Sunday, February 7, 2016

Laughter in the Dell was Good Medicine

I was brought up in a home with constant, or at the very least many, moments of spontaneous comic relief. Some of the moments will always remain as private moments, but nevertheless there were so many times when we all just burst out laughing, when everyone got together and just had fun. We didn’t need any chemical aids, no malicious prompting or control issues to bring it out… it just happened.

In our backyard, my Mom created, with the help of a compliant and co-operative father, a beautiful little retreat Mom called “the Dell”. Over the period of one spring, they created a place that for over a decade rang with the music, laughter, jokes and all the festive joys of family being gathered. One of our neighbours once told me that they always knew when those Allens were having a get-together, as the neighbourhood rang with laughter and music. It didn’t take much to make us all happy. Even while getting together as just the immediate family, we would go down to the Dell equipped with food, pots, pans and utensils and have a feast of family moments and made such fond memories.

My Dad and Mom even made a structure, a base really, for our 9 x 12, tall sided tent. They put in cots and my brother and I would stay most of the summer there when the weather allowed it. It was a place that welcomed us, taught us character, housed our burgeoning dreams and added an element of adventure to our lives that, for me anyway, lit an ongoing desire to both escape and go on greater adventures in life.
The Dell rang with stories of childhood, from all the various family situations and locations. I met a previously unknown Uncle and learned how his life was so different from ours. There were stories of hardship as my Mom’s family was broken up after her parents got Tuberculosis and soon after had died. Stories of hunting, fishing, being on the move or staying in one place for a whole lifetime, lent credence to the idea that home was important, but so also was the experiencing new challenges elsewhere. My Dad was not much of a story teller back then, in the sense of family history per se. He perhaps shared some, but was more often the quiet listener, unless to correct some over stated rendition of his growing up in the family.

Shelburne Community Theatre Group
Dad did have an artistic side though, that he liked to hide. But, when the time was right and without a great deal of prompting he could cut loose with a multitude of pieces of prose or a monologue, that he had heard somewhere and remembered.  Here is one that I do not know the history or source of, and yet a part of it remains sharp in my memory. It was part of a phone conversation between two old folks: “Last night der wind came and blew der shutters off de house. No, no I didna say shut-up! Last night der wind came and blew der shutters off de house and I need to call a carpenter. No, no, I didna say der car painter. You know, der one what hits de hammer wit der nail.” The family delighted in his repertoire of memorized verse and often asked him to spin a few off for them when gatherings took place.  I never knew till later in life that Dad was a member of a theatrical group in town, as well as playing in the town band. I think I have written previously about the day that he picked up an old coronet that I had purchased and played “Amazing Grace” all the way through and never missed a note. He was in his late 80’s at the time and he never played it again even when I asked. He was a very private man in many respects.

Most of my aunts and uncles shared so many funny stories; it is hard to remember them all. My uncle Kenneth was one of my favourite story tellers. He could string you along with such a straight face that it was hard to imagine that it could be anything less than the gospel truth. Two of my favourites, I think, were these. He told us of a hunting trip where he was just about killed by a misfire or an accident with his rifle. He delighted in showing the hole in the breast pocket of his denim shirt where the bullet passed through. I along with others surely sucked this tale in and believed every word cause he always said, “That’s the truth boy; that’s how easy it can happen! “ The other was while were out fishing with him one day and seemed totally lost in the fog. He said that he had no idea how he would find his pots, when all along he was carefully watching his time, compass direction and the current, so he knew exactly where he was all along. He would smoothly throttle down, grab a gaff and pull up his next buoy, on which there was hopefully a full pot of lobsters. Dad had explained later on that the hole in his pocket was from the constant wear of his cigarette package and we all had a great laugh, but nevertheless I was let down a bit by having to face a more sanguine truth. After all, sometimes the stories just added that bit of spice to life when you are very young.

Not all childhoods or home life in family is the same. Not everyone around me had the same experience of laughter on the same level as we did. I found as I matured, that some homes were silent refuges of disappointment and others were battlegrounds, where despair reigned daily. As time and opportunity arose, I found that there was a need to expand beyond the safety of home life and explore the lives of those others who may not have been as fortunate as me. I didn’t always find open doors and welcoming smiles and so I began to retreat and found solace in self identity and faith.  As I matured, it didn’t take long to realize that retreat was not an option, and so once again I limped outward and there finally found commonality and strength in fellowship with those of similar interest, faith and practice. Granted in my particular bias I would wish for a purer style of joyfulness in gathering, but mine was not to judge. There have been times when, of no credit to me, I have chosen not to join in, as I felt out of place when chemically induced fun, being over-used overtly, became a challenge for me.

Cultural and principle based differences aside, we love to celebrate and be reminded of the lighter side of life. Today I am much better at toleration, and while not always totally comfortable in all situations; my desire is to allow other so be what they choose as long as no one is hurt. Travel, including mission work, helped make a great difference. In the stories, the laughter and the fellowship of family and friends gatherings are found the essence of support, nurturing (in some respects) and release that only those occasions may allow, regardless of culture or ethnicity.

Someone asked me one day if God had a sense of humor. I have wondered about that down through the years There are all the standard jokes about the platypus, the penguin and of course about me, but when it comes down to it, I think that God is who He is. There needs to be no debate about His wisdom of choice, His knowledge of creation and how it might all end. There has even been some thought of His supposed lack of caring about individuals over an apparent concern for the overall plan, meeting His approval. God creates today, as he created, in an original design toward perfection. Today, most lack a desire to follow or conform to His plan, just like those in Biblical times, both within the Old and New Testaments. If God laughs, I believe it is at our foolish mistakes in life, not at our deliberate defiance of his principles of truth, which has always brought about imperfection.  We share funny stories… Does He... I wonder.

Our best effort in life is in the striving toward those moments of fellowship with family and friends, while sharing the best of the best in life. That may include some of the funniest of moments in family history, but it also should include those moments of recounting when we were in the depths of despair. We need to rehearse how we made it through, because God created family, and they were there with us and for us…. God was in His element; the family which He designed was with us. I give my Mom and Dad so much credit for my being a mostly happy and a somewhat well adjusted individual, but It was truly God’s direction, intercession, and of course their adherence to His desire for all of our lives, that made it happen. Those elements of family should be shared.

Perhaps you may not have experienced many joyous moments in your family life which brought laughter to its peak; maybe not near as many as I experienced. There may be moments though, where you felt great joy in its own right, and precious memories that endure no matter what has taken place. I have found that very thing in my own life. While there have been moments of disappointment, economic hardship and downright sadness in my life as well, during those times I’ve had to step outside of myself. I was never alone there. Most times my wife and children were there, along with friends and extended family. But always there has been God. Satan loves to play havoc with our lives and thoughts, particularly our thoughts. So, in God, I’ve found not only daily peace, but also daily assurance of His presence and grace to get me through. He sends those precious memories of better times and reminds me that He was there in them. He tells me to take my heart to those places where joy was at its height and He has provided pictorial reminders of occasions of the best of moments lived. He provided the finances to enable us to take those pictures by provide the cameras to take them and the albums to keep them in… of that I am confident.

Each day is a reminder of the past, as I age. I look forward to the future, don’t get me wrong. The future, I believe, holds many blessings as well. How I get there is the key! Getting there is not letting go of the past, but celebrating it while leaving room for new memories and new objectives in life. I want to remember my Dad’s prose and stories along with those many others that family shared while fellowshipping and partying through the years. God gives us memory for a reason and laughter for a reason and the blessing in all that is family. The combination of those three elements of life should be important. It may mean taking a walk toward the edge, especially if you may feel challenged by varied disappointments as you approach the past while considering family life. But… It may surprise you what may surface that will bring a smile and even a fit of laughter as you survey the past with openness. Don’t let Satan steal your joy…. Oh… And share a few of the old stories with those you love; you may be surprised first at the reaction of joy it brings and second it may be a revelation to find out who it is that really seems interested in listening.

I pray God will bring back joyful memories to uplift your life. May the Lord richly bless your day... He is surely blessing mine!