April smiles

In the spring of 1904, the New York Times reported that Ignacio Valente had filed a bill for $250 against the city. The auditing bureau of the Finance Department was reviewing the bill to determine whether or not it should be paid. This is the story that was reported by the newspaper about that bill.

It seems that Mr. Valente and his wife got into a terrible quarrel over the way she cooked macaroni. At the hight of the argument, she stormed out of the house declaring that she would rather die than come back to such a man. After she had left, his temper began to cool. The longer she was gone, the more worried he got. He started to search for her. Finding no trace of her whereabouts, he eventually reported her disappearance to the police. After several days, the police reported that the body of a woman matching his wife’s description was at the City Morgue. With fear, he went to the morgue and described his wife’s clothing. He was shown a body dressed in the clothes he remembered, but who didn’t look quite by his wife. “They all change with death,” declared the Morgue keeper.

With a bit of doubt, Valente had the body prepared for burial, hosted a wake and held a funeral. Notice of the event was posted in the Italian papers and his wife, upon reading of her funeral, came back home. Initially, Mr. Valente was relieved to discover that his wife was alive. Then, he confirmed that it was truly his wife when she flew into a rage over a dress that was missing from her closet. Mr. Valente reported that indeed he knew where the dress had gone. The other women was wearing it when she was buried. It took a trip to the dress shop and more expense to calm his wife’s anger.

Adding up the expenses of a funeral, lost wages due to grief and a new dress, Mr. Valente submitted his bill to the city, claiming that none of these expenses would have occurred had not the city Morgue keeper forced him to believe that the other woman’s body was that of his wife.

The article in the New York Times doesn’t say whether or not he ever received compensation. Nor does it report whether or not Mr. Valente every felt remorse for his criticism of his wife’s cooking.

It isn’t an April Fool’s joke. It is just one of the strange articles from the archives of the New York times.

It never made the newspapers, but I’ve heard both of my parents’ versions of an event that took place in the spring of 1980. My father had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. Surgery had relieved the pressure within his skull, but radiation and chemotherapy treatments did not appear to be successful in eliminating the tumor. Reconciled to his own death, my father wanted to spend as much time at home as possible, preferring his own space to the hospital that was 80 miles away. My mother, a registered nurse, provided what care he needed. He began to spend quite a bit of time in bed, usually retiring before my mother in the evening. She used the time after he was tucked in to do some reading and have a little time to think.

One night as she prepared for sleep, she had a terrible time finding the end of the roll of toilet paper. She batted at the roll in both directions, thinking that perhaps someone had put it on the roller in the opposite direction from the usual, an unlikely event since she was the one who replaced the rolls. My father would simply get out a new roll and leave it on the bathroom counter. Failing to find the end, she began to tear across the face of the roll to create a new end. This finally produced the needed tissue, but resulted in a mess of small pieces on the floor. She finished her preparations and slid into bed.

The bed was shaking. Her husband was laughing so hard that it took him a couple of minutes to regain his composure enough to say, “April Fool!” Delighting in her husband’s sense of humor despite his grave illness, she switched on the bedside lamp to continue their conversation, which caused another riot of laughter. Finally, he struggled out of bed and grabbed a hand-held mirror, whereupon she discovered that he had managed to inject green food coloring into the end of the toothpaste tube.

I don’t think my mother ever conducted her evening absolutions without first turning on the light after that.

The best part of it all, however, was that it gave them a story to share. My father told that story for the next four months or so. My mother told it for the rest of her life with great relish and joy.

The challenge of the event is that all of us who have heard the story are aware that there really is no way to top the pranks of my father’s last April Fools Day. Most years I don’t even try. I just tell the story.

I thought about making a journal entry today about a proposed solo expedition to follow the Back rive north from Great Slave Lake through the Barren Lands to the sea. I estimate that it would take about 75 days to paddle the distance. I thought that announcing a leave of absence for the journey would garner the attention of some of the members of my congregation. Then I could place an “April Fool!” at the end of the article. As I reflected, however, it seemed to me that if people really believed the prank it would mean that they think I’m really crazy enough to attempt such a stunt and I’d like to think that my public persona is a bit more sensible than that.

So, in its place, I reported a few silly stories. Perhaps they have made you smile. No pranks today, just a wish that the events of today bring joy to your life.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!