I might have been ten years old when my father, an upstanding circuit court judge, handed me a giftwrapped copy of Damon Runyon’s Guys and Dolls.
While this might have seemed like an odd choice of reading material for a ten-year-old girl, it suited me perfectly. I had already fallen in love with the feckless, adorable gambler, Nathan Detroit. Runyon’s outrageous characters made such an impression on me that Nicely Nicely Johnson and Harry the Horse appeared in my recent book Never Say Neigh, co-written with my own horse.
In short, my father, The Judge, understood the meaning of funny and shared his gift with our family early and often. A quintessential storyteller, he paid attention to details that others missed. For example, when my grandparents’ elderly Norwegian housekeeper, Clara Christianson, explained how her husband died, nobody but The Judge heard her say the man died of “Applestrokesy.” This irregular version of the medical condition apoplexy soon found its way into the Farr humor lexicon.
The humor business spread like poison ivy through our household.
Someone was always regaling us with irreverent tales like the one about deer hunting at Camp Rum Dumb, when a weasel dove into Ed Witzick’s sleeping bag—alongside Ed. We were amazed to hear that Lena Tarbox’s mother slugged the district attorney with her purse in The Judge’s courtroom. Her son had just been sentenced for stealing a dairy goat. And then there was Artie B. Sullivan who piloted his new Cadillac into Elk Creek following a square dance at the local rod and gun club. Tales such as these set the tone for our dinner conversation. My mother just rolled her eyes.
Somehow I concluded, at about age eleven, that I must be Damon Runyon’s protégé. Hence, I started writing humor, or at least what struck my funny bone. My first book, I think My Brother Likes Me, failed due to what the editor called inappropriate treatment of our Labrador retriever, Sam. We loved Sam and all we did was hide him in the car trunk for a hasty ride to school for show and tell. It was awhile before I submitted another manuscript to an uppity editor.
So, here it is fifty years later, and nothing has changed.
My brother has picked up where The Judge left off. I’ve been known to blog and maintain a Twitter account for a horse named Noah Vail. The best part is we all learned to laugh out loud at ourselves and at our observations of the in which we found ourselves. Maybe that was the real humor lesson The Judge was angling for. Let’s not take life too seriously.