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A Duck, A PsychiatristAnd A Rabbi WalkInto A Bar...

My mother's laugh has to be my favorite sound in the world. She's a wonderful audience, and appreciative of my (or any) humor. I love to make her laugh, and fortunately I figured out at an early age that I had the ability to do so. Sometimes it's as simple as pointing to, say, a basket of croissants, and saying in my best “Pepé le Pew” accent, “Ah! Les croissants! I laugh! Honh honh honh!” (P.S. works every time.) I usually just tell her stories about my life, or general observations, and I can get my prize. I don't generally try jokes, though. I could try an elaborate joke that may have, for example, involved giraffes, Johnny Carson, the FBI and Jell-O Pudding, and after a polite laugh my Mom would be likely to respond, “But why was the pope wearing sunglasses?”

Despite her wonderful sense of humor, my mother is not necessarily funny herself. She did try to tell me a joke once, though. I was in college, and I came back to my dorm room one day to find the red light on my answering machine blinking. It was Mom, and she was just calling to check in. Then she had a little Shecky Greene moment: “Oh, I heard a joke the other day. Are you ready?” Then she actually paused, as if giving me time to steel myself. “All right, so here goes. What is the difference between a Jewish mother and a pit bull?” Pause. “No answer?” (I love that she actually said that.) “The pit bull eventually lets go. (pause) I heard it's cold up there. When you go to class, bring a jacket.” The “bring a jacket” part gets me every time. She's very liberal and forward-thinking, but every so often the Yenta fairy visits her and I get nuggets of wisdom like: “I'm cold. Go put on a sweater.” “You're not hungry. Have a piece of fruit.” “You haven't eaten a vegetable in three days. Wine doesn't count.

Who do you think you are, Stevie Nicks?” She cannot hold a candle to her grandmother, though. A wonderful, smart woman, my great-grandmother, known as Mimi, was the Queen of Long Distance Guilt. Before the days of email, I would write her actual letters, which she greatly enjoyed. Once, when I was in college, I went about six months without writing. When I finally sent her a letter, I received a quick response. While I don't remember the whole content of her letter, I do remember the opening line: Dear Jenny, I'm so glad to finally have heard from you. I thought maybe you had forgotten about me... I literally had to sit down. When I was still living with my folks, Mimi, my grandmother, and my aunt came to visit. Along with Mom, they congregated in the dining room one afternoon, looking at pictures and catching up. I walked in, looked around, and realized that I was in the presence of three generations of Jewish mothers. I was not prepared. I put down the pot of tea I was carrying and backed slowly out of the room.

I went downstairs to find my (gentile) father watching TV. He took one look at me and said, “Yeah. I know.” I tried to come up with a witty comment, but none was forthcoming. So I just looked at him and said, “Hey, Dad...a guy walks into a psychiatrist's office with a duck on his head...” As an adult, I've made it a mission to make my Mom laugh at least once every time I speak to her. She lives thousands of miles away now, so the opportunities are fewer. But I still try. A loving, supportive mother who becomes a momma tiger when one of her children has been wronged or slighted, she deserves it. I love her dearly. She still can't tell a joke, though.

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