In June of this year I posted a story about living for a time in an upstairs boarding house on College Street in Columbus, Mississippi and in closing the posting I promised to tell a cute joke told by an invalid widow in my mother’s care. This is my promise, excerpted from the original posting:
Oh, I’ve decided to save the story told by the invalid lady in the apartment house my mother managed, but stay tuned—it’ll show up in a future posting, and it’s really funny! Sadly though, it’s a clean joke—not even the suggestion of a bad word or thought in it, not one entendre in it, single, double or otherwise—bummer! To read the original posting click on the following URL:
This is the joke:
The elderly widow that ran the boarding house was very hard of hearing, and she urged a young man, a new guest, to have more helpings of various items on the dinner table.
Widow: Sir, please have some more to eat.
Guest: No, thank you, ma’am, I’ve had sufficient.
Widow: What’s that, sir? You went a-fishing?
Guest: No, ma’am, I said I’ve had plenty.
Widow: You say you caught twenty?
Guest, under his breath: You old fool!
Widow: Oh, in a pool!
The lady that told that joke was bedridden, and it fell to my lot to sit with her, often for hours at a time, listening to her jokes and reading to her from the Bible. It was not an easy task. The room always smelled of medications and urine, and to compensate for the odors she liberally splashed some sort of toilet water all over the room as far as she could throw it—some of it appeared to have been directed at me, but perhaps that was my imagination. Yes, I am aware that toilet water is a misnomer, one that has fallen in use over the years—in this case it was not water from the toilet.
The lady had lots of stories and jokes, but the boarding house joke was one of her favorites. The joke was pretty funny for the first few times she told it, but over time it lost a bit—no, it lost all—of its freshness and its humor.
Speaking of the Bible—the invalid had a frequent visitor, an elderly woman that was said to have memorized the entire Bible and the New Testament, and spoke by rote in response to a request for any specific chapter and verse. I listened to her recitation on some of her visits. She always brought her Bible but it remained in her lap, closed—she never opened it. I can’t speak for the accuracy of her memories, but she never missed a beat with her response—no hesitation, no pauses, speaking in a strong voice, its volume rising and falling appropriately and its timbre changing to fit the meaning of the biblical passage.
The speaker was a black lady, an elderly Negro. Yes, black and Negro were two of the the terms that were used in those days, in the mid–1940s, to identify such persons. I had never heard the term African-American at that time and I seriously doubt that the black lady had ever heard it. And yes, a variety of other terms were used to identify the race of such persons, all derogatory and all demeaning—I wish I could say not by my family, but we tended to go with the flow. Even my mother, a goodhearted and kind lady that professed love for all others, took this stance: I like black people and I have nothing against them—just as long as they stay in their place.
Times have changed, and mostly for the better. I say mostly because most people, other than African-Americans—not all, but most of them—make every effort to avoid using those derogatory terms. However, apparently not all African-Americans are reluctant to use them, claiming such terms are their right to use and have entirely different meanings than when used by racial outsiders.
That’s the joke I promised, and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!