Laughter – A Dose Of Good Medicine

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by Mary Jo Shannon

Some time ago I wrote a column about the practical joke gene that is apparently dominant in all Shannon males. At the time, I commented that our son John would require an entire column to enumerate the many ways he kept the Shannon household lively when he was at home. And I must add, this aspect of his personality did not change when he left home.

When he was in elementary school, John created a dummy by stuffing a shirt and pants with old towels and articles of clothing. Rubber gloves made realistic hands and a stuffed nylon stocking topped with a discarded wig completed the body.

All this construction was done without my knowledge. I saw the finished product when I opened the closet door and it fell toward me.  Startled, I screamed and John rushed in, doubled over with laughter. Afterward I found “Sam,” as he named his creation, in many unexpected places — in the basement crouched beside the freezer, behind the bed when I changed the sheets. And I was always startled. …

Helen, the woman who helped me with housework, asked John if she could borrow Sam one weekend. She planned to put a man’s hat on his head and let him ride beside her as she drove to Richmond.

“For protection,” she said. “It will make people think I have a man with me.”

John was accommodating so Sam rode to Richmond and back and Helen traveled safely.

Inventors always try to improve on their creations and when John advanced to junior high school, he began to plan a super dummy. After consulting World Book’s transparent overlays of the human body for correct proportions, he constructed an armature for a man. Wooden strips formed the backbone; arms and legs were hinged at the elbows and knees. This framework was given flesh by covering with foam carpet padding which John found in someone’s trash pile.

The head for his dummy was a work of art. My wig form (wigs were in style at that time) served as a base. He carved two holes for eye sockets and painted ping pong balls to insert. A face was modeled using paper mache, and this realistic head, topped with a wig, was joined to the wooden neck of the body. Then he dressed this character in one of his dad’s old suits and placed him in the recliner before the television set. This time the victim of his prank would be his older brother, who always chased him out of the chair when he came home from school.

As expected, when Harry came home he assumed that was John in the chair. But John was hiding behind the door, holding a string attached to the dummy’s arm.

“Get up, John,” Harry shouted. “I want to sit there!”

John pulled the string and the dummy’s hand raised.

“I mean it, John!”

But like the tar baby in the Bre’r Rabbit story, the dummy sat still, and Harry rushed to push him out on the floor. What a shock! John laughed and Harry had to laugh too.

As I said before, the joking didn’t stop when John left home. I don’t know all the tricks he has played on friends and co-workers, but he has told us about several. One of his best friends when he was in the research program at Vanderbilt was Jens, a young doctor from Germany.  John and his family took Jens to a Mexican restaurant.

Reading the menu, Jens asked, “What is mole? “

This is a spicy sauce served with chiles, but John couldn’t resist, and said, “ Oh, that’s a little animal. They stuff them and serve them in this dish.”

When the dish was served, he pointed to the stems on the chiles and said, “See, there are  the tails.” Then he laughed and corrected the information. They are still close friends.

When he decided to leave the research program and do another residency in anesthesiology, his boss asked him to have a photo made, at his expense, to hang beside the other researchers at Vanderbilt. John obeyed, but he also had a second picture made—with several teeth blacked out, in overalls, looking like a real hillbilly. He had it framed, and handed it to his boss. After laughing at his boss’s look of surprise, John gave him the more dignified version.

His co-workers at Lewis-Gale seem to appreciate his sense of humor. A little levity is an antidote for the serious nature of their work, and his jokes are harmless and without rancor. Like the time he took a Tech friend’s car keys and put UVA stickers inside the rear window. Many days went by before the trick was discovered. The Hokie was furious and thought the deed was done when he had his car inspected. He was ready to accuse the men at the shop so John ‘fessed up and they had a good laugh.

They say laughter is good medicine – and a doctor needs all the good medicine he can get.