What is my favorite joke?

The one I’m laughing at at any given moment. Not politely tee-heeing or nervously tittering, but giggling that won’t stop till I’m rolling around guffawing, gripping my belly and trying to come up for air. And I’m very blessed to say my life has been filled to overflowing with the latter variety.

Daughters of a midwestern cornball mum and a snarky Boston boy dad who never outgrew his summa cum loud honors as class clown, my sister Jan and I were encouraged to laugh before we could talk or, heaven forbid, cry. We never got our diapers changed without being teased (with fingers pinched over the nose) that we were “spoiled rotten,” or changed out of our swimsuits while camping without being growled at like “bare running though the woods.”

So began our rapid descent into meeting all life’s challenges and celebrations with humor—-the wildly inappropriate the better as long as it made for a laugh. I vaguely remember being a “normal” kid telling the standard potty jokes and chanting about love, marriage and a baby carriage before I knew the actual parts of that whole equation. Not so very long after, though, I heard my first real dirty joke. From my mother. I was just beginning to understand how the baby got into mommy from daddy and into the carriage when I overheard Mum retelling a joke about the Bell Telephone operator strike. (Back when there was a gal at a switchboard helping you when you dialed “O” and, believe it or not, men had to take over when the women went on strike.) It was a sing song-y, raunchy little rhyme, Mum’s favorite. “The girl with the smile is gone for a while. The man with the balls will answer your calls!”

And to this day, I can’t look at a can of evaporated milk without repeating her “new Carnation slogan” that freed dairy famers and housewives alike: “No teats to pinch, no shit to pitch…just punch a hole in the sonofabitch!”

When stepmom Prudy came into the family, she summarized what it felt like to try to fit into the McGranahan self deprecating, politically incorrect brand of humor as an outsider. “I can’t imitate it, but I can appreciate it.” Good thing. Because fortunately we never had to figure out what to do with extended family who just didn’t “get” us. (Well, it did seem to be a bit of a stretch for my mother-in-law, but she mastered the polite tee-hee like a trooper.) To me, sense of humor was always right up there with good looks and temperament and, even though he was wicked shy when we first met, I was so relieved Tom had a year with Mum to get initiated into her comedy club before she passed. He was handsome and all, and a really nice guy. He even wanted a cabin on a big lake in Maine someday. But could he joke around? Yes he could! I don’t recall the actual joke he told all on his own that happy summer so long ago. Something about mail versus male and finding a box. But the triumphant laughter coming from my crazy family and me is still so refreshingly clear.