According to Cousin Alan, when his father–Uncle Dwight–was a young man, he performed for a while on the vaudeville circuit. Since I realize how family stories tend to mutate over time, I have no idea how accurate that is. For all I know, he could have performed once in his club’s amateur talent show waving a straw hat, or he could have soft-shoed his way across stages all over the Southeast. What I do know is by the time I came along, he was already old–at least to a child–and retired from the conventional career that came after the days of his carefree youth.
He and Aunt Geraldine had a big console organ in their living room, and with only minimal persuading, Uncle Dwight would put down his pipe, sit at the organ, and play songs for us. My siblings may have a better memory of what he played. What I remember is that he’d play a verse, pause to tell us a really corny joke with a bright twinkle in his eyes, then continue playing. It was a big time for a little kid, and as I got older and learned who Jimmy Durante was, I always expected Uncle Dwight to end each of his jokes or songs with a “ha-cha-cha.”
Jim can be one of the most serious people I know if you want to have an in-depth talk about world events, human behavior, politics, and social issues. But he also has a repertoire of bad jokes–many of them the same ones my father and Uncle Dwight told–and Tim usually follows Jim’s delivery with a “wah wah wah” sound. We all pretend not to be amused by him, but we secretly know that our lives are a little more fun with an Uncle Dwight around.
Over the years, all the punch lines of Jim’s bad jokes have been woven together to make one long conversation–or sometimes, just a single word from one of the jokes can set us all to giggling. Long may you entertain us, Jim. Ha-cha-cha.