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Creative Nonfiction Essay 1
Kowboy
I'm back in school and taking a class in Creative Nonfiction. This is my second draft of my first essay:

No Laughing Matter

My sister-in-law has never laughed at any of my jokes. We’ve been together about twenty years or so and I started to notice about a decade ago. The first thing I thought was “Well, maybe you’re not as damn funny as you think you are.” But after as objective an assessment as one could make of such a matter, I don’t think that’s the case. My first bit of evidence in my defense is my wife of twenty-nine years who, upon being asked how she has been able to put up with me for so long, replied, “He keeps me entertained.” I was raised with humor, especially on my mother’s side of the family, the naughtier the better.

Carol, my sister-in-law, not so much. She was raised a Wisconsin farm girl, somewhere in the middle of nine kids, a veterinarian’s daughter. “Farmified” as my dear grandmother described her. They were raised strict Catholics. While Carol isn’t particularly religious now, I don’t think Catholicism and its overwhelming guilt wear off easily or quickly. Legs crossed at the knees covered in plaid uniform skirt and feet never shod with patent leather shoes kick reflexively at the crotch of wink, nudge and innuendo. The aftermath isn’t pretty, but therein lays the lack of joke response. A benign chortle is the stamp of acceptance, approval and encouragement. We can’t have that.

While we’re all stuck with our in-laws, I wouldn’t trade Carol for any other woman on the planet as a mate for my brother Thomas. Her roll-with-the-punches attitude and insightful planning, so critical for successful farming, make her the perfect life partner for my artistic, headstrong and high-strung brother. If my brother can’t find his car keys after a frantic search, he’ll just ask his wife where they are. Somehow she always knows.
In spite of her Wisconsin work ethic and Catholic construction, Carol is quick to smile and what a beacon it is. An explosion of perfect white teeth barely constrained by her warm dark eyes. She takes good care of herself and her grace and manners are impeccable. I love her. My brother married up. A perfect canvas if I could only paint a laugh.

The only time I’ve seen Carol wearing cosmetics was on her wedding day, applied conservatively by my wife. The only time I’ve seen her in a swimsuit she wore a one-piece, despite her bikini-worthy figure that she maintains to this day.

Our divergent backgrounds probably account for our different senses of what’s funny and what’s not. Like most guys, I find the slapstick of the Three Stooges amusing and sometimes hysterical. Apparently women are not as amused by the Stooges. My mother was quick to laugh or make a joke and would always relay the latest she’d heard. “Cleanliness” was not one of her discretionary criteria. Her mother was not nearly as jovial, but seemed to get her kicks vicariously when the rest of us were having a good time. Grandma also owned a collection of “party records”. These 78-RPM vinyl records were the 50’s equivalent of today’s Internet porn, very naughty and humorous poetry and songs. Of course it didn’t take long for us kids to discover her stash. Despite the rarity of occasions to play them, I can still recite “The Stenographer” from memory:
I am a young stenographer
My name is Sally Brown
I worked in many places
Until I settled down…

We were never caught.

Ironically, some of the funniest jokes I’ve ever heard involved Catholicism. My stepfather told a “Joe Miller” joke involving the Pope. His delivery was unmatched and so spectacular that he had my brother and me literally on the floor, gasping for breath we were laughing so hard. It almost wasn’t fun anymore. The one about the four nuns who died and went to the Pearly Gates remains one of my favorites. What type of meat do priests eat on Fridays? Nun.

While I can understand offense over one’s religion, even the most poignant tale of preteen love can fall victim to Carol’s hypersensitivity. My sister, brother, plus my wife, Carol and I were once visiting my old neighborhood. As we walked the uncurbed streets, we passed by schoolmate Michelle DiMilio’s old home. I was telling the others how, when I was twelve years old, Michelle’s cousin visited from South Carolina one summer. She was an older woman at fourteen and her delicious accent had all the boys smitten. We found ourselves alone one night under the same streetlamp under which the five of us now stood. Just as I was explaining how I mustered all the twelve-year-old courage I had to steal a kiss from this Southern Belle, Carol, knowing she could never “unhear” what she thought was about to transpire, interrupted and begged circumspection. No, I explained, it was just an innocent tale of a kleptomaniacal kiss, one that cemented the female risk/reward ratio permanently into my male psyche before I hopped back on my bicycle and rode away several feet above the ground.

My brother and Carol winter in Mexico and we visited last March. As the four of us cruised the desert one afternoon my brother pointed out a building that had served as the local brothel, quickly earning him a stern rebuke from his wife. Apparently even local culture and history are off-limit topics if they involve sex or at least if my brother is doing the narration.

On this same visit, my brother and I chartered a fishing trip. Brothers talk about a lot of subjects while waiting on fish, especially those as close as we are. We were essentially alone since our captain spoke little English, so I broached the subject of his wife’s prudery. It wasn’t a long conversation; he agreed she is a prude. Unfortunately, this conversation followed our visit to the local fish market several days earlier. Thomas had told me about Claudia, the twentysomething Mexican fishmonger with the ebony eyes, Latin smile and magazine-quality figure. She did not disappoint. We somehow managed to make a fish run without the girls and fortunately I brought my camera. I quickly captured Claudia, with permission of course.

I post about my vacations on several trade website sections devoted to non-trade subjects. Since we struck a cow with the car on the night we arrived, I already had a vacation post underway. Claudia’s picture and my overactive imagination were a perfect mix for a fantasy post. After introducing Claudia above her picture, I went into a factual sounding exposition of how I was going to leave my wife, have my vasectomy reversed, cash out my retirement, buy a casita and Claudia’s fish stand and employ someone else to run it while Claudia and I spend the rest of our days on the Mexican beach making babies. I found the piece hilarious; Carol was appalled. Not even the most preposterous stretch of imagination snaps her hold of propriety. Like when I watch the Stooges, my wife just rolled her eyes.

It’s probably a good thing Thomas and I are separated geographically. We live in Michigan, Thomas and Carol in Seattle, Washington and Mexico. If we were physically closer, perhaps we would feel an obligation to spend more time together. Although she is much too gracious to ever let me know or make me feel this way, I don’t think Carol would want to hang with me any more than family obligation requires. I imagine if the four of us first met at a party, in the car on the way home Carol saying to Thomas “Lynn seems nice, but I just can’t stand her husband. He laughs too loudly at his own off-color jokes and I thought I would vomit when he told the story of the ex-Navy SEAL amputating the finger of a guy who owed a business associate money.”

Thomas and Carol would probably not choose to socialize with the friends of my wife and me either. Our gang shares a vacation home in the Outer Banks of North Carolina every September and due to my academic obligations, I had to show up late this year. My wife went down earlier with friends. Upon my arrival several days later, I was greeted with hugs and kisses from my wife and the wives of my buddies. As the newest member of our group, Su, extended her arms, she said, “Where’s my hug and kiss? And no tongue this time.” This ball-buster is going to fit right in.

I doubt there will ever be a resolution to this situation and I’m comfortable with that. Carol can no more unbraid her uptight upbringing than I can divest my cloying naughtiness. She will never stoop to my level and I won’t live a life of rarely having gone for a laugh. My jokes flop about two out of ten times but no risk no reward, as Miss Carolina taught me under the streetlamp so many years ago.
 
Bob of QF
Interesting.

Needs more jokes.

Grin
Quantum Junction: Use both lanes

Reality is that which is left, after you stop believing.
 
Skeeve
Wonderful essay, thanks for sharing it with us.
"The world is my country, and do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine
 
Hypatia
Excellent and well written Kowboy.
 
Kowboy
Thanks all. It's going to be turned in on Tuesday. I'll let you know my grade.
 
catman
Good luck. I enjoyed reading it, and it is well written.
 
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