I think it started with my brother, Gavin. He called home one year on April first to tell my parents that he had decided to join a crew of Swedish whale harpooners in the North Atlantic. It sounds ludicrous but my brother had already spent a backbreaking summer on a Norwegian oil rig where he grew an enormous red beard so it actually didn't seem too off the mark for him. My parents spent nearly forty minutes trying to talk him out of it before he told them, laughing, "April Fools!"
And they loved it, both of them. They thought it was hilarious and seemed to take it deeply to heart-- especially my mom. The next year she gathered all of my siblings together and told us she was leaving for Norway straightaway to become a nanny for somebody else's children. We were confused and didn't believe her until she quite gravely assured us that, yes, she was leaving and we probably wouldn't see her ever again. After the tears and confusion and passing years when we have tried to confront our mother about this particular April Fool's joke she seems even more confused than us. "You didn't think that was funny?" she'd say, looking upset and annoyed, "why can't you take a joke?"
It seems that my mother's April Fool's go in cycles. She will have an extreme one, and then tone it down a bit the next year. Something mildly upsetting but not panic-inducing. This is an email she sent a couple years back:
I HESITATE TO TYPE THIS! The past many months, yrs. have really been a struggle for me. This Fybro. is merely a name for a multitude of health issues, which are complicated and also involve environment. Therefore, I decided to start a series of injections here ,formulated by an Environmental Medicine MD in Santa Fe. Separately taken will include Food, Seasonal plus dust mites etc and Chemical allergies. It will take up to two years! ...
ALL THIS DETAIL IS TO TELL YOU, ARE YOU SITTING DOWN? Since I am so skinny and weak, your father has decided he will retire sooner than later and we will move to Price, yes Price. The air here has been terrible as is the water. Kim says he will hunt and therefore I would be able to as my body adjusts and grows T Cells antigens, eat meat again! and I THOUGHT I could just avoid meat! NOT WORKING, Believe me I am ready to do all I can. This is why I say" Never Say Never. " An added bonus is retirement would be cheaper, people are nice practical, shopping is far, AIR IS CLEAN, NATURE IS BEAUTIFUL IN SURROUNDING MOUNTAINS AND CANYONS, LESS SNOW, CULTURE "INTERESTING", WE MIGHT EVEN GET CALLINGS! IT WOULD BE SORT OF A MISSION. I regret no nearby temple! It is not right away much to take care of and my doc says this would help and I can EXTEND THE INJECTIONS, UGH! but will take time to plan. We love you. Make it a good day!
While none of my siblings believed for one second that our parents would ever, ever move back to Price, Utah this was still disturbing to me because there was still a kernel of truth. My mom was weak. She was skinny. She did have one million and one food allergies. She plays on our emotions and then laughs at us! It is the most selfish humor of all, sort of like that year on April Fool's when she told me she was pregnant. This is when I was 16 and she was 58.
When I was in college my mom had surgery on her legs to remove some varicose veins that had grown there. While it was a safe procedure it did warrant extra care and, as her child, I was concerned for her. I remember receiving a phone call one evening. Her voice sounded strained and tired.
"Jos, the surgery didn't go well. I'm having some post-op problems."
"What! What's wrong?"
My heart was filled with fear.
"My veins...are weak. They're pooling with blood. I might have to have another surgery otherwise it could turn into a blood clot."
"Oh my gosh! I can't believe it. Are you serious?"
"What will they do?"
"Marcy said we could try leeches."
"...I'm sorry, what?"
"Leeches! Like in the olden days. They are very effective. She would put them on for about 15 minutes on each leg to drain the excess blood. I'm having it done tomorrow."
"...They want you to put...leeches... on your legs? Is that safe? I thought they stopped doing that a long, long time ago....?"
"Oh, it's quite safe! Got to go! Bye!"
It was only after she hung up on me and I discussed my troubled thoughts with my then-boyfriend that I realized that this was probably another of her April Fool's jokes. But you see, that's the thing-- she never condescended to actually tell me that she was joking. I'm sure my mother was having a hearty laugh on the other end of the line or possibly calling up the rest of my siblings while I was left in agony worrying about her potential blood clots that would soon be devoured by hungry leeches. I mean-- how did she even come up with this stuff?
I wasn't the only one in my family who was foolish enough to believe this story, either. My oldest sister cried when my mom told her the news, being squeamish about both blood and bugs. I got a phone call from her a few days later. She was concerned about our mother's choice in health care professional.
"Why?" I asked.
"Didn't you hear? Her doctor wants her to put leeches," she whispered the word, "on her legs!"
"You know that was for April Fool's, right?"
"It was her April Fool's joke."
"I am going to kill her."
I love my mom. One of my worst fears is losing her, which I suppose is what makes all her April Fool's shenanigans so awful--they all have to do with some kind of terrible loss: moving away, health problems, taking on the demands of yet another child. Perhaps she thinks these are funny pranks to play on her children because she knows she'll never leave us. Or maybe at the time she really wanted to get away and it was her way of escaping for just a moment. Or maybe it's all just an outstanding ability to poke fun at her own terrible struggles with keeping on weight and staying healthy. I think that now I am beginning to understand a bit more about selfish humor-- why we think it's funny. While it is indeed selfish, it's also a way of coping with reality. That people get health problems. That our bodies crumble and life stinks. And sometimes we just need to laugh, even if we're laughing alone.
My mother is a wonderful person and I love her selfish humor. Perhaps not so much as the crying child thinking that her mom is leaving her for a better child in Norway or as the mortified teenager who thinks her mom is going to be the world's oldest pregnant woman, but I understand her version of April Fool's now and, given a few years to mull it over, I can take a joke too.