Sunday, February 8, 2009

Howdy Doody Time!

We didn't have many opportunities to laugh while behind the razor wire, so when the moments came, they were relished with great joy. During my last year in prison, we created such a time. It came on Saturday mornings between 8:30 and 10:00 AM down in the recreation yard.

There were usally between four and eight of us, depending on the week. Most of us met every morning for our Bible study, but occassionally a couple of other guys would come and join us. We would bring down our large thermos cup of coffee or hot chocolate. And, even though it was against the rules (imagine that, guys in prison breaking a rule), one of us would bring in a couple of bags of cookies that we bought at the commissary. And we would just sit and visit.

One of the guys in the group was a tall, slender man from Montana who had worked for the Post Office. Another was a retired Army Ranger from Alaska. There were a couple of bankers, an accountant and an electrician. And of course, a former educator.

Over the course of the past year, John (the retired Ranger) had taken up art and had painted several of our coffee cups with something that was associated with who we were. Mine had a painting of Aslan (the lion from Narnia) on it. Tim had a painting of his wife. Paul had a swimming pool and Ray a picture of a sinking ship. Don was the only guy in the group who didn't have a painting on his cup.

One week, he mentioned that when he was a kid, he remembered watching the Howdy Doody show on TV. So John went to the library and found a book about the Howdy Doody TV program that had some pictures of the TV icon on the pages. And over the course of the next week, he bought Don a new cup from the commissary and painted Howdy Doody on the side. The following Saturday morning, John presented the cup to Don.

For a few minutes, Don just looked at it. Now, I'm sure if you remember what Howdy Doody looks like, but even a great picture of him would probably look pretty horrendous. With his clown make-up on, I think he was simply a scary looking dude. I didn't watch him as a child (having no TV probably had something to do with that), but if I had, I think I might have had nightmares. Did I mention he was scary looking? And John did a great job of portraying that scariness on the coffee mug.

Finally, Don looked away from the cup and looked at John and told him that it was perfect...just like he remembered him. He passed the cup around so we could all admire it and when it finally came back around to Don, you could almost see a flicker of pride in his eyes.

The Saturday's following the "presentation of the cup" were always good for a laugh. Don would come to the morning gatherings, proudly holding his cup and share a Howdy Doody story with us. One week, he'd tell us how he caught Howdy looking through one of his magazines and he'd have to scold him. The next week, it might be a story about Howdy getting into the cookies without permission. Each story brought howls of laughter from each one of us...sometimes to the point of belly cramps from another story just as we were trying to recover from the first Howdy tale.

I realize that prison isn't supposed to be fun...and it wasn't. But it was such a treat when we could find even a few moments to feel some level of normalcy...some ability to laugh instead of frown. Our weekly Howdy Doody time provided that.

1 comment:

Deb Shucka said...

It just goes to show that we need levity and the communion of humor to feel alive. I'm sure the irony of this is not lost on you - that you were finally getting to feel part of a group of guys having a laugh over some innocuous guy thing, in prison.

I love your prison stories! I love you.