It's April again!

It is a good day to be wary of the old tried and true pranks. I wonder how many years people have been putting plastic wrap over toilets and swapping the contents of sugar and salt containers. My father was a great prankster. In the last year of his life, when he was sick and our mother was nursing him at home, he quietly snuck out of bed in the wee hours of April first while Mom was catching a bit of much-needed sleep. He put a bit of white glue on the end of the toilet paper roll and returned to bed. When our mother rose in the morning she used the toilet in the dark so that the light wouldn’t bother dad. As she batted the roll of toilet paper trying to find the free end, she could hear him giggling in the bedroom.

Woe to any advertiser who sent “return postage guaranteed” envelopes to my father toward the end of March. He would fill the envelope with steel washers in hopes of creating a charge of a dollar or more in postage and yielding the advertiser no order anticipated in such envelopes. He took great pleasure of making his income tax returns as heavy as possible back in the days when the government offered free postage on tax return envelopes.

We learned to be wary of a slice of cardboard in an otherwise perfect looking pancake, food color in eggs and other pranks on the first day of April.

My father has been gone for more than four decades, and there are some memories that are beginning to fade despite my constant telling of his story. However, the memory of his laughter is one that remains strong in my mind. He took great joy in very simple things.

Media outlets still put considerable effort into April Fools Pranks. Google seems to always come up some way of pranking the unwary. In the early 1990’s National Public Radio caught my attention with a gag in which an actor pretended to be former President Nixon declaring that he was running for president again. Way back in the 1950’s BBC reported that Swiss farmers were experiencing a record spaghetti crop and extra workers were needed to harvest noodles from spaghetti trees. Fast food chains have chimed in with their own pranks. One yearTaco Bell announced that they had made a deal to purchase the Liberty Bell and rename it the Taco Liberty Bell. Burger King ran an advertisement for a “Left-Handed Whopper,” that sent scores of clueless customers into their stores in search of the fake sandwich. The spring we were preparing to move from North Dakota to Idaho, Sports Illustrated ran a made-up article about a rookie pitcher named Sidd Finch who could throw a fastball over 168 miles per hour.

The Washington Post ran an article titled “A Brief, Totally Sincere History of April Fools’ Day a few years back. I think it was fairly accurately researched. It suggested that there is no definite recording of the origins of the holiday. Some report that it has roots in the ancient Roman festival of Hilaria, celebrated at the end of March and involved people dressing up in disguises. Others claim it was inspired by the Egyptian legend of Isis, Osiris, and Seth. I have read that it has origins in the shift from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar called for by the Council of Trent in 1563. That calendar shift changed New Years day from April 1 to January 1 among other corrections to the calendar including the introduction of Leap Years. People who continued to celebrate the beginning of the year on April 1 were called April Fools. I also read somewhere that April Fools was related to a tradition of playing pranks on Christian priests on the Sunday after Easter, claiming that the ultimate prank of all time was the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I’ve tried my share of April Fools pranks over the years, but am not very good at keeping a straight face and often succeeded in fooling no one. I lived in South Dakota enough years to know that one of the great April Fools pranks is the weather itself. The first of April can bring almost any weather imaginable to South Dakota. We’ve heard thunder during snow storms, watched daffodils coaxed out of the ground by 60 degree temperatures only to be crushed by a spring blizzard, witnessed spring hail, high winds, and days in which the temperature shifted by 50 degrees and more. One spring I suggested that South Dakota might change the state motto from “Famous Faces, Famous Places” to “All Four Seasons Every Day.”

These days I am entertained by the fake stories and pranks our grandchildren attempt. Like me, their faces often give away their intentions. I rather enjoy a day in which I play no pranks but leave my family on edge expecting a prank to show up at any minute only to find at the end of the day that there were no pranks.

There is something incredibly healing about sharing laughter with other people. An insuppressible giggle is one of the most beautiful sounds in the world whether it is expressed by an infant or an elder. It is hard to remain angry at someone who makes you laugh. The ability to land a well-timed joke can ease the tension in a meeting with much disagreement and open a pathway to a resolution. If I can get someone to laugh out loud, I know that we are on our way to resolving whatever problem has caused our conflict.

I sincerely wish your April Fools’ Day is filled with laughter whether its source is the memory of those like my father who took such delight in the day, an unexpected prank of a friend or family member, or your own unique idea successfully executed. Sometimes failed attempts at a joke can be as hilarious as a successful surprise. Give it a try. You may end up ROTFL.

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