When we think about preserving and sustaining our family heritage, we often overlook the traditions of laughter.
This comes particularly to mind as we approach Thanksgiving. I am truly, deeply thankful for the traditions of laughter that echo from the branches of my family tree.
I love reading from my grandmother’s “Treasure Chest of Memories” and getting a glimpse of the laughter that she shared with her extended family. As I page through her descriptions of family members, I find it, again and again:
- Her cousin’s husband, Henry Bernard Gee, was “merry and full of jokes.”
- Cousin Charlie Crymes—married to a woman of “scintillating brilliance”—was jolly.
- Her Great Aunt Jane was full of fun, fun that sparkled in her dark eyes.
- “Old Funny Face”—the Union Soldier whose humor moved her Confederate grandfather to befriend the man behind the lines one day during the Civil War.
Sharing the Traditions of Laughter
I’m honored to continue the inheritance I received from my grandmother, Hazel Crymes, by writing about the traditions of laughter in my own family. Starting with my memory of her. Grandma throwing her head back to unleash the joy that resided in her bosom. A beautiful, earthy sound of delight.
Grandma’s laughter was infectious, spreading though the house. I feel proud to follow in her footsteps. In fact, her tradition of laughter has changed my view of a “picture perfect” family gathering. (See Which Photos Represent Your Family Story?)
My sister can also cackle on occasion. I mean this in the best possible way. The sound that “LOL” was invented for. Struck by something funny, her humor escapes.
I love remembering my father-in-law’s laughter. Not particularly loud, but unabashed. More often than not at himself, not others.
Watching my aunt Cathy and uncle Joe reminds me of my parents. Aunt Cathy’s laughter is mischievous and proud. Uncle Joe’s is quieter, shoulders shaking. Whereas my dad used to drop his head and laugh into his chest, a beautiful grin spreads across my Uncle Joe’s face and lights the room.
Another tradition that’s developed in my family is my husband coming out of his shell the minute my sister and niece walk in the door. (Or we walk in theirs.) He drops his guard and becomes the entertainer, delighting in their laughter and giggles. Both reward him richly.
Describing Traditions of Laughter
Articulating the sounds of levity isn’t always easy. Luckily, someone wrote about it in Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life :
If the folks in your memory were prone to laughter, then let them laugh in your writing… Note whether they giggle, howl, cackle, or snort. This, by the way, is another instance when the thesaurus is your friend. Look up the word that doesn’t quite describe the laughter, and chances are the right one will appear.
Don’t miss the opportunity to leave a record of your family’s traditions of laughter. If the households of the past reverberated with laughter, pass that tradition on.
How did the episodes of hilarity normally come about? Is there a family comedian that sets the mood? Is laughter the family default or are those moments of mirth rare jewels? Do certain people play off of each other? Is there a straight man to a comic?
Your descendants will thank you.