Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Benny and the Jests

My parents both came from atypical families.  When my mother was still young, her parents divorced and she was sent to live with her mother's sister and the sister's husband, on a farm near Joliet, IL. A few years later, her mother died, and she was put permanently in the custody of said aunt and uncle, and there she remained,  eventually with two cousins who were close enough that she thought of them as brothers.

Pop's unusual circumstances, on the other hand, were the result of the military.  Pop's father was in the US Navy leading up to and during WWII.  That meant (a) a lot of time being shipped (literally) port to port, and (b) an untimely demise.  Pop's mother had a sister whose husband was initially in the army, then in a position of irresponsibility – he ran out on his wife and kid.  So, the two sisters moved in together, pooled their resources, and raised their kids as one big, relatively happy family.  So Pop had a sister by birth and a cousin who became as close as a brother in all regards.

I wrote a little about Mom's family, in the past, and mentioned, Monday night/Tuesday morning, the damage to a piece of furniture which had emotional ties to my mother's uncle (Grandpa Cecil).  While I was mourning the loss of Grandpa all over again, we received the news that Pop's "brother", Ben, had died.

Ben's passing was a long time coming.  More than a year ago, we heard from his son, my cousin Alan, that he had put Ben into a nursing home, and that, according to all accounts, in his condition, Ben was not long for this world.  Experts were apparently slightly in error.

Now, Uncle Benny was a cantankerous old crank, even when he wasn't old.  He could hold a grudge for generations, if pressed. Even when not pressed, he could remain unforgiving of small offenses.  In that way, he was more like his aunt – my grandmother – than his own mother.  But, unlike my grandmother, Benny also had a genuinely wicked sense of humor.

For long years, at family gatherings, after meals, the menfolk would withdraw to another room while we wimmin and chilluns cleaned up.  We could always hear the men laughing uproariously, sometimes leaving Pop still giggling well into the night.  It was always very clear that the tales Uncle Benny shared with Pop were not the sorts to be shared with more delicate sensibilities.  But, one night, about thirty years ago, Pop actually shared one of Uncle Benny's jokes with the rest of us.  At supper.  The story went as follows:

How the little angel got its position on top of the Christmas Tree 
Santa was having a very bad week before Christmas. He, Mrs.Claus and the elves had come down with a stomach flu, so production was impaired at a time when it needed to be stepped up.  Yes, they were getting the work done, but the out-houses were getting pretty full and ripe. And then, on Christmas Eve, the reindeer, too, developed the backhouse trots… all over the stables.  With no elves to help (still sick), Santa mucked on his own, then brought out the reindeer, still on shaky legs and with questionable digestive control, lining them up to hook up to the famous sleigh – which Santa had worked on his own to load up.  
As he put the last set of reins on the last deer (Rudolph) and climbed into his seat in the sleigh, one of the sleigh's runners snapped and the whole kit and kaboodle tumbled out across the snow, the bells all chose that moment to fall off the reindeer harnesses, which startled the deer into letting loose what was left in their bowels. 
Into this scene prances a little angel with a great big Christmas Tree.  Without noticing the chaos and stench around him, the angel asks, "Hey, Santa, where do you want me to put this tree?" 
And THAT is how the angel got its position on top of the Christmas Tree.

And THAT is the only story told by Uncle Benny that my father thought was clean enough to tell the rest of us.

Uncle Benny also kept a piece of wood pith on his desk in his office until he retired, then kept it at home.  Occasionally, he would feel the need to nudge the piece of pith until it landed on an annoying visitor.  I don't know if he ever explained to anybody else, but his sons knew enough to teach us... "pith on you".

And, in his last years of independence, living in ground-floor apartment, he complained about his upstairs neighbors playing "awful music", always too loudly.  He told us that he had tried going through proper channels to get the noise reduced, to no avail.  His solution? To make brackets to hang his big, heavy stereo speakers a few inches below the ceiling, pointed directly upward, and then, whenever he knew the upstairs couple were home and "being a nuisance", he would put on a Sousa march at full volume to blast them out.  He told this story with glee, knowing full well he could have been evicted and even fined for disturbing the peace.  Uncle Benny had gotten his own...

Well, now his life and time have caught up with him.  We're going to miss the old so-and-so, and, if there's an afterlife, somebody is learning some new, really raunchy jokes.  And, if he didn't head "upward" for some reason, heaven needs to consider soundproofing their floors.

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