, it ran in the family), she’d roll back her shoulders, stick out her already large chest to its fullest extent, and bat her eyelashes.

“Donna, “ Dad said when some hunk came up in conversation at the family dinner table, just after her characteristic shape shift into a Sweater Girl Plus. “Be careful.  If one of those gets loose, it’ll kill us all.”

Dad would wait for his moment, and then drop the line when it was so unexpected, it was ten times as hilarious.  During a stage when the whole family kept tropical fish, we were waiting for my brother to come back into his living room when we’d gone over to his apartment for dinner.  Mom noticed that instead of the normal one Plecostomus fish to keep the tank clean, there were two. “Why does he have two ground feeders?”

(Two beats.)  “One does floors, the other does windows.”

When he wasn’t keeping us in stitches, Dad had another quality that served me all through life, but especially from midlife forward. He wasn’t afraid to admit when he was wrong.  If you can laugh at yourself and accept your mistakes, no amount of aging will ever daunt your spirit.

Recently, I had the opportunity to see an amazing documentary, Young at Heart.  It’s about a group of elders on the East Coast who are part of a chorus that travels the world making incredible music together.  Not old fogey tunes, either! Their average age is 80, and I was in tears by the end at the strength of their bonds, camaraderie, and life force.  They sang, laughed, and cried together—and they didn’t let a little thing like age get in the way of making their lives meaningful, significant, and full of fun.

Indigenous cultures are especially good at respecting the wisdom of age. I call that indi-genius.  Now we’re at an age where we can distill a lifetime of learning from those who taught us what they knew about making life work—our parents and other “cool saging” role models like the members of Young at Heart. They prove we can live, love, and laugh all the way to the finish line.

It’s our turn to pass it on.

© 2009 by Joyce Mason.  All Rights Reserved.

Joyce Mason is a writer, blogger, and astrologer who has been exploring the mysteries of life and how to live with passion for as long as she can remember.  Hot Flashbacks, Cool Insights is her “spirited living” blog. The Radical Virgo is home to current and timeless astrology articles from over 20 years of stargazing.  Her Writer Joyce Mason web site integrates many genres of the Joyce’s writing. She welcomes hearing from readers:


  1. What a tender story of the power of family: love, laughs, foibles and all. Thank you, Joyce, for reminding us of what's truly important in life as we age. I agree, bonds, camaraderie, meaning and fun all increase the life force and keep us young at heart and young in spirit.
    I'm going to rent "Young at Heart" and see that wonderful group for myself!

  2. Touching and funny. Hope to read more stories in the future

  3. What a terrific article and story. Thanks so much for sharing.