Remembering a man who sure knew how to laugh

Published 8:00 pm Friday, April 26, 2019

“Do you know why they don’t make Ford hearses?”

“No, why?” I’d say.

“A Ford won’t take you somewhere if it cain’t bring you back,” he’d reply, then raise his head high and laugh.

That picture, in a simple frame, was Paw-Paw, Coca-Cola Mike’s dad.

I thought of him when I got a chance to talk on the phone last week with the love of his life, Mrs. Pearly Thompson, who married Ivy way back in the 1930s and – for well over half a century – enjoyed life together every day, even though they were as different as could be.

Ms. Pearly – now known simply as Maw-Maw – is a rousing 97 years of age, and her mind is stellar.  Maw-Maw is much more low-key than the man she married, so it was quite a blessing for her to have a daily front-row seat to one of the world’s great joke-tellers.

Paw-Paw would get to church early with a new joke in his back pocket, and it would almost burn a hole in his pants until somebody showed up for him to tell it to.

Often that somebody was me; and he’d tell it to me as soon as I walked in, then fill the church with his laughter. Standing nearby, Maw-Maw would shake her head and say,

“Ivy, he don’t want to hear none of that,” but Paw-Paw would already have another one cranked up ready to go and wouldn’t pay her any mind.

In every life, there’s something that we can borrow. Maybe I borrowed a little of his jolly spirit. I hope so. I know he passed a good bit of it to Coca-Cola Mike, whose humor is mixed a little with Maw-Maw’s low-keyed-ness.

A number of years ago, Coca-Cola got to telling me about taking Paw-Paw to the doctor for a number of health issues.  After examining him, the doctor gave him the instructions he needed to follow. Paw Paw’s hearing had been on the decline for a good while; so, after the doctor made a statement, Paw-Paw kept turning to Coca-Cola Mike saying, “What’d he say?” Coca-Cola explained what he said, then the doctor went on to the next set of instructions to Paw-Paw, who would again look at Coca-Cola for the interpretation. That went on for a while.

“Finally,” Coca-Cola said, “the doctor decided he might as well cut out the middle man and bypassed Paw-Paw altogether and went straight to me.”

We had a good laugh about that, kind of at Paw-Paw’s expense – but he can’t blame us for that. He had set the example for us.

Paw-Paw’s health seemed to go downhill fast, and he left Pearly somewhat unexpectedly on September 29, 2010, on a Wednesday night when he normally would have been singing and joke-telling at church. He had laughed and sung for 85 years. When the amazin’ blonde told me the news when I came in that Wednesday evening, a little something inside me kind of left, too. I knew coming home never would quite be the same again.

Paw-Paw missed seeing Coca-Cola Mike’s first grandbaby by less than a month, so little Madison and, later, Macey have to get their taste of the Paw-Paw humor from their mama LeAnne – who is pretty funny herself – and from their Pappy Coca-Cola-Mike.

When I talked to Maw-Maw last week, I couldn’t help but hearing Ivy Thompson’s voice again:

“By the way,” Paw-Paw said, “did you ever learn how to spell ‘hard water’?” This was one of his favorite jokes, and Coca-Cola said he would tell it to all the nurses when he was in the LaGrange hospital.

“No, I don’t think so,” I would say.

Paw Paw giggled, and said, “I-C-E,” then burst out laughing for the world to hear.

Maw-Maw, standing nearby, would speak up, “Ah, Ivy, he don’t wanna hear all that.”

But I did, and I’d like to hear just one more. I know Maw-Maw would, too.