They say that in comedy, timing is everything. Well, on this day my timing was badly off.
My brother was born five years before me, and of my siblings was the one with the most direct interaction with me as I was growing up. We shared life experiences, and apparently we shared the same quirky humor; the type that finds humor in everything, even dark moments.
I once visited him when he lived in New Orleans. During that visit he delivered a long and hilarious series of stories, most of them with a beautifully affected Cajun accent, à la Justin Wilson.
One story in particular captured my imagination, but was of unknown authorship. It started with “Here’s the story of Foot, Foot Foot and Foot Foot Foot”. The story itself had been lost from my memory, but that lead-in line was never forgotten. Decades later my brother could not remember the story either, try as he might.
Last fall I was with my brother again and I was madly searching on my phone for all the Justin Wilson jokes I could find, and sharing them with him. I was reliving some wonderful times together, even though he didn’t respond. But I knew he was smiling inside.
You see, my last surviving sibling was in hospice, and it was approaching the time for him to “slip the surly bonds of earth” as John Gillespie MaGee said so eloquently in his poem High Flight. (My brother was one of the three Clarke boys who were all pilots).
Then I thought to search the Internet for “Foot Foot Foot”.
When I located the following, I read every word for the first time. In music they call this “sight reading”, and sight reading can often lead to surprises. This reading was no exception.
I started reading out-loud as I scrolled down through the text on my cell phone. I was so excited to finally find the story.
“One fine summer day, three rabbits named Foot, Foot Foot, and Foot Foot Foot were sitting in their rabbit den. Foot Foot Foot and Foot Foot were big rabbits and Foot was a little youngster.
Foot Foot said, “I’m hungry!”
“So are we,” said Foot and Foot Foot Foot.
(For full effect, this story really needs to be read out-loud, just as I was doing.)
Foot Foot said, “Foot Foot Foot and I can hop over to Farmer Brown’s cabbage patch. After we eat, we can bring some back for you, Foot.”
Little Foot stamped his little foot and said, “But I don’t want to stay here!”
“Foot,” said Foot Foot Foot, “Don’t make me put my foot down. You know that Foot Foot and I are bigger and faster and we can get away from Farmer Brown.”
So Foot Foot and Foot Foot Foot hopped over to Farmer Brown’s garden and started munching away on the delicious cabbage.
All of a sudden there was a noise and Foot Foot and Foot Foot Foot ran and hid, thinking it was Farmer Brown with his shotgun coming to get them.
“It’s just me!” said Foot, surprising Foot Foot and Foot Foot Foot.
“Foot, you are a very bad little rabbit,” said Foot Foot Foot. “You know Foot Foot and I told you to stay home.”
“I know,” said Foot, “but I said to myself, ‘I should go join my brothers Foot Foot Foot and Foot Foot and eat the cabbage too.’ “
“Well,” said Foot Foot to Foot Foot Foot, “Since he’s already here, Foot might as well stay.”
So Foot, Foot Foot, and Foot Foot Foot again started munching happily away on the cabbage.
Then Foot Foot Foot heard a loud foot fall. “I see you rabbits! And this time I’ll get you for sure!” yelled Farmer Brown.
By this time I was reading to my brother as fast as I could scroll down on the little screen.
“Foot Foot Foot yelled to Foot Foot and Foot, “Run for your lives Foot Foot and Foot!” as he scrambled back towards the rabbit den.
Now since Foot Foot and Foot Foot Foot were the older and faster rabbits, they made it back to the den before Foot did. Just before Foot reached the den, BLAM!! roared the shotgun.
After a bit, Foot Foot and Foot Foot Foot looked outside. To their sorrow, there was poor Foot, shot dead by Farmer Brown.
Foot Foot looked at Foot Foot Foot and said, “We can’t just leave Foot there, Foot Foot Foot.”
“Quite right Foot Foot,” agreed Foot Foot Foot. “Let’s give Foot a proper rabbit burial.”
So Foot Foot Foot and Foot Foot dragged little Foot to his favorite spot in the meadow and started digging.
They were almost done covering Foot up when Foot Foot looked up at Foot Foot Foot and said, “All this work has made me hungry again. Come on Foot Foot Foot, let’s go back to the garden and eat more cabbage.”
Then I scrolled down to the last line; I was really excited by now.
“Foot Foot are you crazy?” exclaimed Foot Foot Foot. “Can’t you see that we already have one Foot in the grave?”
No sooner had I read that punch line than I gasped. I couldn’t believe I’d just said that, out-loud. My brother did have, at that very moment, one foot in the grave.
But then I was graced with a mental image of my brother rolling his eyes, smiling, and saying “John, you’re such a doofas! Your timing really sucks.”
Yes, I did accidentally have lousy timing, I admit, but I can laugh about it, as I imagine he did as well, somewhere deep inside. You see, that’s what brothers do.
And what better way to share the worst of times than by sharing the best of times.