August 2014

A Good Laugh

Marilyn J. Curry

No matter what I’m writing about I feel that I owe my audience a laugh. Not a standup comedian kind of laugh, but the kind of laugh that makes the reader feel that I thought of them when I was writing. 

I’ve written many memoir pieces. Like most writers, I’ve written about traumatic life experiences. But I’ve always tried to make sure that there was a lively and entertaining tone in my pieces. I took a course on “writing your own story” with the Beat poet and native New Yorker Diane DiPrima, who has lived a long and adventurous life. One woman in the class commented, in a quivering voice, that she wanted to write about her own life, but it made her feel too vulnerable. 

“Vulnerable?” Diane said incredulously, “Join the human race. What you have to worry about is not being vulnerable but being interesting.” I took that advice to heart. 

My grandmother was a great storyteller. Her formula included mixing harrowing human tragedy with “several funny lines.” I grew up next door to my grandparents, but even after I moved out of my mother’s house I’d often visit them. My grandmother, in her later years, spent a lot of time on the phone talking to her sister and her “girlfriends.” My grandfather would complain, “What the hell do you have to say to these people every day?” Sadly, he didn’t appreciate all the good material that she gathered.

When I visited she’d sit in the wingback chair near the black rotary dial phone in her flowered housedress with a slip underneath, wearing nylon stockings that she wore rolled up to her knees with round elastic garters, and no bra, which she referred to as a brassiere. 

“Oh I can’t wait to get that damn thing off.” She’d often retell a story from one of her contacts, and add her own commentary. “I talked to Mae today. You know, she’s the one who still visits the blind husband that’s in Creedmoor.” I knew where this was going, but I wanted to hear it again.

“You know, it’s a terrible story. She doted on him for years as he was going blind.” My grandmother would then do Mae’s voice, calm and patient, “Every day I used to arrange his food on the plate like the hands of a clock. The meat was at twelve o’clock, the corn at three, the potatoes at six, and the green beans at nine.” 

My grandmother paused, and continued in Mae’s voice, “But ever since the day he went after me with the hammer I never really felt the same about him again.” 

My grandmother let out a hoot of laughter; she loved to tell this story. “Can you believe it?” she said looking at me through her magnified eyeglasses. “That Mae must be a fool or a saint. Thank god he was blind.” 

Marilyn Curry participates in a free and open to the public creative writing class held Thursdays between 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. at the Potrero library, taught by writer journalist and filmmaker Shevi Loewinger Rosenfeld.

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