My mother never told a joke, which seems very peculiar to me. Most people have a repertoire of favorite jokes, or at least a couple of favorite jokes. She did not laugh much either, an occasional sneering comment, some slightly off sarcasm, was as close as she got. Sad. On the other hand, my parents used to tell each other sexy jokes and make x-rated observations, then guffaw about it. But they told them to each other privately, which was pleasantly polite.
My father, on the other hand, had a couple of favorite jokes. His favorite began with a shorter version of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic “The Song of Hiawatha”*.
“By the shores of Gitche Gumee,
By the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis,
Daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest,
Rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them;
Bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water,
Beat the shining Big-Sea-Water.
There the wrinkled old Nokomis
Nursed the little Hiawatha,
Rocked him in his linden cradle,
Bedded soft in moss and rushes.
Safely bound with reindeer sinews;
Stilled his fretful wail by saying,
"Hush! the Naked Bear will hear thee!"
Lulled him into slumber, singing,
"Ewa-yea! my little owlet!
Who is this, that lights the wigwam?
With his great eyes lights the wigwam?
Ewa-yea! my little owlet!"
He would chant it about halfway through, then lapse into the joke that he wanted to tell, which was this one:
Hiawatha went on a hunting trip for many moons, it was a very long trip.
When he returned, his wife Minnehaha greeted him in the traditional way by saying, “How.”
He saw that Minnehaha was with child and replied, “How, Hell, Who?”
And then my father would laugh naughtily at the play on words and my mother would snort derisively.
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* The Song of Hiawatha is a 1855 epic poem in trochaic tetrameter by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow that features Native American characters. The epic relates the fictional adventures of an Ojibwa warrior named Hiawatha and the tragedy of his love for Minnehaha, a Dakota woman.
Caption: Statue of Hiawatha and Minnehaha by Jacob Fjelde
Minnehaha Falls City Park, Minneapolis, Minnesota—public domain photograph
As a young woman I enjoyed this tender, romantic statue, I would visit it whenever I drove by.