Sonny: A Time to Laugh

Although every memory with Papa is a fond one for me, one that will always stick with me and defines who Papa is to me was in fact a grave occasion. The last time we spoke he comforted me. As I looked down at him lying in the hospital bed, I couldn’t help but tear up. I wanted to comfort him, but I couldn’t. He looked at me, saw my tears, saw my heartache and said, “It’ll be okay.” So today, on the anniversary of his death, I want to honor him.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.[1]

No doubt Solomon was right; there is “a time to every purpose under the heaven.”[2] But many of us take for granted one of the most important purposes in this world, “a time to laugh.”[3]

Laughter. Always laughter. There are just some people in this world that can’t stop smiling, laughing, telling jokes, reminiscing on old-times, playing practical jokes, and making others laugh: those remarkable and blessed few that just can’t help but feel it is there duty in life to make the atmosphere in the room—Nay! the mood of the world—a little more lighthearted. Albeit pestering to rest of the callous world, without a doubt, Papa Sonny was one of those remarkable and blessed few. From smashed-potatoes to the detachable index finger to Boudreaux and Thibodaux jokes to visors with faux-hair, Papa Sonny was always playing an angle. And the greatest comedy of all this was, though he wrapped himself in merry-making, word-play, and half-truths, what you saw is what you got. He never pretended to be anyone but the trickster that he was—if you didn’t get the joke, the joke was on you.

Although I am sure most think he was just obnoxious for obnoxiousness’s sake, I am of the opinion that there was a real reason for all this—the duty I spoke of previously. I am convinced that Papa Sonny felt it was his duty to serve the ones he loved. Even when the joke was on us, his service was our laughter. Whether conscious or not, I believe that his humor was his way of staving off the sadness of our life’s heartaches. I am convinced that every joke was meant to lift us up out of the mire and make us forget everything in life except the need to smile. My heart is certain that each shared memory was a reminder of our need to enjoy a good, funny story. He wanted to be a blessing and we who were privy to his constant jovialness were blessed beyond words.

For his children, most specifically his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, Papa Sonny was like Santa Claus—and I don’t mean because of the white beard and roundness, though this might add to the comparison. He always created a jolly air of warmth in the midst of winter. Papa Sonny brought the warmth of good humor and belly-aching laughter to every occasion—even the gravest.

Actually, one of the main reasons I loved the winter holidays so much when I was a young kid was because of our trips to Papa Sonny’s house to paint woodcuts. It seems like a small thing when put into words, but that is only because the joy of those experiences have taken root so deep within me that they are beyond words. It is too big for words and, therefore, I cannot even say what it really meant to me without diminishing it. I will simply say this, “I shall never escape those moments and those moments will never escape me.”

So, here in this grave moment let us not be wholly consumed by “a time to weep” or “a time to mourn;”[4] for as Solomon also rightly claimed, “He hath made every thing beautiful in his time.”[5] And the beauty of this time is that it gives us an excuse to forget the rest of the world and its worries: it gives us a chance to pull each other out of sadness by reminiscing our favorite jokes told by or stories of Papa Sonny. I’ll begin this by telling one of the jokes that I always thought was quite hilarious:

Boudreaux has lived across the river from Clarence for years.

For years they’ve hurled insults at the tops of their voices. “Boyyyy lemme tell you, chere,” says Boudreaux, “One dese days dey’ll build a bridge…an on dat day I’mma come cross dis here river an I’ll give you a whoopin da likes you never felt!”

“An lemme tell YOU,” says Clarence, “Da day you cross dis here river, it’ll be da worse mistake o’ your life. You’ll walk cross dat bridge an you’ll be carried back in a pine box!”

For years, similar insults were flung over that river without either of them being mad enough to attempt swimming or boating across to take the other on.

One day, such a bridge was built and Boudreaux’s wife, Clotille, goes to him and starts badgering him. “Now Boudreaux,” she says, “You been hurlin insults an tellin dat man you was gonna whoop’m. Dat bridge done been built. Now you go be a man o’ your word or you go over dere an ‘pologize for what you done said!”

She badgered Boudreaux until he agreed. Clotille accompanied him to the bridge until he walked halfway across and stopped; he looked up and paused for a minute—he seemed to be contemplating something seriously. He put his head down and walked on. Finally, he got to Clarence’s house and knocked on his door. Clotille couldn’t believe what she saw. From the other side of the river, she saw Boudreaux and Clarence seemingly burying the hatchet and shaking hands. When he finally rejoined Clotille she asks, “Boudreaux! Why you gon let bygones be bygones wit dat man?”

“I started to cross dat bridge,” he says, “I got to da middle an dere’s a sign dat said Clarence, 14 feet, 6 inches; so, I decided I didn’t want non dat. But yanno, he look so much smaller in person!”

Today we should not cry for Papa Sonny. If we must cry, we should cry that we have lost a great friend and companion. If we are going to do anything for Papa today, we should rejoice for he has finally gone to that place where it is always a time to laugh. We are left here, in this place where laughter comes and goes, and wait and long to go home. Soon, it will be our time. But until then, when you think of Papa Sonny, rejoice, laugh, for He has come home at last… “The dream is ended: this is the morning.”[6]

Now, as I close, I want to make a point about the example of this unique man’s legacy. We cannot say he was perfect. None of us can say we are either. But his legacy is one that deserves to be lifted and make us question our own. What do you want to be said about you after you are dead and gone: “He was a decent fellow, but he was always so serious” or “Sure he was nice enough, but he never smiled” or “Of course he was successful, but he never laughed” or “He had it all, but he hated it all.” I must say that if any definite legacy can be attributed to the life of Arvel Meredith Catchings, Jr. it is this: “When Sonny was around, it was a time to laugh.”

[1] Eccl 3:1-8, KJV.

[2] Eccl 3:1.

[3] Eccl 3:4.

[4] Eccl 3:4.

[5] Eccl 3:11.

[6] C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle (New York: HarperTrophy, 2002), 213 & 228.

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