I might have been ten years old when my father, an upstanding circuit court judge, handed me a gift wrapped copy of Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls. He had read these stories to me for years and now graced me with my own personal edition. While this might have seemed like an odd choice of reading material for a ten year-old girl, it suited me well. I had already fallen in love with the feckless, adorable gambler, Nathan Detroit. Frankly, Runyon’s outrageously silly characters made such an impression on me that Nicely Nicely Johnson and Harry the Horse appeared in my recent book Never Say Neigh (no surprise, co-written with my own horse).
In short, my father The Judge understood the meaning of funny and shared his gift with our extended family early and often. A quintessential storyteller, he paid attention to details that others missed. For example, when my grandparents’ elderly Norwegian housekeeper, Clara Christianson, explained how her husband died, nobody but The Judge heard her say the man died of “Applestrokesy.” This irregular version of the medical condition apoplexy soon found its way into the Farr humor lexicon.
Great humor spreads like poison ivy
The humor business spread like poison ivy through the family. Someone was always itching to regale the rest of us with a droll piece of trivia. Irreverent tales about deer hunting camp, prohibition, weasels diving into occupied sleeping bags, Lena Tarbox slugging the district attorney with her purse in the courtroom, Artie B. Sullivan piloting his new Cadillac into Elk Creek—these tales and more punctuated our dinner conversation. My mother just rolled her eyes.
Somehow I concluded at about age eleven that I must be Damon Runyon’s protégé. Hence, I started writing humor, or at least what seemed funny to me. My first book, I think My Brother Likes Me, failed to make it past the editor’s desk due to what she called inappropriate treatment of our Labrador retriever Sam. Actually we loved Sam, and took very good care of him. All we did was hide him in the car trunk for a hasty ride to school and a chance to appear at Show and Tell. It was awhile before I submitted another manuscript to a humorless editor.
How I learned to laugh at my own fussing and foibles
So, fifty years later little has changed. My brother wears the merriment mantle bequeathed by The Judge. I write, sometimes for a horse and often with a mirthful voice, even when the topic seems less than jolly. The best part is we all learned to laugh out loud at ourselves and at our experience of the world around us.
Maybe that was the real humor lesson The Judge was angling for.
Mary Farr is an award-sinning writer and author of The Promise In Plan B: What We Bring to the Next Chapter in our Lives