Joan Rivers is purported to have said, "Life is short. Remember to laugh."
I thought of that the other day, when the daughter of one of my dearest friends, long gone, posted a memorial picture of her mother on her Facebook page. It's been seventeen years since we laughed together. But, after I wept a bit, I was reminded of a goofy story. Which reminded me of other goofy stories from the past. Hence this blog entry.
My friend's story first. She and her husband and I and mine hung out together quite often. We'd sit around their dining room table, drinking the popular drink of the day, Cold Duck, and eating apples and cheese. Cold Duck was the poor man's version of sparkling Burgundy, a HIGHLY effervescent red wine, corked like Champagne. We were young couples and it was cheap and delicious. We always had two bottles of it when we got together.
Lidia had come from Mendoza, Argentina, a wine region. One night, her husband, Al, was describing how the vintners walked up and down the streets, shaking the loosely corked bottles to get the sediment to rise to the top. He demonstrated the motion with the unopened bottle of Cold Duck. A short time later, we emptied the first bottle and Al began to open the second bottle, which he had just shaken. "No!" we all cried. "Go outside to the porch! That one is going to explode."
He scoffed at us, but went outside. We heard the pop of the cork. He came back. The bottle was fine. He held it out. "Ha, ha, ha!" he said smugly. And then it exploded! It gushed so high it nearly hit the ceiling. We laughed for years about the weird delayed reaction.
Another long-ago story. Jerry and Kat were our first close friends as a married couple. My husband had been drafted into the army and sent to Germany. I followed (after a honeymoon in Fort Dix, New Jersey, another weird story that I may not tell!). Since he was a private, we didn't live on the post, but rented rooms from German locals. Jerry and Kat were in the same situation, so we visited back and forth, sharing stories and laughing a lot.
Jerry had worked for Colgate as a chemist before he'd been drafted. Night shift. He had us in stitches telling one story. He and his co-workers were testing a new chemical formula for toothpaste. As they discarded the unsatisfactory ones, they'd wash them down the sink. After a couple of hours of this, someone in the lab looked out the window and saw that the foam from the toothpaste ingredients had bubbled up from the sewer and was filling the parking lot. What did they do? Call someone? Hell, no! They spent the rest of their shift washing down everything they could find!
Have many goofy stories about my mother (see JUST FOR FUN entry). One of the weirdest coincidences happened on her birthday. My sister and her husband lived hundreds of miles away from us. But both of us sent Mom the VERY SAME birthday card! Don't remember the picture on the front, but the words said, "No, I won't take you to the zoo for your birthday!" Inside, it said, "If the zoo wants you, they can come and get you!"
I guess both my sister and I realized how appropriate that kind of silly card was for Mom!
How about another strange coincidence? Our family had come from Canada to the United States when I was a little girl, and most of my relatives stayed there. Several of my uncles were drafted into the Canadian army during World War II.
It was December 1944 or January 1945. My Aunt Fay hadn't heard from her husband Jack in weeks. He was somewhere in Europe. To take her mind off her worries, her sister took her to the movies. There were newsreels in those days. And the headline was the Battle of the Bulge, just won by the Allies after many terrible days of fighting. They showed pictures of the soldiers, slogging along the snowy roads, riding in trucks, resting after a firefight. And there, in one of the pictures, was Uncle Jack! Fay couldn't be sure, but after the last show, she approached the theatre manager. He ran the newsreel in slow motion. Sure enough, it WAS Jack. He snipped out a frame of the film for Fay. (Don't know if she ever turned it into a photo.) She didn't know if her husband was still alive (he was---came home from the war without a scratch), but at least she knew why she hadn't heard from him in weeks.
Sometimes, funny things happen because of cultural differences. I wrote about meeting a German couple in New York in CAT GOT YOUR TONGUE? And I remember my own wartime story from when I was just a little girl. One of my Canadian uncles was stationed in England, and looked up the family's English relatives. I helped my Mom wrap "care packages" for the English relatives. Instant coffee had just been invented. I remember putting jars into the boxes. But more wondrous, tea bags had just been invented. (Probably made of rayon---and revolutionary. Who would have thought of putting fabric into your teacup?) We packed those as well.
Without the ads and publicity that had surely introduced the teabags to American users, our Brit relatives interpreted their use in an entirely different way. "How clever you Yanks are," they wrote to us, "to pre-measure your tea and wrap it so neatly!" Having discovered that each teabag held exactly one teaspoon, they thought they were simply an easy measuring device, and tore each bag open to put into the teapot. We were delighted to enlighten them and send them many more packages!
Another cultural difference story. My husband loved to tell this one (though he felt so foolish afterwards!). He had arrived in Germany and was immediately told to go on maneuvers for a month. Since I was due to arrive from the states in five weeks, he begged his commanding officer to give him a day to find rooms for us to live in. He practiced saying in German: "Have you a room for me and my wife?" (Don't ask me to translate---I can say it, but I have NO idea how to spell it!) He found lodgings for us in no time. But he was hungry and there was a restaurant nearby. He didn't have a dictionary with him, but he thought he might recognize words from a menu. He went in, sat down. No menu at his table. "Menu!" he said, clearly and loudly, making a square shape in the air with his fingers. He repeated the word several times, along with the gesture, but the waiter didn't seem to understand.
There was another party of diners across the room, happily eating their lunch. A menu on their table. My husband pointed vigorously toward their table. ""Menu!' he said, again making the square shape with his fingers. "Ach, ja!" said the waiter, and vanished into the kitchen.
There must have been a long conversation in the kitchen about the Crazy Americans, but this was not so long after the war, and whatever the Crazy American wanted the dummkopf would get! So the waiter brought out the same food the other diners were eating---on a square plate! (One of the first sets of dishes we bought when we were settled back in the States had square plates! I still have the set.)
And sometimes cultural differences can be absolutely wonderful. The British sense of humor, so dry, so sly, never ceases to delight me. Once, my husband and I were staying in a beautiful old inn in the large town of Ludlow, in the west of England. We had found an ancient tavern that dated from the 16th century. Beautiful black and white exterior, mellow wood interior. Comfy bedroom, lovely bathroom, with modern appliances in an ancient room. And next to the tub a sign: "Please put the shower curtain within the tub when you are showering. Our woodwork is rather old." (Talk about understatement!) And I still have a length of toilet paper from a public bathroom in Winchester, which says, primly, "Now wash your hands, please."
I love weird and wacky stories from the past. They make it memorable and delightful to remember.