I Love to Laugh

Meet James Thurber, humor writer extraordinaire.

My first introduction to Thurber was when I was a child, with "The Thirteen Clocks."

"Once upon a time, in a gloomy castle on a lonely hill, where there were thirteen clocks that wouldn't go, there lived a cold, aggressive Duke, and his neice, the Princess Saralinda. She was warm in every wind and weather, but he was always cold. His hands were as cold as his smile, and almost as cold as his heart. He wore gloves when he was asleep, and he wore gloves when he was awake, which made it difficult for him to pick up pins or coins or the kernels of nuts, or to tear the wings from nightingales."

The words and phrases in that book enthralled me.

"The brambles and the thorns grew thick and thicker in a ticking thicket of bickering crickets."

"Farther along and stronger, bonged the gongs of a throng of frogs, all green and vivid on their lily pads."

This is the quintessential (word of the week) read-aloud book.

When I was in college, I laughed 'til I cried over his short story "The Night the Bed Fell." Laughing 'til you cry is frowned upon in the Bob Jones University library, so I was in pretty severe pain from
laughing 'til I cried on the inside.

"We had visiting us at this time a nervous first cousin of mine named Briggs Beall, who believed that he was likely to cease breathing when he was asleep. It was his feeling that if he were not awakened every hour during the night, he might die of suffocation....

He slept in my room and I told him that I was such a light sleeper that if anybody quit breathing in the same room with me, I would wake instantly. He tested me the first night—which I had suspected he would—by holding his breath after my regular breathing had convinced him I was asleep. I was not asleep, however, and called to him. This seemed to allay his fears a little, but he took the precaution of putting a glass of spirits of camphor on a little table at the head of his bed. In case I didn't arouse him until he was almost gone, he said, he would sniff the camphor, a powerful reviver....

Always a deep sleeper, slow to arouse (I had lied to Briggs), I was at first unconscious of what had happened when the iron cot rolled me onto the floor and toppled over on me....

Briggs, awakening in the midst of loud shouts of fear and apprehension, came to the quick conclusion that he was suffocating and that we were all trying to "bring him out." With a low moan, he grasped the glass of camphor at the head of his bed and instead of sniffing it poured it over himself. The room reeked of camphor. "Ugf, ahfg!" choked Briggs, like a drowning man, for he had almost succeeded in stopping his breath under the deluge of pungent spirits...."

Today, as I was sorting books at the Victory Home warehouse, I came upon an anthology of humor writing and low-in-the-hole (a phrase that Flutterbug coined at age 4) there was another story: "The Night the Ghost Got In."

I was compelled to read it aloud on the way home, while Flutterbug drove.

I laughed 'til I cried.

"The ghost that got into our house on the night of November 17, 1915, raised such a hullubaloo of misunderstandings that I am sorry I didn't just let it keep on walking, and go to bed. Its advent caused my mother to throw a shoe through a window of the house next door and ended up with my grandfather shooting a patrolman...."

And later...

"One of the policemen found an old zither that Roy had won in a pool tournament. 'Looky here, Joe,' he said, strumming it with a big paw. The cop named Joe took it and turned it over. 'What is it?" he asked me. 'It's an old zither our guinea pig used to sleep on,' I said. It was true that a pet guinea pig we once had would never sleep anywhere except on the zither, but I should never have said so. Joe and the other cop looked at me a long time...."

Now that I reread these out-of-context exerpts, I think your best bet is to read the stories yourself. And if you don't find them funny, well, phooey on you!


On the home front, Buddy's been snacking way too much.

But I was so impressed that he, evidently knowing that chocolate isn't good for him, ate a cookie (that he stole), avoiding the chocolate chips! I found them in a pile on the floor. Maybe he is as bright as Gromit.


flutterbug said...

But MOTHER! You forgot that part where you REALLY laughed till you cried, and I laughed till I cried only because YOU were laughing till you cried! Remember!? The part where he had put on his mother's blouse? Where you laughed and gasped for a full 3 minutes before you were able to get the words "mother's blouse" out???

BBC said...

I read both of those stories at BJU after somebody recited on in freshman Speech class. Or maybe they were giving a speech about Thurber, and mentioned those stories. I love that kind of writing!

Smart Buddy!

tuftsmel said...

Yikes! I just blew out an office window by my desk! It's all Flutterbug's fault. I got laughing over your blog, but when I got to Flutterbug's comments, my mind's picture of y'all laughing so hard just got to me, and I explodedd all over! Not good weather in which to replace a pane of glass, though!

Modemom said...

Well, let’s see, tuftsmel blew out a window laughing so hard and I just woke up all three cats who thought they were all tucked in and asleep for the night. Do you realize what GREAT medicine you are dispensing by making us all laugh so much?

I agree that although laughing aloud while reading your excerpts, it wasn’t until I read Flutterbug’s description of the scene in the car that I woke up the cats. There’s something about reading funny stuff out loud to others. I remember one summer long ago when we came down to visit to you and as I always do when I travel, I bought a new book. One evening we were sitting around your dining room table and I was reading aloud from my book and experienced the same inability to get the words out because I saw what was coming and was laughing just too hard to speak. What fun! By the way, the book was one of Garrison Keeler’s.

Melanie (aka Timber) said...

I DO remember that! There's nothing like a good out-of-control laugh now and then, and they make wonderful memories!

Sorry about the side effects y'all experienced! I tried including that small excerpt, but it just wasn't the same out of the context of reading along and stumbling upon it. The story may be online; I know "The Night the Bed Fell" is.

I read a couple of other short stories of his from the book I brought home, but none were as funny as these two personal recollection-type stories!