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Humor in the Family


My grandfather Orion Wyant Swinehart couldn’t talk without telling a story. He always punctuated that episode with many expletives peppered with his laughter. They were not the kind of words which show up on HBO or Showtime movies and make me blush. His anecdotes would often take the name of the Lord in vain. He didn’t mean to be blasphemous. It was just part of his personality. Grandpa also didn’t mean to be cruel. He just wanted you to laugh with him.

Crying was not tolerated. If, as a child, I had occasion to cry around him, he would stomp away from me. He also liked to tease with his pinch bug games to get my attention. If I didn’t like to be poked at, he would pout at me and try harder.

Grandpa’s patience was a thin thread. Once he took me to the NuMade Ice Cream Shop in Rapid City, SD. It was owned by Grandma’s “old maid” sister Maude DeGeest. He generously offered to buy me an ice cream. I couldn’t decide on chocolate or strawberry. When I didn’t immediately call out my order, he and I left without the cone. Another time, I caught a ride to school with him. After stashing my violin in the backseat, I sat in the front. When we arrived at school, he drove off before I could retrieve my violin. My orchestra teacher didn’t accept Grandpa as my excuse.

I tried to give Grandpa kisses, but he would put his lips together and make a whistling noise, or maybe it sounded more like a squeal. I know he loved me, but he wouldn’t let me, or any of his grandchildren, show love for him.

One Sunday dinner my family served round steak. I received the “bone-in” piece. Grandpa asked if I’d pass him that bone. I said, “Just a minute.” I ate the marrow out of it and passed it on to him. I still remember the disappointed look on his face. I didn’t know he enjoyed the marrow, too. I guess that was my unintentional joke on Grandpa.

Grandpa is the first person to dance with me. Once when I stayed overnight with them, I tried on the hot pink formal my Aunt Carol stored in their closet. The dress was way too big for my pre-teen body. The shoulders kept slipping down and the elbow-length gloves climbed halfway up my biceps, but I felt elegant. The Lawrence Welk Show played waltz music for our dance. I hope it reminded him of the parties with all the girls he bragged about in his high school scrapbook.

He wrote in his autobiography of a time at school when he put limburger cheese on the radiator and stunk up Rapid City High School. I can just hear him laughing at his own jokes like the one about one of his teachers. He’d put a calf in the outhouse and waited for someone who needed to “go.” With both of them bawling to get out, Grandpa enlisted friends to help him push the building over. Mom suspects he was expelled and didn’t actually graduate high school. Not everyone shares Grandpa’s sense of humor.

I’m sure Christmas was his favorite holiday. He would draw us pen and ink western pictures. He laminated some for placemats or made us a calendar. On Christmas morning, we would take turns opening presents. He sat in front of the person to see how much his present was liked. He beamed at the attention.

Grandpa once gave me a locket. He thought it would be a joke to put his and Grandma’s pictures inside. He teased me about probably replacing them with a picture of a boyfriend. I never did. I still treasure that locket with Grandma and Grandpa’s pictures inside.

— written to a prompt today at Primrose Retirement Center when I led the residents in a creative writing exercise. If you are interested, Rose Klix is available for a reading or she will lead a creative writing class. Use her Contact form on While there please watch videos of her reading her work and stop by the Books page to purchase her books.


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