Let thy heart be merry …

Waking to the sound of laughter

Looking through some old family photos for a project I’m working on, I came across one that made me laugh out loud. It’s of my Dad, and it’s at the bottom of this post and you’ll understand why it’s there and why I laughed if you finish reading this.

My father had many wonderful qualities, among them genuine kindness, keen intelligence and a deep well of tolerance for diverse ideas and people. He also had a unique sense of humor that some would call off-beat, while harsher critics might deem it just plain weird.

For example, when the four of us older kids were 4, 2, and 1, Dad taught us to line up at the door, hold our chubby arms up in salute and shout “Heil the Father!” when he arrived home from work. Occasionally, he would give the signal when guests were present, and we would immediately go into formation and perform. We had no idea what we were saying or why, but it made him laugh and that made us do it even more enthusiastically. The custom faded fairly quickly, however, because my mother did not find it as amusing as he did. It wasn’t until years later that we realized we’d been mocking a Nazi salute and why Mom had felt that his ironic humor in this instance was, at best, ill-considered.

Although she had a more conventional sense of the funny than Dad, she was always pretty tolerant of his. She didn’t object beyond a roll of her eyes and an “Oh, Fred!”  when he put a life-size poster of a horse looking out from a stable stall, on a door that was the first thing startled visitors saw after they entered our house. Dad named the horse “Old Trotter,” and had a number of photos taken of himself and various grandchildren standing in front of the “stable.” He then sent them out randomly to old friends, who were perplexed about why Fred had bought a horse.

When my sister Barb was in college and in need of some quick cash, Dad answered her call for $20 by mailing her a bucket of pennies. Only after she had rolled all the coins did she discover the $20 bill at the bottom, along with a picture of a cow. No note, no explanation, just the cow.

During a year when the vacation resort Club Med was heavily promoted with the tagline  “Welcome to Paradise,” we decided to give Dad a special gift for his birthday. We had a bright blue sweatshirt custom-printed for him. On the front, it read Welcome to Paradise. On the back was the headline Club Fred, and underneath were the names of all the local and the famous Freds we could think of: Fred Hunter, Fred Hunt, Fred Ewing, Fred McDonald, Fred MacMurray, Fred Dryer, Fred Flintstone. We expected that he would laugh, and then use the shirt to wear for working around the house. We should have known better. He wore it all around town for years, without explanation or embarrassment, a 60-something bald, bespectacled and not very trim guy presenting himself to the world with the introduction, Welcome to Paradise.

He followed the beat of his own humor drummer all through his life. When he was well into his 70s, he snuck into my sister Tricia’s apartment while she was at work. His mission: plant a motorcycle alarm clock, complete with a wake-up signal of bright flashing lights and roaring engine sounds, under her bed, timed to go off at 3 a.m. Even though he was far removed from the scene of a sleep-dazed daughter jolted from slumber by the sound of a motorcycle racing through her bedroom with lights flashing, just knowing it was going to happen provided him with endless hours of amusement. Long after the actual event, he could still crack himself up recounting the story.

Dad always laughed at his own jokes, and we did, too, because it was impossible not to be amused by his amusement. When something that he said or did was more groan than laugh-worthy, someone would invariably say, “You’re such a Fred!” and then we’d all end up laughing anyway. We still do, when we reminisce about Dad.

So, maybe the best gift he gave us, in addition to each other, is the gift of laughter.

Such a Fred!

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22 Comments

  1. Brenda Fitzmaurice

    The part about the alarm clock made me laugh out loud. I know your sister Barb, so I can only imagine the look on her face when she received the pennies.

    • susanhunter

      Thanks for commenting, Brenda. I’m glad it made you laugh. Dad would be, too. 🙂

  2. Barb

    Thank you for making me laugh once again. Love this.

    • susanhunter

      Thanks, Barb. Did you notice I didn’t call you Barbie this time? 😉

  3. Vickie Barlow

    My dad would have liked your dad. He was a bit quirky himself. Use to play all sorts of tricks on us or my mother. “Oh, she jumped in bed and covered up her head and swore daddy couldn’t find her. But he knew dang well that she lied like he’ll and jumped right in behind her.” We didn’t know what it meant. Could call it the Fred and Dick club.

  4. Beverly

    I loved Uncle Fred. Mom had so many funny stories to tell, about her little brother. He was indeed special, as a husband, a father and uncle.

    • susanhunter

      He was a good man. I remember Aunt Ruth talking about Dad and “The Three Little Kittens.” She read it to him every night before bed when he was about 3, and she felt like she was being a good, nurturing older sister, reading a happy little poem to her baby brother. Until one night he looked at her and said, “I don’t want to hear about those damn kittens anymore!” She laughed so hard when she told that story!

  5. susanhunter

    Dads are special people, Vickie. A little weird, sometimes, but special. 😉

  6. Pat

    Yes this made me laugh out loud. I too have many fond memories of both of your parents.

    • susanhunter

      I’m glad, Pat. Both of them enjoyed all of their kids’ friends. And when you multiply by 7, that’s a lot of kids running around. 😉

  7. Rosemary Marr

    Susan,
    I enjoyed the stories about your dad. I’ve never heard any of those! I remember him fondly.
    Ro

    • susanhunter

      Thanks, Rosemary. He was a genuinely nice man.

  8. Ann Johnston

    This is a great story, Sue! I remember when your dad would come over to our house to redo the wallpaper. My mom was always thrilled with what a good job he would do. But I’m sure he was cursing our upstairs stairway, which must have been a b@$ch to hang.

    • susanhunter

      Thanks, Ann. Dad always enjoyed the Johnston family. I never heard him mention your upstairs hallway, but I know he used to look forward to summer and playing golf with your dad.

  9. Kathie

    I remember so many things about your parents (all good). I especially remember they like Dave & I call them “Uncle Fred” and “Aunt Marie” even though we are not related. But when Mom was working & one of us got hurt, your mom was who we ran to for help & comfort. They were both very special to me.

    • susanhunter

      That’s nice to hear, Kathie. You’d think they’d have enough with all the kids in their own house 😉but they always had room for and liked having all the kids in the neighborhood around, and your mom was a special friend of our mom.

  10. When your Dad lived with us before the Service he taught us many things how to play poker & to shoot craps he was always a laugh a minute & I loved him dearly

    • susanhunter

      I feel cheated Pat, he never taught us to play craps! But maybe by the time he was a dad instead of a fun uncle, he thought better of it. 🙂 Aunt Ruth’s “girls” were always special to him.

  11. Mary

    Thanks for sharing Fun memories of your dad Susan.

    • susanhunter

      Mary, it’s great to hear from you. It’s been a long time! Hope all is going well with you.

  12. Christine Murray

    Isn’t it wonderful to share all the quirky, loveable things that parents do? My Dad was quite the teaser when we were younger and no one was “off limits” if you were at our house you got teased.

    • susanhunter

      Good to hear from you, Christine. I remember your dad well and his good-natured teasing, and the way he would sometimes watch Saturday morning cartoons with us, and laugh so hard it made us laugh. 😂

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