Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
HUGS NOT SLUGS
I tried to institute a new family tradition this past holiday season: male hugging.
You see, I’ve been involved with a prayer group at church for the past few years, and one of the major features of the group is hugging. The ladies hug the ladies. The ladies hug the guys. And, yes, you guessed it, the guys hug the guys.
At first I was mortified. Guys hugging guys?! We don’t do that where I come from. I live in New England, for crying out loud. We are reserved and unemotional up here in the chilly Northeast.
In my part of the world, when you greet another guy, you reach out your right hand, briefly shake his right hand, and mumble, “Gudaseeya.” (Translation: “Good to see you.”)
If the other guy is a very close friend—say, a twin brother you haven’t seen in a decade, or someone you fought side-by-side with during World War II—you demonstrate your affection by punching him in the upper arm and saying, “Hey, how ‘bout those Red Sox? If they get a little more pitching, they might go all the way.”
My initial reaction at the first prayer meeting was to sprint for the parking lot, but my wife assured me we were not in the midst of an alternative lifestyle church splinter group.
“OK, I’ll stay,” I said to my wife. “But, you know, guys really shouldn’t be doing that. I’m sure it’s one of the commandments: Thou shalt not huggeth thine male brethren.”
“Don’t be silly,” She said. “St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, ‘Greet one another with a holy kiss.’ He meant that for the men, too. You’re lucky the guys here don’t kiss you.”
“No, dear,” I replied, “they’re lucky they don’t kiss me, unless they’re big fans of reconstructive dental surgery.”
“Be nice,” she pleaded. “St. Paul knew what he was talking about.”
“St. Paul, huh? Didn’t he spend a lot of time in Greece and Italy?”
Surprisingly, after a while I got over my huggaphobia and realized it was a wonderful way to greet friends regardless of gender. So, a brilliant idea occurred to me: this would be a great thing to do in my family when we all got together at Christmastime.
We arrived at my mom’s house on Christmas Day, where all the usual aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, in-laws, and outlaws had gathered. I walked into the living room and gave my mother a kiss and a hug. No problem so far. Even we chilly New Englanders agree it’s OK to kiss your mom.
The first guy I came to was my brother-in-law, Morty, the truck driver. He reached out his right hand and mumbled, “Gudaseeya.” I ignored his hand, threw my arms around him, and pulled him toward me. Suddenly my chin was on his shoulder and we were standing there chest-to-chest. I cheerily said, “Merry Christmas, Morty!”
Morty began to quiver in terror. He broke free and stepped away from me, glancing around the room to see of anyone had witnessed what had just happened. The room was silent, with every mouth frozen in mid-sentence and every eye staring straight at us. Morty looked like he was about to cry. He finally offered me a timid smile, punched me in the arm, and blurted out, “How ‘bout those Red Sox?!”
“It’s December,” I said. “The Sox aren’t playing.”
“Yeah, yeah,” he said, not hearing a word, “If they get a little more pitching, they might go all the way!” Tears started rolling down his cheeks as he began to whimper.
Next I turned toward my Uncle Louie. Before I could take a step he spun around and yelled, “I need a beer!” and hurried into the kitchen to inform my dad that his oldest son had become an interior decorator.
Moments later, my father slowly walked in from the kitchen. He said to me, “Son, we don’t do that around here.”
“But Dad, what’s the big—”
“Son,” he said firmly, “We’re saving that kind of behavior for a special occasion.”
“Huh? What’s more special than Christmas?” I said.
“When the Red Sox win the World Series,” he answered.
“Yeah, right,” I said sarcastically. “In other words…never.”
“Now don’t be like that,” my father said, his voice becoming more pleasant. “If they get a little more pitching, they might go all the way.”
He smiled at me, letting me know that everything was alright, and then clenched his fist and affectionately slugged me in the arm.
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