Saturday morning had come, and with it, Missy’s favorite routine: get in the car and go downtown for a visit to the bookstore and a bite to eat. Neither of us could wait.
Standing on the driveway, I unlocked the Honda, opened the door, and then told Missy the words that I’d said a hundred times.
“Ok, Missy, jump on in.”
She looked at me. Smiled her big 100-watt grin. And then very deliberately jumped in place.
I burst out laughing, in surprise as much as humor. She grinned along with me. With one carefully chosen move, Missy had joined the ranks of the Rochat family punsters.
At first glance, that might not sound like much of a shocker. Those of you who know me well know that I am an incorrigible punster – as in “Please don’t incorrige him.” I lived and breathed wordplay around the dinner table as a kid, then inflicted it on my fellow human being over years of headline writing for newspapers. My personal favorite was summing up a demolition derby as “Wreck Creation,” although a street fair that I described as “Planes, Trains, And Audible Squeals” wasn’t far behind.
So to live with me is to live with puns. Simple. Natural. Perhaps a bit painful, like living with an amateur orthodontist who likes to practice at home. (Brace yourself.) But certainly not surprising, right?
Well … not until it comes to Missy.
For those who haven’t met her in this column yet, Missy is my wife Heather’s physically and mentally disabled aunt. We act as her guardians, alternately caring for her and being amazed by the world she reveals. It can be a quiet world at times, since Missy says maybe a few hundred words per week – and at that, she’s gotten more talkative than she used to be.
We’ve suspected – heck, we’ve known – that Missy understands more than she can say. Give her directions like “Could you go to the bathroom, put some water in the yellow cup, and bring it back here?” and she does fine, when she’s not feeling sassy or contrary. Read her a book at night and she’ll sometimes comment on the plot, either verbally or physically. (If an injury is described, for instance, she’s been known to touch the afflicted body part and go “Ow!”)
Like a computer with a dim monitor and no printer, her output is a lot more limited than her input. Enough so that Heather and I often keep track of new words and sentences used, as proof that she’s adding to her capacity.
But punning, even visual punning, is a whole new leap.
Puns are often called “the lowest form of humor.” Like many paronomasiacs (pun addicts), I’ve taken that to mean that the pun is the foundation of all humor. It requires someone to hold two meanings in the brain at once and instantly understand both, to take the normal clarity of language and tie it in knots for entertainment.
It’s small wonder that the sign of approval for a pun is a wince. After all, it knocks out the keystone of language itself, that you can hear the same thing I say without misunderstanding. It’s language as taffy, soft and pliable.
Now Missy had added a bend of her own. And with that simple bend, our window into her mind not only opened up a little wider, it revealed a room we hadn’t even suspected was there.
That is encouraging beyond belief.
So thank you, Missy. Welcome to my hobby and a wider world. I knew you were capable of a lot, but this one went beyond anywhere my thoughts had flown to.
That’s right. The pun was mightier than the soared.