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Stories My Dad Told, The Granny Story

My father was a plumber and an electrical repairman as well as a general do-it-yourself repairman. He taught me many valuable lessons.

Dad supervising us

Dad supervising us


I believe I learned that laughter and a sense of humor from my father. He was a joker in that sense of the word but he loved a good practical joke. Most people like to be around when they play a practical joke on someone to see the reaction and to get a good laugh. Not my dad. He didn’t mind setting up a good practical joke and know it would go off when he wasn’t even there. It gave him a bigger laugh somehow to know it happened without him present to enjoy the fall-out.

I have never been able to see life as anything but a vast complicated practical joke, and it's better to laugh than cry.

— Robert A. Heinlein

Dolls from Frankie's Doll House

Dolls from Frankie's Doll House

Frankie’s Doll House

My mother’s mother’s name is Francis but she preferred to be called Frankie. This got her into trouble once because she owned and operated a ceramics shop that specialized in dolls. She named her shop Frankie’s Doll House and advertised it in the phone book. Several times she would get phone calls from men “looking for a good time” and wanting to be fixed up with one of Frankie’s dolls. They thought from the name that my grandmother ran a house of ill repute. After a couple of years of this, she changed the name to Merced Ceramics and those questionable calls stopped.

Grandma on the right in her ceramics shop

Grandma on the right in her ceramics shop

The Mother-in-law

My dad and his mother-in-law didn’t always get along well, so it is no surprise that he played more than one practical joke on her. She hated with an unchristian passion to be called “granny”. For this reason, my dad loved calling her that usually not to her face. He used the term so often at home where she couldn’t hear him that it became natural. One day, I slipped and called her “granny” to her face. I must have been about 7 or 8. Immediately, I knew I was in big trouble, but she just squinted at me and said, “Don’t think for one moment that I don’t know who put you up to that!” I would have protested that my dad didn’t put me up to it but his practical joke side saved me that day, so I kept my mouth shut.

Grandma, no one's granny.

Grandma, no one's granny.

It's hard to enjoy practical jokes when your whole life feels like one.

— Rick Riordan

The Waitress

My favorite story is the one about the waitress. My dad was working as a plumber and maintenance man for a chain of restaurants. He often would be called by them for emergency fixes and would periodically show up to fix or maintain dishwashers and other electrical equipment.

He had a friendly relationship with the waitresses who would slip him some pie and coffee while he was there. He knew each one by name and would come home and imitate their voices for us with stories they told about customers.

One day, he was in the kitchen working on a coke machine when one of the waitresses came in and addressed him. “I just hurd you awe welated to Fwankie.”

“Yes,” dad said, “she is my mother-in-law.”

“I just wuve Fwankie,” the waitress divulged. “She comes in evewy Wednesday night wiff hur fwends. She is a deaw.”

“You know,” my dad sets up the bomb, “her dearest friends call her granny.”

She thanked him for telling her and promised that the next time Frankie came in, she would call her granny.

It seems to me that it would be fun to be a fly on the wall for that confrontation, but my dad was just as content waiting to hear about the fall-out later.

Trouble With Frankie

Weeks later when he was back in the restaurant, this time under a dishwasher fixing it, he told us that someone started kicking his legs and yelling, “You got me in twuble wiff Fwankie!!” Apparently, that Wednesday when my grandmother came into the restaurant, the poor unsuspecting waitress yelled from across the room, “Hi, Granny” and my dear sweet little grandmother stomped clear across the restaurant floor to punch her in the arm. Yes, that sounds like my grandmother. She HATES being called granny. I’m sure the waitress only had to mention my dad’s name to get off the hook with her though.

Dad said he couldn’t come out from under the dishwasher for quite some time, not because he was still being kicked but because he was laughing so hard.

Some of her shop dolls

Some of her shop dolls

The trouble with practical jokes is that very often they get elected.

— Will Rogers


I love that he taught us what humor is like. He taught us not to plan a joke that would cause injury or sickness or humiliation. The day I put salt in the sugar bowl was really an accident, but I saw that messing with a man’s meal is not funny. When my dad passed, the mortician, as they normally do, put make-up on my dad, but also a little crooked smile. It seemed like the same crooked smile he used just before one of his joke bombs went off. I remember looking at him lying there in the beautiful soft casket and thinking, he really looks like he could jump up and say, “boo.” So as much as I would have liked for him to jump up, I told him, “You better not say, “boo” or I would wet my pants right here on this spot.” Unfortunately, he didn’t say, “boo.”

My watercolor painting of dad in his shop

My watercolor painting of dad in his shop

Final Thoughts

Do you like practical jokes? Have you ever had one pulled on you that wasn’t funny? I’d love to read your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

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