In the ten years I knew him, I never once saw Uncle Earl wearing anything but bib overalls. He was just that kind of guy, not an ounce of pretension in him. But what I think I loved about him most was that he called anyone he cared anything about a mangy varmint thug. It was his own special term of endearment. It meant you were family, you were one of us. And that could be good or bad, depending upon your point of view.
Uncle Earl died a month before Sean was born, but the legacy of the mangy varmint thug lives on in those he left behind. I think the first time Sean was called a mangy varmint thug was by Uncle Earl’s oldest son, Cousin Tim. And it made Sean laugh so hard he couldn’t catch his breath. And to this day, if you just say the word mangy, he will fall down on the floor laughing.
The thing about family-isms like that is that they only make sense and are only amusing to those who are in on it, the mangy varmint thugs with the shared history. And when you’re four, as is Sean, humor is mainly about the punch line. And how loud you say it. Four-year-olds generally just shout out the punch line and then laugh loud and long at their own amputated joke. And if that doesn’t work, repeat it 10 or 30 times.
When we were in California last week, we stopped to visit a friend of ours named Bill. He welcomed us into his home and fed us dinner and showed us these fabulous guitars that he makes by hand. Sean really liked him. And so to express his fondness for this very nice man, out of the blue Sean called him a varmint. And then laughed uproariously. And to further complicate matters, it sounded more like Sean had just called him vomit, which is maybe worse, if only in matter of degrees.
The horrified expression on Bill’s face, thinking that my son had just called him vomit is beyond what I can describe. I was mortified. I wanted to faint. So then I rushed in and made things all better by explaining to him that he didn’t call you vomit Bill! No, he called you a varmint, as in a mangy varmint thug. Much much better!
At this point I considered just throwing in the towel and laughing uproariously to deflect attention, because, really could it get any worse, could we look anymore like the big weird Texas characters that we are? Only if I had worn some bib overalls and a hat with a price tag.
California Bill with one of his rockin’ hand made guitars – order yours today!
You’re a varmint Bill, and we mean that in the nicest way.