It has been said, “To laugh and to cry comes from the same point of the soul, be it comedy or tragedy.”
I had an unexpected brush with both a couple of weeks ago during a recent visit from Grandson Jack.
“Grandpa, could we watch some movies on YouTube?” Jack asked.
“Sure. What would you like to watch?” I asked.
“My teacher told me those old movies with people driving old jalopies are funny,” Jack replied. “Their names are Lawrence and Hardy.”
“Do you mean Laurel and Hardy?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s them,” he said.
I typed in Laurel and Hardy, and one of their old movies called “County Hospital” popped up. Jack curled up next to me and lightly pulled the hair on my forearm. He does that when he is relaxed and happy.
The beginning reveals Oliver “Babe” Hardy in the hospital with a broken leg. The setup of traction was something to behold with pulleys and wires suspended from the ceiling, like a giant erector set. A large plaster cast stretched from his hip to his ankle, leaving scarce wiggle room for his toes.
Stan Laurel decided to pay his pal a visit. Within a minute of entering Hardy’s hospital room, Stan knocked over a jug of water into the bed, and Ollie hit him on the head with a bedpan.
I heard Jack’s first spontaneous laugh.
The male doctor, Dr. Gilbert, arrived to examine Ollie and said to Stan, “And I hope I find you well.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Stan responded.
The doctor coughed as he bowed down to check Ollie’s leg. Stan dropped the traction, hitting the doctor on the head with Ollie’s heavy cast.
Angered, the doctor rushed toward Stan and grabbed a weight out of Stan’s hands. As he did, the doctor fell out the window many stories above a busy city street. As the doctor roared out the window, Ollie was raised straight up out of bed with his cast pulled clear to the ceiling. Ollie was howling now. So was Jack — laughing so hard he cried.
After the movie ended, I read Jack a story I had found. It was about Oliver “Babe” Hardy’s birthday and how he was introduced to guests at his party.
“For years, we sat in the movie theaters and squealed with laughter as this well-intentioned man suffered horribly at the hands of wives, sweethearts, policemen, criminals, landlords, and jealous suitors; but all of these people combined didn’t wound him nearly as deeply as did his constant companion.”
“Stan Laurel vexed Oliver, frustrated him, and inflicted physical havoc upon him at every turn in the road. And yet, you always knew that when the last reel had flickered out, ‘Babe’ and Stan would still be together.”
How many times have we heard “Babe” introduce Stan by saying “This is my friend, Mr. Laurel?” But if we think back for a moment, no one ever introduced “Babe.”
So let’s remedy that situation. Ladies and gentlemen I’d like to introduce our very good friend, Mr. Oliver “Babe” Hardy.
“That’s a good story, Grandpa. Do you know any more?” Jack asked.
“Sure,” I replied. “As a matter of fact, this story is indirectly about the Haley family and Laurel and Hardy.”
“The Haley family is originally from County Cork, Ireland, near the City of Cobh,” I began. “In 1953, Laurel and Hardy visited Cobh where they were performing live shows. It was a tragedy for the esteemed comedians that changing tastes had caused their popularity to begin to wane.
When the good people of Cobh heard they were coming, the town began to pulsate with anticipation of their arrival.
According to Laurel, “The love and affection we found that day at Cobh was simply unbelievable. There were hundreds of boats blowing whistles, and mobs of people screaming on the docks. And then something happened that I can never forget. All the church bells in Cobh began ringing out our theme song, ‘Dance of the Cuckoos’. ‘Babe’ looked at me and we both cried.”
Just then, I spilled my bowl of popcorn on the floor. “Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into,” Jack said, flicking his imaginary tie.
His quick-witted remark had caught me off guard. I knew I was experiencing a special moment between grandson and grandpa.
I didn’t want the evening to end.
In a couple of years Jack will be a teenager, and his visits to Grandpa won’t come as often.
“May I tell you something, Grandpa?” Jack asked.
I said, “Sure.”
“Dad told me that he had inherited your sense of humor, and that I inherited his. “We are all funny,” Jack said.
Shakespeare said, “When a father gives to his son, both laugh; When a son gives to his father, both cry.”
We all did a little of both. It was a special night, indeed.
Pat Haley is a Clinton County Commissioner.