By Harriet P. Gross
I have an old friend who’s Catholic, but who grew up in a Jewish neighborhood and has retained all of her friends from those “olden days.” I first knew her in Pennsylvania; now she lives in Arkansas from where, from time to time, Helen (the Gallimaufry Lady, I call her) supplies me with a spate of memories. For these, I’m always thankful. On this Thanksgiving Day, let me share her latest with you:
She begins by asking: “Do you remember any of these guys?” and follows with the names of 29 sterling, stalwart Jewish comedians who once cavorted on Catskill stages. Remember them? Who could forget them? From Red Buttons to Sid Caesar, from Buddy Hackett to Woody Allen, from George Jessel to Shelley Berman and Phil Silvers to Gene Wilder — they’re almost all here.
My friend then makes this statement: “There was not one single swear word in their comedy.” And she’s right. She proves it with some of the still sparkling one-liners that made them famous. Many of you will remember these; they’ll come back as you’re reminded now. Some of you will find them new, but after this, you’ll never forget them. Try a few here:
“I just got back from a pleasure trip. I took my mother-in-law to the airport.”
“My wife and I always hold hands. If I let go, she shops.”
“Someone stole all my credit cards, but I’m not going to report it. The thief spends less than my wife did.”
“Why do Jewish mothers make great parole officers? Because they never let anyone finish a sentence.”
And this: “How many Jewish mothers does it take to change a light bulb? Great sigh: ‘Don’t bother. I’ll sit in the dark. I don’t want to be a nuisance to anybody.’”
Do you think these funnymen (there were also a few funnywomen; Totie Fields is on the Gallimaufry Lady’s list) are too hard on women? Fear not; they skewer their own sex in the same way. Although those jokes don’t contain a single swear word either, they’re too suggestive to repeat in a family newspaper. But I’ll provide this “equal opportunity” pair:
1. “The doctor called Mrs. Cohen, saying, ‘Your check came back.’ To which Mrs. Cohen answered, ‘So did my arthritis.’”
2. “The doctor tells Mr. Cohen, ‘Your health is good. You’ll live to be 60.’ Says Mr. Cohen, ‘I am 60.’ To which the doctor answers, ‘See. What did I tell you?’”
Helen sends out her regular gallimaufry newsletter on an irregular basis, filled with little tidbits and treasures. (Just in case you don’t know, “gallimaufry” means a hodgepodge, a mix-up of people, places, things.)
This time, she includes an item from George Carlin, who didn’t make her comedians’ list but probably should have: “The real reason we can’t have the Ten Commandments in a Courthouse: You cannot post ‘Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not lie’ in a building full of lawyers, judges and politicians — it would create a hostile environment.”
Then, on an unfunny note, she quotes Shalom Dov Ber Schneersohn, the beloved fifth rebbe of Chabad Lubavitch: “Better one deed than a thousand sighs.” As I told you: my Catholic Gallimaufry Lady has never forgotten her Jewish heritage from our long-ago neighborhood.
This last bit of Helen’s borrowed wisdom, originating with our old and learned friend Anonymous, may or may not have its roots in Judaism. You never know:
“You never know when someone may catch a dream from you …
You never know when a word you say, or something you might do may open up the windows of a mind that seeks a light.
The way you lead may matter not — but you never know: it might … ”
And now I’ll turn to a bit of gallimaufry from another source: another old friend of mine from Pennsylvania who now lives right here in our North Texas neighborhood. She sent me the enclosed a full five years ago; like many goodies I get, I squirrelled this one away for the proper time, and 2012 is it. Maybe in the intervening half-decade you’ve seen it. Maybe not. Either way — enjoy this “New Holiday Recipe” while you’re sharing good food with good friends and family:
May your stuffing be tasty,
May your turkey be plump,
May your gravied potatoes
Have nary a lump;
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may this special dinner
Stay off of your thighs.