Friday, November 13, 2009

Humor Inheritance

As I talk and sing to my daughter, bits of rhyme and song rise to the surface like long-buried treasure.

Walking rhymes: I left my wife and forty-eight children alone in the kitchen in starving condition without any gingerbread left! left! left!

And walking songs: Sing your way home at the close of the day/sing your way, home drive the shadows away...

Hand games: Johnny johnny johnny johnny Whoops-johnny! Whoops! Johnny Johnny johnny johnny

Songs for which I know no source: In the Vinter in the Vaudeville when the vind blows 'round the vindersills...

And humorous rhyming shtick from the 1940s: A Petunia is a flower like a begonia. A Begonia is a meat like a sausage. A sausage and battery is a crime. Monkeys crime trees. Trees a crowd. The cock crowed in the morning and made a noise. A noise is between your two eyes.... (it goes on from there ending with You go to bed with a colt and wake up in the morning with double petunia!),

Sweet old songs: Shine on, shine on harvest moon up in the sky. I ain't had no lovin' since January, February, June, or July...

And German ditties: Ein kleine Mann sitz im Butterfaß...

Or German jokes: Wie geht es? Wie ein Ganz, aber nicht so waklich. (How goes it? Like a goose, but not quite so waddly.)

Not to mention rhyming wordplay: Fuzzy wuzzy wuz a bear/Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair/ Fuzzy wuzzy wuzn't very fuzzy, wuz he?

Pieces of my childhood lie buried in my brain, planted there by my mother, who got them from her mother and father both. I unearth them and drape them around my daughter's neck like bright baubles of humor and culture. I also give her some of my current culture:

Monty Python quotes: I'm not dead yet! and It's only a flesh wound!

Quirky endearments Kuchelo-muchelo! Hunzy-batunzalonian!

And more silly songs: Little arrows in your clothing/ Little arrows in your hair/ When you're in love you'll find those little arrows everywhere/ Little arrows that will hit you once and hit you once again/ Little arrows that hit every-body/ Every now and then/ O! O! O! The pain!

My husband also contributes.

Mis-sung opera: Celeryyy, celeraaaah, celeryyy, celerah-hahahaha!

Punning exclamations: Geshnuggleheit!

Silly sings: You're my little potato. You come from under the ground.

And jokes to make her roll her eyes in about ten or fifteen years: What's high in the middle and round on the ends? O-hi-o!

We both sing Sesame Street tunes to her: Rubber ducky, you're the one/ Who makes bath time so much fun...

Every family has its in-jokes and common culture. Every family has its values and watchwords. These silly rhymes and songs are part of our bond, the things that collectively form a family culture, even a relationship culture, just as my husband and I have our common songs, jokes and catchphrases.

Somehow, remembering each quirky little detail from my own childhood culture feels intensely important. It's part of my inheritance, and it will be part of our daughter's. Already, we are exposing her to our finest stuff. Humor, musicality, light-heartedness, consideration, appreciation. I'll pass on how to make pie crust and some of my grandfather's really wonderfully bad jokes. Sure, some of it is an acquired taste, like Vegemite or British humor, but it's our responsibility to pass on as much quirky culture-art-knowledge as she can bear! Who knows what else she will pick up from us and store away in her own brain. It's a treasure trove, I tell ya.