More than anything in his entire life our neighbor, third-grader Hansel wants to remember how the joke goes. It’s about a corn field, and here he is standing next to our corn, pumpkin, and bean garden with a rapt audience — his first-grade sister Gretel, 4-year-old brother Batman, his mom, the Bearded One, and me.
I’ve just pointed out, in an educational first-week-of-school voice, that each corn stalk has just two ears of corn, and only two, just like humans. “Oh!” Hansel’s eyes lit up like a Jack-o-lantern. “Secrets…uh….”
Gretel smiles and claps her hands to her mouth. She remembers the joke, but graciously defers since Hansel clearly thought of it first. And he is big enough to clobber her.
Hansel tries again. “When you are in a corn field…” He flaps his hands. The opening question of the joke isn’t coming together in his mind. We wait. Even Batman stops examining the biggest pumpkin in the patch to listen and hopefully laugh.
It’s hard to say which is growing faster, the 3 kids, the pumpkins —
— or the 2-week-old fryer chicks —
— that we just visited and where the Bearded One impressed Hansel with the power of a good joke. Someone remarked how clean the chick’s tushes were compared to the last batch, and the Bearded One said, “They have little toilet paper rolls over in that corner,” which sent all the children and their good-natured, home-schooling mother into hysterics.
Now if only Hansel could remember how to start the corn joke.
Gretel leans over and whispers to Hansel…while we adults chat casually about letting the young meat chicks out of the brooder, but not until we sprinkle lots of Diatomaceous Earth over the chicken yard to handle parasites from the last birds’ poop.
And then we notice Hansel is bursting with the joke.
“Why shouldn’t you tell secrets in a corn field?” he says, grinning. Gretel giggles in anticipation.
“Why not?” says Batman.
“Because the corn has ears!” Hansel delivers the punch line beautifully, we all laugh heartily, and I swear Hansel grows another inch before our eyes.
Even though Batman isn’t completely convinced this is funny, he smiles, and then leads the way back up to the house to the promised fruit chips.
It’s Hansel’s idea to see the freezer full of harvested chickens. He’s not sure they are okay to eat. Heck — he came over and played with these guys while they were tiny chicks.
We show them the biggest one, which weighs almost 9 pounds. He agrees that they look okay to eat, and their mom accepts a medium-sized one to take home.
The Bearded One hands out baggies of strawberry and peach fruit chips. Hansel says, “Who likes peach best, raise your hand.”
Batman and Gretel like the strawberry best, so Hansel stands there with his hand raised. They are so ready for school to start, I think.
We all troop out the back door and as they are leaving, I ask when their classes will be starting.
“Soon,” the mom says. “We’re going to be studying the Middle Ages and the Egyptians.”
Hansel says, “I love history.”
“Me, too,” I say. “Especially the Egyptians.”
“I hope we can go to the King Tut exhibit in Seattle,” the mom says, “if we can afford the tickets.”
“Oh, yes, you must go,” I say.
And then the Bearded One says, “The Egyptians?”
He is going to tell a joke, I can tell. The kids can, too. They stop moving. They almost stop breathing.
“The Egyptians were great,” he says with a huge grin. “They even invented…toilet paper.”
Remembering how we had just discussed the chicks and toilet paper, a riot of laughter breaks out. Hansel lifts his eyes to the heavens and says, “OH THANK YOU EGYPTIANS!” Gretel, who attended cheerleading camp this summer, jumps high and sings out, “YAY EGYPTIANS!” Batman races around his mother who claps happily.
Here at the start of third grade, Hansel has noticed something important. Few things are more powerful than being funny.