“My father claimed that the best way to get over being half scared to death was to laugh about it. All the old-timers did anyway. And even Aunt Josie, who was always so kind and gentle, could laugh wholeheartedly at one of these near disasters on the farm once they were past.
In times of trouble Aunt Josie brought, as all of our neighbors and relatives did, help, sympathy and understanding, as well as a wonderful sense of humor.”
– from Thrashin’ Time: Memories of a Montana Boyhood by Milton Shatraw
One of my all-time favorite people in my life was my great-grandpa, Charlie Myers. I was only 9 when he died, but we were tight buddies for those first years of my life, and I think I now know why – he loved to laugh, and he chose me as his jokester buddy.
Timing. Grandpa Charlie had become a widower shortly before I was born. He had his farm sale when I was just a few months old, so perhaps it had more to do with timing than anything else.
Suddenly, he was a man with time on his hands for the first time in his life, and he started spending a lot of time at our home, eating meals with us, helping on the farm. And thoroughly enjoying teaching the newest member of the family a few jokes.
To this day, I love hearing stories about this man with the bright blue, twinkling eyes and snowy white hair. Neighbors who knew him would still light up when his name was mentioned.
Good stories. “Oh, that Charlie! He was a good one!” his lifelong neighbor, Edna McNaull, once told me with a hearty chuckle. She had many memories of his ornery ways and his hearty appetite for good desserts and candy. “He was just a kid at heart!” she said.
Charlie, always the practical jokester, was once helping neighbor Sam Ritchie put up loose hay in his barn. Sam was known as a very particular farmer who was extremely safety-conscious back in the day when others were a little flippant about such things.
Charlie tipped off the other neighbor men that he was up to something ahead of time.
When the barn was chock full of fresh hay, Charlie pretended that he was about to lie down and smoke a pipe right inside that combustible barn.
“No, no, no, no, no!” Sam Ritchie hollered. Charlie and crew got the laugh they were hoping for!
Laughter is everything. Such a simple thing, laughter. And yet, for many, it is everything. Charlie was one of those people. He had had a very sad life and yet managed to rise above one sorrow after another by creating reasons to laugh.
Grandpa Charlie taught me how to have lots of fun while working hard. Many times he would tell me we were going to have a contest, and it always made my ears perk up.
He and I were working at putting straw bedding down for the dairy cattle in the shed, and he would place the bales just so, telling me which were mine to shake out and which were his. Whoever finished first with the fluffiest bedding would be named the winner.
Game on. Now, Grandpa Charlie used a pitchfork to shake out straw, and he was the master pitchfork man. I used my hands and arms and lots of enthusiasm to shake out my bales of straw.
I went to work with determination, keeping an eye on my competition. It always looked as thought Grandpa Charlie was going to win by a landslide. I never once saw him look up at me while he went about his work.
But every once in awhile he would shout out with glee, “Ah, I think I’m gonna be the winner THIS time!” and it would spur me on.
I won again. Just in the knick of time, my adrenaline would kick in to high gear and I would shake that straw with all my might. I won! Every single time!
My prize was usually a sucker or a piece of hard candy that Grandpa Charlie just happened to have in his coat pocket.
“I believe this candy has my little Dobee’s name on it,” he would say as he handed it to me, calling me by my childhood nickname that has stuck for life.
Blessed. Then he would be sure to tell my dad what a good worker I was, and how I had won the contest fair and square. They both made me feel like I was a winner. Every child should be so blessed.