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During these difficult times, I remember the humor and laughter on the farm when I was a kid. Humor was a way of making a bad situation better, of finding something good in something that was awful. Of evoking laughter in a situation that was often filled with tears. Stories about a farmstead fire, a charging mad bull, or a tipped over pickup truck. Stories about minor and sometimes not so minor injuries caused by poor judgment or lack of knowledge.

Rural humor included practical jokes ranging from smearing Limburger cheese on the muffler of a newlyweds’ car, to stuffing rocks in a grain sack so that the fellow carrying the grain from the threshing machine to granary walked with a staggering gait and a look that said, “I’ve never carried such heavy grain!”

Humor allowed country people to live through the tough times, when the rains didn’t come and the crops dried up, when a friend or relative died, when milk prices fell, when someone in the family was injured. Country humor was homemade; it was of the people. It was humor that came from the land. And although it may have evoked a belly laugh or sometimes only a chuckle, it cheered people up. For country people, good weather nourished their crops; humor nourished their souls.

I’m reminded of the story about the fellow driving along who spotted a sign that read: “Boat for sale.” Behind the sign were a lawnmower and a wheelbarrow. The fellow stopped, interested in buying a boat.

“Saw your sign,” the fellow said, “but all I see is a wheelbarrow and a lawnmower.”

“Yup,” the man standing by the sign said, “And they’re boat for sale.”

THE OLD TIMER SAYS: A good laugh is often the best medicine.

Jerry Apps, born and raised on a Wisconsin farm, is Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the author of more than 35 books, many of them on rural history and country life. For further information about Jerry's writing and TV work go to www.jerryapps.com 

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