Send in the Clowns

clownsMy husband grew up in a family of tricksters.

We’d been dating a few months when he brought me home to meet his family. They lived on a dairy farm in Upstate New York. I first met his mom and then the gazillion cousins all gathered in the kitchen. I slid into a seat on the far side of the kitchen table and watched the punching, jabbing and joking between Lee and his cousins. Eventually the back door opened and everyone turned to look. By the sudden quiet, I knew Lee’s dad had arrived. He stepped in the door, took off his baseball cap and gave Lee a big hug. Then Lee turned and motioned to me.  All the cousins turned and stared. “Dad,” Lee said in a ceremonious fashion I hadn’t known he was capable of, “this is Kasey.”  His Dad took a step into the kitchen and squinted at me. I waited for him to say something. Then he looked back at Lee and said, “I don’t think she’s that chunky.”  The cousins erupted in laughter. Lee was instantly at my side wrapping his arm around me. Lee’s mom scolded his dad and swiped at him with a dishcloth. And with that I was initiated into the clan.

I quickly learned that if I didn’t lock the bathroom door, someone might sneak in and turn the shower from hot to cold.  I also learned the water could be shut off in the basement leaving me in the shower shivering and covered in soap.  I learned that a restaurant bathroom with the light switch on the outside could leave me sitting in the pitch-dark with my pants at my ankles. I learned to keep my pants tied tightly or they could end up on the floor and that if Lee’s 80-year-old grandmother wasn’t immune from wedgies, neither was I.

And I learned that Lee’s family actually plotted pranks in anticipation of our visits.

We arrived at the farm one weekend and Lee’s parents asked me to follow them into the dining room. “You’ve become an important part of our family,” his mother said. “Thanks,” I said, quickly calculating that Lee and I had been dating less than a year. His dad gave me a big smile. I glanced over my shoulder into the kitchen but Lee had disappeared. Lee’s mom walked over to the tall, glass china cabinet and pulled out a platter with little roses around the scalloped edges.  She handed it to Lee’s dad who took a step toward me.  “We wanted to show how much we care about you,” he said.  “Lee’s grandmother carried this over on the boat from Sweden.” My whole body burned, but I made myself step toward him. Lee’s dad held out the platter and I reached out to take it.  I felt the emptiness in my hand and watched, as if in slow motion, as the dish fell to the floor and smashed into hundreds of pieces. I staggered backwards.

“Not the rose platter!”  Lee’s dad said.

“I didn’t have it,” I said, covering my mouth with my hand and staring down at the destroyed plate, my eyes blurring with tears.

I looked up and Lee’s parents exploded with laughter. “We bought that plate at a garage sale for twenty-five cents!”

And as we stepped around the broken pieces on the floor, I learned, well, first of all, to stay on my toes, and more importantly, that every family has their own unique way of displaying their love.