This line in Calvin Trillin’s New Yorker article on Mississippi delta hot tamales made me laugh: “John Shelton Reed, a distinguished sociologist of the South, who is writing a book that deals with local specialities, acknowledges that the only dish in the book he hadn’t actually tasted for himself was the pig-snoot sandwich; he took the word of another cookbook writer that the texture is ‘something like that of a rawhide dog toy’.”
OK, OK, it’s not hilarious, but in context it produced the medical definition of a laugh, “spasmodic and largely involuntary expirations often accompanied by inarticulate vocalisations.” It was over in about a second.
Fifteen minutes of research on the internet informs me that laughter is primarily social, and that adults laugh as much, if not more, than children – a surprising fact to me, if true. From an article by Rod A. Martin on the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor website (‘the home for humor and laughter professionals”) I learned that “Two-year-old infants laugh an average of about 18 times an hour during interactions with their mothers, whereas their mothers laugh almost twice as often, at about 33 laughs per hour. Five-year-old children apparently laugh only about 8 times an hour during play (the activity in which they would be expected to laugh most freely). In adults, laughter occurs about 35 times an hour – 4 times as often as what was observed in children – during conversations with either friends or strangers.”
The article concedes that “single instances of laughter were not defined the same way in all studies,” making the assertions about the frequency of laughter less scientific, but laughter is a seriously interesting subject.
But as far as I’m concerned, hunting little laughs can be left to the laugh researchers. Little laughs are great, don’t get me wrong – my chortle at the idea of a pig-snoot sandwich was a little laugh and it was very pleasant. But what I want a study done on is helpless, convulsive, falling-over, Big Laughter, which in my life has taken place in three places, primarily: 1) school, 2) church, and 3) the family dinner table.
And if I was proposing to write a PhD thesis on the relationship of age, location and Big Laughter, the one I would focus on – the under-appreciated source of mirth, the jugular vein of laughter, the big cahuna-of-laughs – is The Kindergarten-Age Child at The Family Dinner Table. Now, I represent an admittedly small sample size, but my son-in-law Brian corroborates this from his experience: there is something about the implied decorum of the family dinner table, headed and footed by father and mother, learning table manners, chasing peas around the plate, experimenting with squishy vegetables, the tap-tinkling of forks against plates, listening to extremely boring adult conversation, which somehow sets up the perfect environment for the unanticipated, unannounced entrance of the Gremlin of Laughter, who slips in the side door, sidles up to a parent and turns him or her into the World’s Funniest Person.
I remember laughing – real fall-off-the-chair laughing – with my parents, and I remember my children laughing with me, and I look forward to hearing about Silas enjoying Big Laughter with his parents.