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- Posted on Nov 19th 2008 12:00PM by Sara Quin
This week's theme: LAUGH
My grandpa has a laugh that could be defined as contagious once airborne. He is a true master of storytelling. Leading you to the punch line, his voice picks up speed, the pitch of his words jerking towards the ceiling, his shoulders narrowing and hunching as he breaks into giggles. It's impossible not to laugh with him. My sister and I are known for telling stories at our shows, and everything we do we learned from our grandpa.
I recently spent time with my grandpa and his mind is still sharp and clear. With a willing attendance he can still hold rapt attention, even when the stories are full of relatives and friends who are decades gone. Sometimes the protagonists are only recognizable by last names, and in some cases not known to our memory banks at all. His careful pacing allows even an outsider to anticipate the coming chuckle or shocking revelation. In those moments where he is holding court, I am transported back to my childhood. The sound of his voice, coated thinly with what remains of a French accent, his sentences were often peppered with jabs or interjections and clarifications from my grandma. No one entertained me more than him.
Listening to my grandpa speak on the phone the other day, I realized that he is the man responsible for my propensity towards humor in times of decidedly unfunny situations. Situations involving hospitals and funerals would be the most obvious. A description of a dying friend can trigger a hilarious tale of underage drinking or a near drowning from his youth that could make your ribs ache.
We're both terrible listeners, making our phone conversations awkward and jilted. I imagine his nervous tics as he's speaking. A genetic hiccup, his tremors have him bear his teeth with a jerk of his lips back towards his ears. I sometimes must appear like a coke fiend, gyrating with nervous energy as my mouth and body cartwheel into spasms.
This is a man who claims to live in a "communist" country (Canada), but also brags that he would take to the streets with his antique rifle collection should the time come. Apparently the "time" that may or may not arrive in his lifetime would involve a rogue government roaming through the middle class neighborhoods of Canada, seizing painstakingly accurate replicas of farm equipment that he had custom made and welded in his machine shop. Followed by the seizure of his sizeable (enviable) collection of striped snapped cowboy shirts. Funny.
Before we began making 'The Con,' Tegan and I spent a Christmas in Vancouver with our mom and her partner, Michael. With all of our gifts distributed and opened, dinner crawling through our intestines, we all sat down to enjoy a film. The film(s) were sent to us in a plastic bag, accompanied by a super eight projector and a stern warning from my grandpa that we were to return the whole lot post-holiday season because it was not a gift (get your own "online" he recommended). I can't imagine that the projector and subsequent scratchy silent films were making many screenings these days, but he's always been a man wary of distributing his belongings. Understandable.
The film that I loved the most involved a party in the basement of my grandparents' home in Saskatchewan. There are a dozen adults, dressed impeccably, especially when one considers they were farmers from a town of no more than 250 people, with a "downtown" that was hardly more than a paved road with a single diner on it. There is no sound but it's clear that everyone is intoxicated, falling backwards onto eachother's laps, dangling cigarettes while free hands slap the shoulders of husbands in jest. My grandfather is clearly the joker, the center of the room. He is handsome, confident and prowls around with a makeshift costume consisting of a sofa blanket he's wrapped around his shoulders. I have no idea what the hell he was doing, but the room is filled with laughter.
Diabetic and well into his eighties, my grandfather can still cut a rug. We witnessed this recently at a wedding. Grinning wildly at a new relative (from the groom's side of the family), we all watched as he impressively twirled and pogo-ed with a woman named Sissy ("Sis" she asked us to call her). Sis was just the beginning. After tearing up the dancefloor with her, my grandpa requested that every woman in the room take his moves for a spin. It was hilarious. Not laughing at him, just the sort of incredible sight that your eyes and brain braid into laughter as a means to reconcile the unexpectedness of the situation. Not to say we thought he was unable to bust a move. This is a man who prides himself on knowing yoga moves and occasionally lectures me on stretching. I think I was laughing because after losing my grandma, his wife of 61 years, my grandfather hasn't been much of a storyteller or a dancer. During the hours that he passed at that wedding reception, I saw the troublemaker that my grandma used to affectionately refer to as "Luke-y." He wasn't badass like Johnny Cash, but was skillful and focused, like an alley cat that would come up to dinner and regale us with inappropriate anecdotes before disappearing into the basement again. He wasn't always lighthearted, and his stories would occasionally earn him a scolding order to "go downstairs."
It's hard watching someone you love suffer, and I can hardly imagine his loneliness. The last time he visited me in Montreal, he was still grieving and in a dark mood. He had caught a cold, and was tired and being difficult. We fed him and drugged him, and he fell asleep on my couch. In the morning he bounced across my apartment to the bathroom, nude, wearing only his gold chain of a cowboy on a bull. I laughed.
I imagine I gravitate towards my grandpa's stories the way he routinely casts his cousins and neighbors as the vulnerable protagonists in his hilarious tales. I've made people laugh on stages all around the world, but this accidental storytelling hero of mine, his laughter is the hardest of all to earn.