Memories of My Father : The Limerick
September 16, 2013
Memories of My Father : The Limerick
Circa Fall, 1976
My father was an authoritarian.
He ruled his castle with an iron fist, but he had a velvet touch. One of his most strictly enforced rules was that suppertimes were mandatory. I ate supper at home virtually every night of my life until I left home at seventeen. Dad worked hard for us, and my Mom is an old-school girl, who can not only storm-clean a house like a Navy Seal on Black-Ops, knit an entire afghan from memory with no written pattern, and sew whole formal evening gowns out of remnant scraps of cloth, but man can she cook.
I ain’t talkin’ Hamburger Helper either. I mean… she can cook.
We were, more or less, lower-middle-class from an income standpoint, but my parents were the children of the Depression Era generation, and Mom took shopping, budgeting, and saving to heights that will probably never again be equaled by any woman of my generation.
And suppertimes were the times when it all came together. Dad’s ability to bring home the bacon. Mom’s ability to serve it as a four course banquet. And our sworn duty to make sure we were all present and accounted for at evening roll call.
Back then, there were many nights I had other things to do, and I groused much about the rule. As did my younger brother as he grew older, and more social. But looking back now, I realize how important that time was to us all, and I’m glad my parents didn’t waver. Many of my most precious memories of growing up were made at that dinner table. Not surprisingly, my Dad is at the center of many of those memories.
I watch television today, and see the father figures of nuclear families portrayed (when they’re portrayed at all) as gruff, grunting, nonverbal bears who hold their children and wives in contempt. Dinner times in those mythical television families are tense, dangerous moments.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth in my house.
My Dad, being the man he was, made those evening hours magical. You just never knew what shenanigan he might get up to, or who the target might be. Most evenings it was me, being the oldest son, and more able to digest his brand of humor. Sometimes it was my little brother. And just every once in a great while, it was Mom herself. Although scamming Mom was dangerous territory indeed. Thus the rarity.
As I said before, my Dad was not some out of touch, old-fashioned fuddy-duddy. He was, more or less, pretty hip. And watched contemporary news and entertainment events pretty closely. Although he didn’t like our music when we hit our teenage years in the 70’s and 80’s, he could certainly identify the artists.
His being as politically and socially savvy as he was really worked against us. It was easy to underestimate him, or buy into the 60’s garbage credo that young people shouldn’t trust anyone over 30.
As a teenager, I worked odd jobs in fast food restaurants, and got used to being perpetually broke. When a big name rock star would come to town, I could usually, but not always, afford a ticket or two. Dad had taught us to be industrious, and to save, and when they would come to town, we almost always had the money to buy tickets to their concerts, but often the concerts were sold out in a few hours, and tickets became difficult if not impossible to come by.
Dad was shrewd, and man did he know how to pick his moments.
He’d wait carefully, usually when supper was winding down. Mom was up clearing dishes, and we were relaxed, and at our most vulnerable. That’s when he’d strike. Like a cobra.
“You know,” he’d start. “Some fool at work came around today at lunch with some tickets to some concert he was trying to give away.” And then he’d shake is head, in that wise Dad way he had. “Said they were front row seats, and he was just giving them away. Said he won ‘em in some contest or something. Said he’d never use ‘em.” Then followed a long, pregnant pause as he waited for his fish to look over the bait.
I was too green back then not to bite. “Who for?” I’d ask, wide-eyed and unaware.
“Uhm,” he’d say, seemingly searching his memory hard, “Some country music guy. Sammy Haggard? Something like that I think.” Just far enough off the mark to lend him credibility.
“SAMMY HAGAR?” I’d practically scream. He just happened to be the hottest concert of that summer. And one of my favorite rock artists, even to this day. And he had sold out in record time in my area. Tickets were being scalped in the over $50 dollar range, even for the nosebleed seats. In 1977 “kid” dollars – that was outrageously expensive.
“Yeah,” he’d say, “that’s the group.” He knew that didn’t sound right. It wasn’t supposed to. It was supposed to sound just like an older guy getting it wrong.
I was practically hemorrhaging. He had held free front row seats to the hottest concert ticket of the summer in his hand, and had just let them slip by! As the veins in my temples began popping, I’d look across the table to see that telltale smirk spreading across his face, and realize I’d been had.
Mom just looked at me as if to say “Bit down on that one, didn’t you putz.” My younger brother had seen it coming, and hooked his finger into his cheek mimicking a fish hooked on a line. My humiliation was complete.
They’d get theirs. Sooner or later. Dad’s graphic illustration of life’s “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is” lesson would be just as indelibly imprinted on them as it was me. Tonight was just my turn in the barrel.
Then, there was The Joke.
The Joke was where our Dad’s not-so-subtle brand of humor really glowed. Sometimes he’d tell The Joke, every single night for weeks. Sometimes he wouldn’t tell The Joke for months at a time. And sometimes, just sometimes, he would tell another joke, as opposed to The Joke. You just never could tell. That was the beauty of it. As they say in comedy, “Timing is everything.” They got that right.
Suppertime would be rolling along. Mom would tell about her day. Problems would be discussed, and solved if possible, or put off until they had “private” time if necessary. My younger brother and I would tell about our day, or talk of current events. The conversation was almost always pleasant, and interesting. Then there would be a lull in the conversation. The family members would be talked-out, or just busy stuffing their faces. That’s when he’d strike.
“I heard a good joke today.” He’d say. We weren’t allowed to groan. We knew exactly what was coming. It was incumbent on us to play along, or face who knows what. Everyone at the table would look at each other, trying to determine who would be the one to throw themselves on this evenings joke grenade. As the butt of many of my father’s antics, I felt it was only fair that the job fall to my little brother. He would lower his head, and try as hard as he could to muster interest into his voice.
“Really Dad? Tell it to us.”
Dad would get that silly grin all over his face. “Well,” he’d say, “being as you insist.” Like I said, we weren’t allowed to groan.
“This termite walks into this tavern, and says ‘Hey! Where’s the bar-tender?’” And then he would chuckle loudly to himself, as if he’d just told the funniest joke in the entire world.
Now, some people consider this joke a “way-homer”. Meaning you don’t get it when it’s told, you get it later, on the way home. Others think it’s just plain stupid. Very few I’ve told it to actually think its funny. And it may sound odd, but, when you’re hearing it from the same guy, for the 5,197th time, being told as if it’s the worlds funniest, and most original joke, it’s not just funny, it’s hilarious. Side-splittingly so. At least it was to us. We never let on though. We never groaned. We never complained. We always acted like it was the first time we’d ever heard it, and that it was really funny.
But sometimes… sometimes… he’d throw in a ringer. He’d start with his patented “I heard a good joke today.” And when we’d bite, he’d throw out some equally inane, but totally different joke. His favorite was the one about the duck that walked into a drugstore, and asked for some ChapStick. When the clerk asked how he was going to pay for it, the duck told him to “put it on his bill.” This was the level of joke that he’d throw out. Always, always a “groaner”. You just never knew when he’d strike.
Once, when we were older, he pulled the granddaddy of all stunners. I was sixteen I think, which would make my younger brother in the eleven or twelve year old range. Old enough certainly to hear an “adult” joke. On this night nobody was talking much. Dad came home in his typical, upbeat mood. Glad to be home and surrounded by the ones he loved. We, on the other hand, weren’t in such a good mood. We had done something to anger Mom, and had been taking and emotional beating for our sins.
Dad kept glancing from us, to Mom and back, wondering when the conversation would start, if at all, and wondering what we had done to upset our Mother. My brother and I kept glancing at each other, and then at Mom, wondering when she’d drop the hammer on us to Dad. The classic “You guys are gonna get it when you’re Father gets home…” carried a lot of weight in our house.
You must understand though, that my Dad was truly one of the greatest role models a kid could ever had. He didn’t cuss. Not seriously anyway. The occasional “Damn,” Or “Hell” would slip out if he was really angry, but never anything more risqué than that. I was a grown man, well into my 20’s before I ever heard him say a significantly more offensive word, or saw him drink a beer. He wasn’t a tee-totaller, or a bible-thumper. He just had class.
And tons of it.
So, after about 20 minutes of almost total silence, Dad decided to break the tension. He sat his knife and fork down, finished chewing what was in his mouth, and stood reverently, clearing his throat to get our attention. This was different, we thought to ourselves. We hadn’t seen this before.
When all eyes were on him, he cleared his throat once again, and launched into one of the funniest, and, Dear Lord forgive the man, one of the purely filthiest limericks anyone at that table had ever heard in their lives. At the top of his lungs. I mean, this from a guy who didn’t even break wind in front of his kids.
“Skaggy Mag… ” he began. In most sincere earnest.
“That scaly slut! Between her thighs the fungus lies, and worms crawl outta her butt!
Before I climb those scaly legs, and suck those festered tits…
I’ll drink a quart of buzzard puke, and DIE of the DRIZZLIN’ SHITS!”
My Mom almost fainted.
I did a spit take, having just taken in a giant mouthful of milk.
My younger brother’s eyes grew to the size of the big, flowery china dinner plates we were eating off of, and just sat with his mouth hanging open, mashed potatoes dribbling down his chin.
We all sat in stunned silence for a good 30 seconds.
Then, we all looked at Mom.
Good old Mom. Good old raised in the church and don’t take God’s name in vain Mom. Good old you can go to hell for cussing Mom. Would she blow a blood vessel and stroke out? Would she saw his head off with a butter knife? Perhaps she’d hold him down and choke him to death with a dinner roll. We waited to see which.
When she finally came out of her trance, her face began to twist up, but not with anger. It was laughter. The tension was officially broke. We all laughed and laughed. Except Dad. He just sat there with a big, silly grin on his face. Which made us laugh even harder. Having not one, but two hormonal, moody, teenage boys stomping around the house brings lots of anxiety on a family. It had been a very long time since we’d laughed together that much, and that hard.
At one point Mom was belly-laughing so hard that she forgot about the high oil-soap shine she kept on those hardwood chairs, and she slid right off and onto the kitchen floor with a very un-ladylike plop.
When mom hit the floor, you might say she got “the wind” knocked out of her. The moment of impact bumped a small but very audible toot from her.
That was the coup-de-grace.
We were already laughing so hard our sides hurt, but when Mom hit the floor and cut the cheese, we laughed even harder. Mom just sat there, too weak from laughing fits to get up. We laughed so hard we couldn’t breathe.
Dad had once again proven that you just never knew what life was going to throw at you.
He had never done anything so outrageous before. And to my knowledge, he’s never done anything like it since.
But I’ll never forget that dinner.
I love you, Dad.