A little restaurant. The men in the booth behind me are old. They are telling jokes to one another. They are loud men. They have white hair, mugs of coffee, hearing aids.
One man wears overalls. Another wears suspenders with bass fish on them. Welcome to Rural America.
Whenever one man finishes a joke, the others slap their knees and say, “Hooooo boy!”
My waitress tries to take my order, but she can’t concentrate, we’re both eavesdropping on the old men.
An elderly man says:
“So a fella and wife go to Heaven. There’s a BIG CROWD, standing around. And Saint Pete says to everybody:
“‘Men, listen up! Whichever men wore the pants in their household, form a single-file line over HERE! And all men who were henpecked by their wives, stand over THERE!
“And almost every man went to the henpecked line. Except ONE guy, who stood alone in the other line. So Saint Pete shook the man’s hand and said, ‘Sir, I just wanna congratulate you.’
“‘For what?’ the
guy said. ‘I’m only here because my wife told me to stand here.’”
The punchline hits like an atom bomb. One man laughs so hard he almost ruptures his gallbladder.
When I was a boy, my father had hundreds of jokes like this. I would overhear him tell these anecdotes to his roughneck friends and I wished I were like him.
The men I come from speak the language of humor. They gathered on the courthouse steps, or at barbershops, not to discuss feelings or family issues, but to tell funny stories.
As a boy, I wanted to be my father. I wanted to know his stories and tell his jokes. Some kids did math homework, others went to football practice. I memorized the one about the farmer’s daughter and the preacher.
My father would place me on a…