My First Applause
My grandparents were my best audience. Always.
Linda Leigh (my namesake) and J.O. Vincent were my mother’s parents. In my mind, J.O. was a jovial giant kind of man. He wasn’t overweight and he wasn’t unusually tall. But he was a broad-shouldered, sturdy man with a big presence. He had a gentle, intelligent twinkle in his eye and a kindness for everyone. Those who knew him looked up to him whatever their relative height. He smelled of cigars and when I crawled into his lap, I did too. Once there, odds were that he and I would sing his favorite folk song.
“A frog went a-courtin’ and he did ride, M-hm, M-hm. A frog went a-courtin’ and he did ride, M-hm. A frog went a-courtin’ and he did ride, sword and pistol by his side, M-hm, M-hm, M-hm.”
Linda was the sterner of the two. In both profession and personality, she was a teacher of the old-school variety. Her displeasure was a powerful motivator that could tame a school classroom or subdue the most errant of her grandchildren (which, by the way, was always my little brother). I’m not sure why we loved my grandmother so much. Maybe it was because she required us to be our best; and our best surprised and pleased us. Maybe it was because we felt that to be loved by her raised us to a level above most others.
Together, they were an unusual couple. He was a farm boy; she grew up in the city. She was Presbyterian; he was Baptist. She liked to go to the theater because she could be a bit of a social snob. He liked to go to the basement where she allowed his spittoon and his tobacco chewing habit.
Together, they were a united front. The two of them were . . . shhhhh . . . closet Republicans . . . in a county of vocal Democrats. They both gave their productive years to the Kentucky education system and their spare time to The University of Kentucky’s televised basketball games. He grew a garden. She took his food and fed their family well. They built a home where their grandchildren would have their best memories of childhood.
They lived a few streets down from my family and, being from the generation that played outside as a kid and in the period of time when our parents did not worry about us playing outside, I rode my bicycle to their house often.
“Do you have any new jokes?” Granddaddy asked every time we sat down to supper.
I always had new jokes.
“Why did the belt get arrested? Because he held up a pair of pants.”
“Why are frogs so happy? Because they eat whatever bugs them.”
He laughed every time. And the man knew how to laugh.
“Why did the boy fall off the building? Because he was smoking a cigarette and he threw off the wrong butt.”
That particular joke initially produced silence. Then my grandmother had a refined conniption fit at the use of the word “butt” in her kitchen. But it didn’t matter because I could hear the chuckle that Granddaddy tried to cover.
Those jokes were my first performance lines before a crowd and I commanded that stage every time I took it. The audience loved me!
As I got older, I began to write. And it came out funny. When I sat down with a pencil and a creative thought, my tongue inevitably found its way into my cheek and humor filled the page. My high school teachers were not big fans. But my grandparents thought it was wonderful! When I left home for college and then marriage, they continually asked me to write. I would gather up the funny, inane pieces of my life (usually supplied by my husband) and send them to Grandmother and Granddaddy in a letter.
At one point, because I had not written them in good while and they were firmly suggesting that I should, I wrote them a letter without taking the time to add humor. I got a phone call. My grandmother let me know that, although she and my grandfather were happy to hear from me, I should never again hurry to write to them. If they wanted the facts of my life, they would ask my parents. They wanted me to take the time to find my funny. They wanted me to pour it through my pencil, package it up and send it to them.
I have been told that when my grandfather found one of my letters in the mail, he took it home to my grandmother and they eagerly opened it. She read it aloud and together they laughed.
There isn’t much I would not give now to be in an audience somewhere and watch them laugh.