In the spirit of fairness, I need to point out that our homes were not houses of horrors, although horrible things did happen in most of those homes. Ah! You say…the disfunction did make her crazy!
Maybe so, but my real point is that even in the most unsuspecting places, there is good, and more importantly, there is fun. My dad could be cruel, indecently inappropriate, and controlling, yes! But, gosh, let’s give him a momentary reprieve because he was also quite funny when times were good, and the tide was with us.
We’ll ignore the fact that he completely controlled the tide (flexibility is important, after all) and consider how humor is a tremendous survival skill that helped my siblings and me become relatively successful and very adaptable humans.
One of my early memories from somewhere in Kansas involved the four of us young ‘uns collectively taking an enormous risk to tap his humor. I wasn’t even in school yet; thus the others were all still in grade school, which might account for the very poorly advised plan, what with underdeveloped brains, and whatnot. We were all in trouble (which sounds like a big deal, but was more likely something as egregious as someone not making their bed properly or all of us being inconsiderate enough to act like children and do something crazy like laugh too loud…I think you get my point…). Rather than doling out on-the-spot spankings, either individually or in group formation, Dad would set a time for us to “appear” to accept our punishment. As a veteran, I have to give a nod to his grasp of psychological warfare; the anticipation was way worse than the actual butt-whacking.
In any case, on this occasion, someone devised a strategy for us all to hold pillows over our rears as we somberly marched down the stairs in order of age (an excellent plan for me; as the youngest, I would be last to the slaughter) as we reported in for our spankings. The hope was for an unprecedented softening of the ogre, that he’d laugh uproariously, and all would be forgiven. Cray-cray, right? How opportune that he was, after all, cray-cray, and it worked! It worked as never before (or after, I might add). It was a perfect storm in reverse. He laughed heartily, probably accrediting our wit to his genes, and there were no spankings that day. Our victory cry was fiercer than our wails would have been. I think I remember it among so many blocked memories because of our success, and because it was never to work again. And because it was funny. The Seley kids’ first and last stand. It was epic.
And then there was the time when we lived on a reservation in New Mexico and my brother was out hurdling sage bushes (yes, he did it for hours, but that’s not the funny part) and somehow flew face-first into a large cactus patch. Ouch. We rarely went to the doctor for anything, so Mom went at it with the tweezers and proceeded to pull a bunch of needles out from all over…and I mean, all over. We could hear it all from the next room. How can three sisters not find humor in that? Not at the time, of course (at least where we could be heard), we ain’t that cruel, but I’m sure there were many subsequent jokes, and even he laughed about it later, because that’s how we coped.
We played when we could, laughed at every single opportunity, sometimes just for the sake of feeling it all lift away.
Fast forward through a rollercoaster of moves to my teenage years when I was the last kid at home, now in Idaho. The other three had escaped things I hadn’t even known they’d endured, and I was just navigating through my remaining time. On this day, Dad was prone on the couch, taking in some football (which he could apparently watch while sleeping because if you had the gall to change the channel or turn it off, he’d awake in mid-snore to tune you up). Mom and I returned from the local laundromat and upon entering the living room, we saw him “watching” the game, mouth agape, drool, snores, and all.
As we crept in with our full laundry baskets, the floorboards inevitably creaked, and he loudly proclaimed (eyes still closed), “Quit walking on the floor!” Mom and I looked at each other, asking the same question with our eyes: Where then, are we supposed to walk? The ceiling, perhaps? And then we did the unforgivable: we dissolved in laughter. Unlike with the pillow incident, he was none too pleased, all was not forgiven (although no alternative trek besides the floor was offered for us to bring in his clean skivvies). I remember this because, well, it was damn funny, but mostly because my normally very meek and accommodating mother was actually in cahoots with me, and she boldly giggled through it all without regret. I suspect there were repercussions for her later, but I saw it as the beginning of an unprecedented and wonderful alliance that lasted until her dying day. Yay for smartass humor!
We often laughed a lot when it was just us kids at home, or out of earshot when he was home. We laughed with him when he was “up,” as we called it, because when things were good, they really were good. And it was such respite from the dark times, it made the good times that much brighter.
Unfortunately, sometimes it was a tightrope. Depending on which Dad we had on any given day (same man, mind you) his humor could be so lewd and inappropriate we either didn’t understand or laughed because when he laughed, we all laughed. That’s just how it was. I also never would have joked about my brother getting cactus needles yanked out of his junk if I’d known he ran and hurdled sagebrush for hours as his way of escaping what he’d been privately subjected to by our father since he was a small child. He was running because he could.
But I didn’t know that then. My brother was and is one of the funniest people I know. He makes me laugh until I cry. I just didn’t know that back then, he and my sisters laughed so they wouldn’t cry.
Laughter is the best homeopathic medicine for short and long-term ailments. It is, at least, when butt pillows are deemed funny. And it is, for sure, when for one brief, shining moment, your mama becomes a giggling rebel. That was sweet.
And for the record, when transporting laundry across the house, to this day, I audaciously march across the floor. And laugh the whole way! Touché!