My grandfather was an artisan of the crude joke. He could put Andrew Dice Clay to shame. He was one of those guys that could get away with it because no matter how tasteless the joke was you’d laugh. You’d laugh hard. Because that’s what he did. He made you laugh hard, without remorse, without guilt. He made you laugh.
Jokes weren’t the only thing he made. The hour-long trip from Wichita to Ark City to see him and my grandma was filled with dreams of what toy grandpa was currently futzing with to show off to my brother and I.
There was always some interesting doodad or device to cause trouble with. Sometimes it would be an old gun or pellet rifle we’d fight for the rights over. Once it was a potato gun he fashioned out of PVC pipe in the garage. But usually it was some wondrous little gadget he bought at a Dollar General.
When he came to visit something always made the trip with him, and our grubby little hands would have something to occupy their time.
One Christmas he showed us how to make darts with a needle, a matchstick and some paper. He took the matchstick and cut the phosphorous portion of the match off. Burned both tips to soften the wood. Then took his pocketknife and cut into the match and split the ends in four quadrants. On one end he placed the fins he cut out of paper. On the other he placed a needle, sharp end out like a dart.
It was all harmless fun — throwing darts to see where they’d land. Until my dad got a hold of one. He let it sail. It flew beautifully. Right up until the moment it landed on my grandfather’s forehead, needle first.
There’s a pause. A moment of quiet. A needle drop, not figuratively. My grandpa looked up at the dart. We waited with bated breath. His short scream met a guffaw like a head on collision between a handmade dart and a forehead. He quieted the room. He took the needle out calmly, wiped the blood off with his handkerchief and we all started laughing, hysterically.
This event happened, or didn’t, when I was very young. More than 20 years ago. From one family member to the next, the details of it are hazy. Some say I’m getting it confused with a story grandpa told from his childhood. Others say my uncle threw the dart. Some say it never happened it all.
Regardless of whether it was imagined or as real as the keyboard I’m using to type this article, I draw from that well when I need it. It’s a gift I’ve been given because of the kind of man he was.
It’s just a story I laugh at. Why does that mean so much?
It’s a scientific fact that when you laugh it relaxes the muscles up to 45 minutes after. Your immune system is boosted because laughter decreases stress hormones and increases cells and antibodies that fight off disease. Endorphins are released that temporarily relieve pain. And the blood vessels open, increasing blood flow to your heart protecting you against heart disease.
In a way, it’s a shot of life. It helps you live longer.
If there’s anything my grandfather did it was give shots of life to every person he met. He made and shared his gadgets. But most importantly he made us laugh. And perhaps gave us a few more days to enjoy on this Earth, and a few more moments to pass on those crude jokes he used to love to tell so much.