My Dad was a jokester. Actually, at 89 he remains a jokester.
Along with the usual trials of growing up was the fact that you always had to stop for a heartbeat to decide whether what my Dad said was serious or just another clever play on words. I suppose in the long run this got us to think critically, “Hmm, does this mean I should – or should not – take this or that action?” Sometimes it took two heartbeats.
Some jokes were long, drawn out, sometimes epic, stories. Only at the end would be the unexpected punch line that would leave us either rolling on the floor laughing (or in today’s parlance, ROTFL) or emitting eye-rolling groans. Other jokes were shorter stories that raced to the punchline, though even those may take a second to “get it.”
Other jokes were physical.
He would swipe his hand (gently) over your nose, then hold up his fist and say “Got your nose!”
Okay, sure. Today it seems silly, but as a young child is was traumatic. At least temporarily.
Perhaps one of the cruelest to us kids was the donut* hole joke. We weren’t particularly wealthy growing up. Okay, we were poor, but not so poor that we ever missed a meal or lacked a roof over our heads. Still, big gooey donuts were an occasional treat and we always looked forward to the immense pleasure they brought to our lives.
Dad, being all knowing, took advantage of this. He would grab the biggest, most delicious looking donut and start eating. “I’ll save the hole for you if you want it.” We, of course, said yes. Okay, we drooled.
In retrospect, these were just the plain ordinary donuts with the hole, not the scrumptious jelly donuts or today’s fancy treats. But to us they were heaven. Dad would take his time, slowly munching around the outside of the donut working in towards the hole, like eating an apple around the core. All through this ordeal, which could take several minutes or longer depending on how desperate we looked, he would ask us over and over, “Do you want the hole?” And we would watch “the hole” getting smaller and smaller as he nibbled away the edges. Eventually he would look finished, make a motion to hand us the remnants of the donut surrounding the hole, then, unbelievably to our eyes, toss the rest in his mouth and hold out his hand as such:
“Here’s the hole!”
To which we would politely scream, “Aaaaaaaarrrrrrrggggghhhhhhhh!” at the top of our lungs.
Apparently we fell for this several times before we caught on. It’s a wonder we survived to adulthood.
* Yes, I’m aware the official spelling is doughnut, but where I grew up Dunkin Donuts was the dominant brand (no Krispy Kreme, which if you want to get picky totally makes doughnut purists hypocrites). So doughnut is donut, but you’ll never find it spelled doughnut by a townie.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.