I come from a crazy family. Genes are an extraordinary thing – in some ways my two older brothers and I could not be more different. A very uncharitable friend of ours remarked at a family wedding that we were ‘the hippie, the drunk and the priest’! I’m still trying to find out which one of those is me. But in so very many ways we are similar; all three of us like a story, we all love to read, we all enjoy writing, we share the same views on politics (much to the shame of our mother), we all are at home with both Kings and Paupers, we all love family and we laugh at similar things.
There is an English TV show, ‘Keeping up appearances’ and my wonderful mother Zena would almost wet herself with laughter watching it. It is one of those shows where the writers juxtaposed characters against one another – well mainly Hyacinth against Onslow, Daisy and Rose with the ever patient Richard looking on. As children and on into our teenage years we would laugh our way through the Carry On movies, Steptoe and Son, Dad’s Army, Love thy Neighbour and years later – Yes Minister. My two brothers and I would probably be dragged away now for being politically incorrect in our taste of humour as youngsters – but laugh we did – and long and often.
I have a very bad stutter / stammer especially when tired and on the phone and reading a prepared text. It has got me into no end of trouble – when pulled up by the Police I am invariable breathalysed – and in introducing people those being introduced are still not sure after five saliva flung and flowing minutes whether the person opposite them is George or Mildred or Maple or Harold or Mick! As a young Brother we used to renew our Vows on the Gold Coast on Christmas Eve and I would make my way to a phone box (think Dr Who) praying to all the holiday gods that my brother Tony (who also had a stutter) would not answer the phone. Arms with my five twenty cent coins – I would slot them in and dial the number. Nine times out of ten, at the end of the long distance beeps I would hear, “Hhhhhhhhhhhellllllllo Prrrrrrice residence!” (or words to that effect) “Oh shite!” I would think! By the time Tony had said hello and I had replied and he had wished me a happy Christmas and I had wished him – I would be down to my last coin! By the time Tony told me “He would gggggggggo and gggggggget mum!” the red light would be flashing. Zena would come on – I would attempt to wish her a happy Christmas – and the line would drop dead. You have to laugh – otherwise you cry!
It took me years to work out how people always knew it was me on the end of the phone line when I would call a family to discuss their son’s progress, “Hhhhhhhhhello Mrs Ssssssmith!” “Oh hello Br Price!” How did they know!?
My family deny the story but I clearly remember at age 8 having the butter in front of me at the breakfast table. Now our wonderful father Frank also had a stutter. When you stutter the ‘b’ and ‘p’ sounds can be difficult as they are bi-labials and your lips come together to form the sound. God had a sense of humour making me, “Brother Price!” Anyway – at aged 8 with the butter in front of me, Tony asks, “Ppppppppppass the bbbbbbbbutter!” To which I being half asleep reply, “Wwwwwwwwwwwhat?” To which he replies, “Pppppppppass the bbbbbbbbbutter!” With his toast now cold I go to pass him the butter and my father turns to Tony and with total seriousness says, “Ttttttttttony sssssssay pppppppppppplease!” The only time in my childhood I can remember Zena swearing, “Have the blessed butter!” as she picked it up and thumped it in front of Tony. There were times when our family meals seemed to resemble the parish meetings in ‘The Vicar of Dibley’!
We no longer live in our old family home town of Proserpine. But when we did our Christmases as a family consisted of hundreds of hours of sitting around under the mango trees drinking beer, eating prawns and telling story after story after story. And each year the fish got bigger, the tackles more huge, the girls friends more beautiful and the crocodiles that we wrestled more like hump-back whales! They were great times – plenty of laughter, plenty of singing and as I just said – lots of storytelling.
I know those reading this who are not from Australia may be struggling to understand the imagery and I apologise for that.
Oh and could my mother laugh – at me!!! I am still in therapy because of it. One year my brother was turning 40 so I made an extra effort to be home in Proserpine for the big party. The party was huge and despite my brother having heaps of mates we were struggling to get someone to give a speech. So in desperation my sister in law asked me would I say a few words? So I begin – again stuttering away, salvia going everywhere – and one of my brother’s mates in the front saying, “Core blimey we could be here all night!” Anyway – we all got to bed in the wee hours.
The next morning – me being the good and loyal son – I am up at the crack of dawn cleaning up. My brother and his mates – leaving the front yard of our house looking like a battle field are off playing golf. Young Damien is about to clean the old BBQ – and it being so old the ‘on’ and ‘off’ gas switches are no longer able to be read. Damien, thinking the jets are turned off, lights a match to clean the BBQ plate and reaches over to turn on the gas – WOOF – the gas takes to flame and Damien is blown back with singed eye-brows. Meanwhile Zena has come to the landing to observe it all and I pick myself up off the grass to the sound of my mother’s raucous laughter! Aren’t mothers supposed to be nice!!!???
There is a famous Jesuit priest – Teilhard de Chardin who used to say, “Joy is the most infallible sign of the presence of God!” Now for those who might struggle with the ‘g’ word just replace it with love! Love lived to the full! Life lived full of love!
Have you ever met a truly happy person? They laugh, they smile, they see the positive in things around them. The truly happy person is ALWAYS loving and compassionate and free. They have a bounce about them. They have a sparkle in the eye. Sure, like all of us they have their share of pain in their lives – we all do – but it does not take their lives over. The truly loving person will find meaning and purpose in life – and where they can – they will find cause to laugh, to share story, to smile and to be grateful.
So, this coming week, in the midst of the tension and anxiety all around the planet;
- Treat yourself to an old movie or book that is one of your favourites – especially if it makes you laugh
- Recall a time when you and those around you laughed
- Share a story or two
- Spend quality time with a loved one
- Don’t take yourself too seriously
- Dance or skip or paint or garden or …..whatever is YOUR thing
- Gift a stranger with a smile even though they may think you are crazy (who cares anyway)
- Send a joke to a friend
- Sleep in OR get up early for the sunrise
- And when you stuff up – which you will – laugh at yourself!
Hi Damien, you teach us how to laugh at ourselves. What a wonderful gift that is. It helps to keep life in perspective. I really enjoyed your family stories. It reminded me how we are able to tell ours when we all get together. It also reminded me of how one day I was encouraging our very young grandson, Harry to not take his life so seriously and to find ways to laugh at himself, when immediately I banged my leg on the car door (don’t ask me how). It really hurt and here I am jumping up and down laughing and saying “See Harry, this is how you do it!” I guess that’s life.