Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I am Thankful for My Grandfather’s Sense of Humor, Mostly

Grandpa O’Quinn was a humorist by nature. Born in an age when families and communities had to entertain themselves, he developed a skill for spinning a yarn. He was a story teller in several senses of the phrase. Some of his stories were embellishments of actual events like the one about a childhood attempt to scare an uncle by tricking him into walking by a cemetery late at night; a few of Grandpa’s cousins were peppered with rock salt that night. Others were more hyperbolic images. “My Uncle Bill was so stingy he’d run a rabbit down and feel his ribs to see if he wanted to waste a bullet on em or not.”

His special gift was to entertain his grandchildren while we worked (and I presume his children before us). He understood that the most mundane and unpleasant chores would go better if you could keep people laughing, not belly laughs that would slow the work down. No, he just kept us chuckling, usually with a turn of a phrase or a mocking description of behavior. With a skill far beyond Dr. Phil he would throw in an occasional compliment for the one working the best or hardest, subtly introducing a little competition. He had a gift for making work fun and productive.

Grandpa had no reservations about tricking others for his own benefit either. One Saturday we were working at his place when a man running for County Commissioner stopped by politicking. He asked Grandpa if there was anything around his place the county might could take care of. “Well I could use a new cattle gap there at the road.”

“You vote for me and I’ll make sure you get it.”

“All right you got my vote.”

That afternoon another candidate for the same position stopped by and the conversation was identical.

As soon as he left my Dad asked my grandfather, “Mister Tyler, didn’t I hear you promise Mr. Roddenberry this morning you will vote for him and just now you promised Mr. Jones you would vote for him?”

“Yep, I sure did.”

“Well, why did you do that?”

“Oh, it don’t matter none. This way they’re both happy. They won’t know who I vote for and the best part is I’ll get a new cattle gap no matter who wins.”  A few months later the county installed a new cattle gap.

My Dad was not too impressed with that reasoning. He responded simply, “So, you lied to one of them.”

There is a close connection between deception and entertainment. A lot of entertainment is built on deception and I suppose there isn't anything wrong with it as long as everyone knows its entertainment. Grandpa instinctively understood that and opted to blur the lines between entertainment and manipulation. He seemed to have two objectives for most social engagement. First, tell people something they want to hear, make them laugh, and help them feel better about you and the situation. Second, do this and they will give you more of what you want, whether it was a harvested field or a cattle gap. For him humor with a little deception could be a win-win for everybody.

I have enough of my father and the Scriptures in me to wish Grandpa had drawn a straighter line of truthfulness in his political negotiations, but I have enough O’Quinn in me to enjoy the memories of his purposeful humor. I may have even inherited some of it. (But if you read anything in this blog it is absolutely 100% true, trust me.) The down side for me is that I have sometimes told a yarn myself thinking the listeners knew I was pulling their leg (entertainment), only to find out later they thought I was serious (deceptive).

Cleveland, Tennessee
February 3, 2010

No comments: