Our family, as I was growing up, had a few, mostly very corny. Two survived the test of time when I found a yellowed, ratty old article my mother had sent me after I moved to another state. Both the jokes were in there. The article, by John Gould, was “‘Just so’ Stories,” folksy and wholesome. The first is about a man named Jim Guppy and his hound-dog.
The dog liked to sleep in the middle of the kitchen floor, under everyone’s feet. So Jim would yell at him to go under the stove, possible in the old days when stoves had legs. The dog didn’t respond until the fifth or sixth time, then he got up, stretched, and went under the kitchen table. Once he had, Jim would say, “Don’t make no odds to me what he does, just so he minds when I speak to him.” For years, that punch line was adapted to countless family situations. Even now I can smile at its longevity.
The second one needs a bit of introduction. The setting is a woods of very tall pines just outside the southern Georgia town of Moultrie. I shared an apartment with a roommate, but we mostly went separate ways, especially if we had dates.
I was 19, not a good age for sound judgment or foresight. It was summer, late afternoon and I was alone, waiting for dusk so that my date and I could go to the local drive-in theater in my 1951 Ford. Finally it was time, I jumped in the car, and then nothing happened. The starter made starter sounds, but no engine sounds were forthcoming.
Anyone owning a Ford had a saying: “If it won’t start, it’s the points.” And it was.
Without getting too technical, you need to understand that the old Fords were primitive, meaning that anyone with a few tools could work on points. All you had to do was open the hood, reach across the wide front fender to inside the engine compartment to a round thing with wires sticking out. Inside was a gizmo we called the points, that in order to make the spark that would run the engine, had two surfaces that were mostly touching each other, except when spark was needed. Then they had to separate at a precise time, stay apart a precise interval and then close, over and over.
All that was needed was a screwdriver, which I had in one hand. My other hand held the points. But now there was a problem. Thanks to the shady pine woods, it was dark under there. I found a flashlight and stuck it in my mouth. Then I dropped the screwdriver. Before I could pick it up, help came from a very unexpected source.
My next door neighbor was an octogenarian named Culpepper, who lived with his octogenarian wife. We had never spoken. Sometimes we waved. I had no idea how to talk to someone that old. Suddenly Mr. Culpepper appeared in the dusk, asking if he could help. The Culpeppers had been watching me. Mrs. sent Mr. to offer assistance. Maybe they had been young once.
I took the flashlight out of my mouth and handed it to him. His hands were shaky, but the light didn’t dance too much. Soon the points were fixed, the Ford started, and I took my date to the drive-in theater. A Western.
The following morning I decided they were both senile. I went to thank them, found them at a small patio table drinking hot water. They seemed to think it was normal. I thanked them and left. Crazy old people, drinking hot water from a coffee cup. That amused me for years.
Then I got old and the idea didn’t seem so bad. It was the idea of drinking hot water that was the barrier. It was the second joke that got me over the hump. It goes like this, in another “Just So” story. A man complained that he didn’t like poached eggs at all. But they tasted all right when his wife fried them in water.
Now I have a special morning drink, that only takes a faucet, a microwave oven, and a cup. I’m thankful it’s not hot water I am drinking. It’s albino coffee, my own special blend.
No 19-year-old can tell me different. Some day he’ll develop a taste for albino coffee as I have.