My first gift to my Mother-in-law was somewhat unplanned.
I met my future wife in college even though we had spent four previous Thanksgivings together without realizing it. We went to rival High Schools for four years prior to meeting. She was in the band front and I played the saxophone in the marching band. Our schools played every year on Thanksgiving. I was a pacifist from Lakewood and she twirled a rifle for Toms River South. Had we met earlier, it is unlikely we would have hit it off.
Eventually, on a weekend that we both came home, I went to her house to have dinner with her Mother. I had arrived before Marie got home from work and my future bride, Theresa handed me the remote so I might watch some TV while she worked in the kitchen. I flipped for a few minutes before coming across a cartoon show. I have been a fan of cartoons my whole life, particularly the work of the masters such as Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and Wile E. Coyote. A cartoon came on that I had never seen before. Later research told me that the cartoon was called “Bad Luck Blackie”, which has since been banned due to an offensive title. The “Blackie” refers to a black cat and the “bad luck” is a central theme to this animated classic.
The thing that was particularly noteworthy about this cartoon was that it contained a level of violence so severe that Pharaoh, himself would have considered it to be gratuitous. It begins with a large dog, a typical cartoon bulldog type, who is abusing a cute and tiny white kitten. Actually, abuse might be too mild of an adjective as the level of malice shown by the dog would easily warrant a TVMA rating by today’s standards for sadism. At one point, the dog appears to show mercy by giving the cat a bowl of milk as an act of contrition. Alas, by the third lick, the poor kitten finds a rather large mousetrap smashed onto its tiny tongue.
Eventually Blackie makes his entrance and hands the kitten a whistle. He explains that when the whistle is blown, he will appear and cross the path of the dog bringing him an appropriate dose of bad luck. The resultant bad luck always comes in the form of an object falling from the sky and slamming into the head of the offending canine. The story continues this way and though there are a few reversals of fortune to introduce some themes of Karma and justice, the real entertainment is the escalation of objects falling onto heads.
Starting with a flowerpot, a cash register and a steamer trunk, the sequence quickly escalates to an upright piano, a horse and several dozen bricks. This is followed by a fire hydrant, a safe and the hackneyed, but obligatory anvil. This little morality play ends with the dog swallowing the whistle. This causes a spasm of hiccups resulting in his own personal hell of running through the countryside trying to avoid a continuing barrage including a bathtub, a steamroller, an airplane, a school bus and a battleship.
What makes this cartoon noteworthy is that from the first act of violence, I began to laugh…out loud. Not only that, but the volume and duration of my laughter escalated with each act of violence on the screen. Theresa came out to see what was going on, and about halfway through the cartoon, her mother arrived, eager to meet me. When Theresa tried to introduce her mother, I was only able to hold up my hand as I literally was doubled over with glee. After it was over, I made a feeble attempt to explain, but these were not cartoon people. My future Mother-in-law was clearly confused, but was also polite as always. By the end of the evening, I was able to convince her that I was at worst, eccentric and that her daughter was not dating someone with a mental handicap.
Anyway, back to the gift, that came later. Marie was a hard working woman who had a domineering father, and an abusive and alcoholic husband and a minimal education. She often held three jobs to provide her three children with all that she could and even a little more. She sacrificed more than anyone I know and these sacrifices left her too often somber and just plain worn out. We have very few photos of her even smiling. Still, at any family gathering, where the subject of first meetings came up, she had a story. This story never failed to get Marie to smile and even more, to laugh out loud. I never meant it as a gift, but nevertheless, it was the first and other than grandchildren, the best I could ever give.
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