April Fool’s day is a silly tradition. When not celebrated with the release of a damaging new computer virus or worm, it can be fun. This morning, for example, I was not above waking up my teenage son by abruptly saying it was noon when it wasn’t. It is quite pleasurable to have one day a year where it is legitimate to get things like that out of your system. Recently, I was part of a discussion about different April Fool’s pranks, as well as traditions surrounding the day. I learned that the French stick fish — presumably fish shaped papers? — on people’s backs. Colleges, it seems, find it quite amusing to announce who gets into their schools on April Fool’s Day, although I dare say the applicants are not much amused by this, regardless of which way their news swings. National magazines even offer ideas for pranks and silliness in case you are bereft of ideas.
But mostly for me, April Fool’s Day reminds me of my Dad. He was a serious academic that was also part imp. We thought ourselves quite clever as we sent him off to work with “kick me” signs stuck to his back. But clever we clearly were not, for his joke was the same every year and somehow he always did it in a way that got us to fall for it. It was very simple. He’d exclaim that there was “a cow in the backyard” and we’d come running to look every time, year in and year out. “Made you look!” he’d pronounce, having gotten the better of us, “April Fool!” It wasn’t just that a cow in our suburban backyard would have been something to exclaim about, or that we were primed after being bred as active spectators of the birds and squirrels outside our window. It probably was more that it was such an unimportant, understated ruse, that we’d forget about it the year in between, and he was creative in that he never pulled it off in exactly the same way twice. It humored him so much which compounded our sensation of feeling “had.”
The first years in my marriage, I tried to keep up the tradition, but either I wasn’t as crafty at it as my Dad had been, or my husband was smarter, with a better memory. I got by with it for two years, but the third year it fell flat. By that time we had a baby with a little toy that after you’d turn it upside down, it would make the sound of a cow when you turned it right side up again. For the following ten years, I’d satisfy myself with a call to my Dad on April Fool’s Day, and have this toy make its cow sound into the receiver. And every year, he’d get a good laugh out of it. And we’d feel a bond of love and continuity.
But now that he’s in an assisted living facility with Alzheimer’s, I’m not calling him to share our stupid cow joke. He’s become the fool himself, and it’s not fun.
My Dad was very important to me in many more profound ways than this trivial April Fool’s memory. He was brilliant and made a meaningful contribution. So why is it that I am mourning him today over this?
What are the little things we do that we’ll be remembered by?