Anyone who knows me and my family knows where my sense of humor came from. My father, Clarence, better known as C.B. was the ultimate joker and king of the one-liners. Dad always called 'em like he saw 'em and wasn't intimidated by anyone.
You had better have been prepared if you came to our house for any reason. My sisters as teenagers would frequently invite girls over and first they would have to pass the muster of my Pop's humor. For instance, a girl might be introduced to C.B. and he would take their hand and pull them into an embrace and ask, How ya doing, Baby Doll?", in his most sexy voice. The girl would do one of two things, cringe or howl in laughter. If she laughed, she passed Dad's test. Another one who could take a joke.
One time, my oldest sister had a date. The guy rang the doorbell and I answered the door and let him in the house. Around the corner of the living room came my father, donned in a shoulder-length blonde wig! Dad sashayed towards him and in his best lispy voice said,"Hi! How are YOU!" The poor kid could only stammer that he was fine. I thought my sister was going to climb under the coffee table. She apologized for my dad's antics and they quickly left. If looks could kill, Dad was a dead man!
No one came closer to the persona of Archie Bunker than my father. Very set in his ways and leary of anything having to do with change. He, like many of his generation, grew up in a pretty segregated neighborhood and didn't have much exposure to people from different religious or ethnic backgrounds. Some friends and family, including myself, used this knowledge of my dad to play a joke on him.
My father was the kind of guy who didn't believe in sharing his business or personal information with neighbors. That's all the information a friend of his and his family needed to get one over on C.B., but good. A couple of days after his June birthday, we heard all this racket coming from up the street, getting louder as it approached our house. Dad's Friends were hanging out of their car windows with patriotic music blaring, carrying huge banners proclaiming that "Tuesday Was Clarence's Birthday!". Several cars whipped in our driveway blowing their horns and wouldn't stop until Dad came out to greet them. They had given him several gag gifts including an old suitcase full of all kinds of junk, like used toothpaste tubes and old telephone directories. He received a Milk Weed plant in a milk bottle and promptly planted it near the bird bath where it flourished for years. I think he planted it as a reminder of how much his friends cared about him.
I finally had my chance to get even with Dad's sense of humor by preying on his prejudice of black people. I shared this information with a black friend of mine in high school. He just happened to be a Tackle on the Football team and was a very intimidating figure at about 6'4" and 250 pounds. This kid had a great sense of humor and conspired with me to teach this "Cracker" a lesson.
After school one day, I had my friend come to my house, knowing my dad would answer the door. We discussed a dialog and it went perfectly. My father's eyes were as big as saucers when he saw this huge black guy as he answered the door. My friend said," I understand you don't like us black people. Is that right?" My dad began stammering as he replied that my black friend must be mistaken.(I was conveniently out of sight.)"Well, than you won't mind if I go out with your daughter this weekend, will you?" My father told him he didn't think that would be a good idea, seeing that my sister had a lot of homework to do. My friend couldn't take it any more and just busted out laughing in front of him. I came out of hiding and joined him in a good belly laugh, complete with tears, right in front of dad. It was my turn for the "If looks could kill" stare from my dad. Until the day he died, I teased him about that one.
Poor Dad unfortunately had Prostate Cancer in the early 80's and had to have his testicles removed. Naturally, I felt very sorry for him and went to visit him shortly after surgery. The anesthetic was still wearing off as he motioned to me to come closer, since he could only talk at a whisper. In a voice reminiscent of Don Corleone from The Godfather, he said,"Tom, I want you to make a phone call for me." "Sure, Dad, anything you want me to do,"I said, sympathetically. I was on the verge of tears. "I want you to call Blackie for me",he said. Blackie was the unaffectionate name my father had given my dark-skinned Hungarian Ex-Brother-In-Law. "Sure Pop. Why do you want me to call him", I asked. "Tell him about the surgery I just had and tell him I STILL have more balls than he does!" That was my Dad, humor was NEVER out of place.
I believe humor got my father through many tough times in his life. Fatherless from the age of three, The Depression, combat in World War II, Trying to provide for his family during lay-offs and tough times in Youngstown, Ohio's economy, they all had to take their toll on him. I never knew my dad without compassion towards anyone who genuinely deserved it. He taught me that humor "breaks the ice", in uncomfortable situations and wins people over to being friendly and not afraid to talk to you if they're shy. "Good night, Mr. Rupe! Where ever you are!"