The weekly faceoff between me and my column had just begun. As usual, the battle was closely matched.
“So honey,” I called out to my wife Heather, “what should I write about this week?”
“Turnips!” she called out.
I laughed, loud and long. After 16 years of marriage, I really should have known better.
The turnips are a running gag that began long before I met Heather. She started making that wisecrack in high school, though she’s no longer clear on why. It may have been due to a random episode of Blackadder or her love of medieval history, where turnips may appear on any random page. It may have even started with her love of the “Little House on the Prairie” books, which include the deathless words “Carrie loved to eat a raw turnip.”
“I want that tattooed,” she joked. At least, I think she’s joking. With root vegetables, one can never be too sure.
Wherever it came from, it’s been here to stay. Turnips have sneaked onto grocery lists, into text messages and amidst quiet moments in otherwise ordinary conversations. One time, I even called her bluff and brought some home from the store after a grocery run. Heather was surprised, amused and a little perplexed.
In roughly 20 years of turnip jokes, you see, she had never actually used one in a meal.
“I should have had them laminated,” she said.
Weird? You haven’t known us long enough. While turnips may produce (har-har) our best punchlines, it’s far from our only bit of mild insanity. There’s the mandatory sound effect when someone says they’ll be “back like a flash” (psheewwww!), or the back-and-forth razzing about the romantic qualities of Bob Dylan, or singing the names of Heather’s medical conditions. (Yes, if you ever want to enliven the Mozart Requiem, just start singing along with “AN-ky-LOS-ing … SPON-dy-LIT-is!”)
It’s ridiculous. Even silly. And I think it’s why we’ve survived as long as we have.
A lot of things get promised when you enter a marriage: for better or worse, for richer or poorer, for Buffs or Rams, and so on. But I really think that somewhere in the wedding vows needs to be a promise to love each other “in sense and in nonsense.”
Yes, you want to take each other seriously. This is your partner, your love and your best friend, after all. But marriage throws a lot at you, from the life-and-death to the utterly mundane. It’s easy to drown and simply react to the next thing until you’re not one couple, you’re two people with Important Things that all need to be done Right Now.
Silliness is a way of taking the moment back.
It means stepping back and turning life cockeyed for a second, for no other purpose than a moment’s amusement.
It means calling on old memories of odd moments, because the best gags have deep roots.
And it means showing your partner that you still care. That you can reach outside yourself and spend an instant to make them smile, speaking in a language that only the two of you share.
The words may be ridiculous. But getting silly is serious business. “A laugh can be a very powerful thing,” Roger Rabbit once said – and really, if you can’t trust a cartoon rabbit, who can you trust?
OK, maybe that was a bit much even for me. Time to ground myself. To focus. To concentrate on weighty matters and serious things.
Things like … turnips.
Thanks, honey. That’s another one I owe you.