David Bruce: The Funniest People in Families — Language, Letters, Mishaps

Language

• Language changes over time and so can cause misunderstandings. Carolyn Alessio once taught Stephen Dunn’s poem “Biography in the First Person” to a class of inner-city children who misunderstood Mr. Dunn’s line “My father a crack salesman.” The children were sad because they thought that Mr. Dunn’s father was a drug dealer, and even when Ms. Alessio explained that when Mr. Dunn wrote the poem, the word “crack” meant “crackerjack” or excellent, they declined to believe her because they thought that she was cleaning up the poem for them.

• Children’s misunderstanding of the meanings of words can be funny. Marty, editor of Bartcop Entertainment on the WWW, remembers that when she and Johnny, her brother, were little, their father had varicose veins that needed to be removed surgically. Because the varicose veins were about the size of small walnuts, Marty and her brother called them “nuts.” Johnny was in kindergarten, and Miss Pat, his teacher, asked him, “Why is your daddy in the hospital?” Little Johnny replied, “He’s having his nuts cut off.”

• Yoshiko Uchida, author of Journey to Topaz, was born and raised in California. Once, she and her family visited the village of Cornwall, Connecticut. Most people there had never seen any Japanese Americans, and one woman complimented Yoshiko on her English.

Letters

• In 1942, the Toronto Maple Leafs were down 3-0 in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup playoffs, and no one thought the Maple Leafs had a chance to win because no team had ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win. Well, one fan did. A 14-year-old girl wrote the coach to say that she was confident that the team could rally to win the series and that she would be praying for the Maple Leafs. Maple Leaf coach Hap Day read the fan’s letter to his team, and the players dedicated themselves to winning. They rallied to win four games in a row and to win the Stanley Cup — the first team ever to do so.

• When she was an adult, comedian Phyllis Diller knew that her aged father was fading and that he would die soon; therefore, she wrote him a very nice letter thanking both him and her mother for giving her a happy life and for everything that they had done for her during her then-30 years of life. After both of her parents had died, she went through their belongings and found that letter. Its much-worn condition showed that her parents had treasured it and had read it many times.

Mishaps

• Theodor Geisel, who is better known as Dr. Seuss, disliked public speaking because of an event that happened in his youth. In 1918, Theodor was a Boy Scout, and he was among the 10 Boy Scouts who had sold the most Liberty Bonds in his hometown of Springfield, Massachusetts. As a result, he and the other Boy Scouts were to be awarded a medal by former President Theodore Roosevelt. At the awards ceremony, President Roosevelt awarded the first nine Boy Scouts their medals, then he ran out of medals. Not knowing that Theodor was also supposed to receive a medal, he asked Theodor why he was on the stage. Theodor ran off the stage, embarrassed. Later, when he was a successful author, his wife, Helen, asked him to accept the invitation to speak in Westchester, New York, at a women’s college. The audience waited two hours for him to arrive to give the speech, but he never showed up. Later, Mr. Geisel confessed to his wife that he had stayed in the train station because he was too afraid to go on stage and speak in public.

• Emily Yoffe, a columnist for the online magazine Slate, had the misfortune, along with her young daughter, to get lice — which is common in elementary school. She vigorously attacked the lice with Nix cream and special combs, but of course it took time to eradicate the lice. After she and her daughter spent two hours treating their scalps with insecticides and thorough combings, they ate dinner. At one point, Ms. Yoffe tossed her hair and a louse fell on the tablecloth. Her husband commented, “You are one classy lady.” Of course, things would have been better if she and her daughter had been males; that way, they could get crew cuts. In fact, Ms. Yoffe had earlier told her daughter that a male classmate of hers had looked cute with a crew cut. Her daughter had replied, “Mom, it’s not a hairdo; it’s because of lice.”

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Copyright by Bruce D. Bruce; All Rights Reserved

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