The Hardest We Ever Laughed

I remember the afternoon on which my wife and I laughed uncontrollably for what seemed like a full hour. It was the hardest we ever laughed, and maybe ever will. The comment that made us laugh so hard isn't important. It's only funny to us, and somehow cheapens the original moment to even retell the story. But believe me that it was irrationally funny at the time.

We were staying at a crappy little motel outside of Sausalito, CA, moving our way north up the coast from Big Sur to Mendocino. This motel wasn't charming-crappy, just crappy-crappy with a generous view of the highway right out the front door. Yet I'm forever thankful for the crappy-crappy motel and for the moment that we created there - one I'll remember for the rest of my days. One of the beautiful things of marriage is creating those moments to capture and store in a box for the rest of time - available to effortlessly call upon as a little gift, to bring a smile.

Thirty years prior to our moment in Sausalito, my Grandma had a similar moment with her husband. Her husband, my grandfather, is someone I never really met. There is a picture of him holding me - my only real proof that we shared a season together. His time was short, at the time when mine was just starting. His name was Alex, and it's not a coincidence that my name is Alex too.

Alex was a different character. Though I didn't know him first hand, I do know my uncle, who's an eerily similar version of his old man, or so I'm told. Stern, emotionless, Slavic, lips contracted by default. The kind of guys that may or may not show up for Christmas dinner. They both wear a mustache just to be sure a smile doesn't slip out and ruin their image. The type of guys that raise well-behaved kids and ornery adults. And yet, uniquely funny and strikingly witty at just the right time. They both somehow carry the mantle of the funniest and grumpiest person in the family.

My Grandma, in comparison, is sweet, quick to laughter, and never met a person that she didn't immediately like. They were quite a pair, my grandparents, or so I imagine.

The year before I first made an appearance in this world, while Grandpa Alex was holding on long enough to get that one picture with me, my sister Megan had received a kitten for her 4th birthday. A black and white longhaired kitten, also with the appearance of a mustache.

At the time, my sister was taking piano lessons from a stern old Jewish woman, Mrs. Hortense Zuckerman. Despite her last name, she was anything but sweet. The kind of lady that finds no use for laughter, whose house smells of soup, and will slap your hand if your finger hits the F when the music clearly says to play the F#. "Aye, aye, dis is the key of G, why you hit da F?".

When my sister received that kitten for her birthday, she was also given the responsibility of naming her. A responsibility that she did not take lightly, as it took her many days.

On the day when she finally picked a name, my grandpa Alex was a bit late coming home from work. Grandma was already in bed. He too climbed in bed and was quiet for a few moments. I imagine them with their backs to each other, each facing their side of the double-bed.

"Megan name her cat?", he said quietly, sternly-for-no-reason, in his usual laconic manner.

"Yes, she did." Grandma said, rolling over. "She named it ... Hortense Zuckerkitty".

There were a few moments of silence.

My grandma describes first feeling the bed start to rumble, just a little bit, gathering momentum as the absurdity of the name made its way through his synapses. Despite all his best intentions, he finally got to laugh aloud. And in that special way that makes sense to only those there at the moment, the name of a cat became the funniest thing that had ever happened in their life together.

I smile knowing that my sister named her beloved kitten after her intimidating old piano teacher. I smile knowing that crazy cat fully embraced her namesake. Zucker, as we called her, was the most ornery cat you've ever met. In the coming years, she would learn the ways of my toddler instincts, and I came to respect her claws. Zucker lived to be 18, her life was my childhood. By the end, she was too old to fight, and I was old enough not to make her. We made our peace.

Most of all, I smile when I think that my grandparents got to share an incredibly special moment in their final year together. Laughing hard, with the person you care about most, is the good stuff - one more checkbox of a life well-lived, the times you tell your grandkids about.