A Day in the Laugh of... a Cambodian Orphan

She always signs her emails with, “Love and Light, Geraldine.” Love and light is exactly what this dynamic Australian woman has freely given over the years to 100s of Cambodian orphans.

(Yes Geraldine purposely dyes her hair this color—a story you should ask me about in person)

(Yes Geraldine purposely dyes her hair this color—a story you should ask me about in person)

At the age of 25, Geraldine Cox began her career in 1970 working for The Department of Foreign Affairs. Her first overseas posting was in 1971, landing her in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. With the Vietnam War pounding at the border, the country was in turmoil. Geraldine refers to this two-year assignment as an experience that significantly shaped who she is today.

Geraldine's early experiences in Cambodia never left her and while living in Australia in 1993, she helped establish the Australia Cambodia Foundation, which paved the way to set up an orphanage known today as Sunrise Cambodia. Geraldine became a permanent resident of Cambodia in 1995, and at the age of 72, she is still there activating miracles for many orphaned children and the surrounding communities. The children adore Geraldine and lovingly refer to her as "Mum Thom-Thom," which translates to “Big Mum.” I first met this mother to many in 1999. 

In August of 1997, I had moved with my family from Oregon, USA to Singapore. I fast became friends with Leearne, a woman originally from Australia. By the spring of 1998, she and her husband were pursuing an adoption of a baby girl in Cambodia. Leearne and I traveled to Cambodia in June of the same year with the hope of moving her adoption proceedings forward. While spending time in the orphanage, we discovered how easy it was to make a difference in the lives of suffering children. After returning to Singapore, we formed a service group called, “The Friends of Cambodia.” With the generous support of friends and family, our organization helped facilitate medical testing and sponsorships for orphans, adoptions, medical missions, several shipments of cargo containers full of donated supplies, the hiring of English teachers, and the expansion of a computer school.

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Whenever a member of the Friends of Cambodia made a trip to Phnom Penh, I recruited them to take donations of cash and supplies to the various orphanages we helped support—Sunrise Cambodia being one of the recipients. Much of what we sent was clothing. It is not usual to see young children (mostly boys) in the city and villages ‘wearing’ only their own skin as a covering. The young girls usually wore a skirt or shorts—that’s it. But children in the orphanages run by people like Geraldine, were supplied full outfits, including underwear. 

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Beyond clothing, there was much need for hygiene items. Many of our husbands had jobs that required frequent international travel—giving them the added benefit of flying business class. Consequently, our families accumulated a hefty supply of the complementary airline toiletry bags the men would bring home. The zip-up canvas bags contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, lotion or cologne, a comb, socks, earplugs, and a sleep mask. Because we had to comply with weight limitations, I tried to ensure only essential items be included in our care packages. So when requesting donations of unused airline toiletry bags, I instructed the women in our group to remove the ear plugs and sleep masks and replace them with soaps and shampoos. You can imagine my confusion, followed by tearful laughter when I read the following email sent by Geraldine after receiving supplies designated for her orphanage. 

June 24,1999

Dear Melanie,
I have so much to thank you for I don't know where to begin!
The hygiene packs were a HUGE success. I had no idea what they contained and they were full of goodies like shampoos, skin creams, conditioners, toothpaste/toothbrushes, airline socks and eye masks. You would have gotten a real giggle out of watching the older girls trying to fit the eye masks as bras on the little girls! They had never seen eye masks before!

 Love and Light,

Geraldine

Although organizing humanitarian work was challenging, exhausting, and heartwrenching on most days, there were many moments—like the invention of the sleep mask bra—that delivered much love, light, AND laughter to our cause. 

To learn more about Sunrise Cambodia, go here http://sunrisecambodia.org.au

(Note: To learn more about the experiences I had in Cambodia see chapter 28, “The Scent of Gratitude,” in my book titled Sacred Soul-Space: Making Room in Your Life for What You Have to Offer This World.)

 

A Day in the Laugh of... a Funeral Crasher

Instead of working for the survival of the fittest,
we should be working for the survival of the wittiest—
then we can all die laughing.
—Lily Tomlin

My grandmothers were comedians. Not everyone can say that, but I can. They both experienced serious, life-altering heartache and loss in their lives—I know because I heard the stories or read about it in their memoirs. However, by the time I landed on the planet, I didn’t really have a sense of their troubles because they were either laughing about funny experiences of the past or creating new ones.

In Cora's early years, she resembled a young Lily Tomlin.

In Cora's early years, she resembled a young Lily Tomlin.

Let me introduce you to my maternal grandmother, Cora “Irene” Cunninghame. You might be wondering why her middle name is in quotes. The answer is simple. A middle name was not bestowed upon Cora at birth so when she achieved adulthood, she simply decided to add Irene to her name without taking legal action. No problem for her, but since her death, there have been plenty of headaches for genealogists who try to link her up to the online family pedigree chart. Ugh!

In Cora's early years, she resembled a young Lily Tomlin, especially when Lily played the role of Ernestine, the telephone switchboard operator. Like Lily, my Grandma Cora was often in costume—always playing the part of someone the world was about to meet for the first and only time. Take for example, the day Cora showed up dressed as a hippy-gypsy at a formal dinner party hosted by her brother Merrill and his wife to celebrate their own 25th wedding anniversary. If you look closely at the photo, you can see how she tried to blackout her teeth with a blue crayon.

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I learned at a young age to never expect the ordinary when visiting Grandma Cora. When I was 16 my girlfriend, Linda, and I travelled from Durango, Colorado to visit my grandma in Sebastopol, California. I cautioned Linda to be prepared for anything because the odds were high that the first person we would meet after crossing Grandma’s threshold would not be anyone I recognized. It turned out I was wrong…the whole fiasco began even BEFORE we entered her home. 

Home for wayward girls!

Home for wayward girls!

Grandma lived in a small two-bedroom house that sat on an intersection where three streets converged.  Grandma had two large picture windows that came together, forming a corner of the living room. When she sat on her couch, she could watch who was coming and going from all directions. Well when we drove up to the house, we were shocked to see a very large homemade sign in the window that read, “Home for Wayward Girls.” What?! We were far from wayward, yet we both felt like covering our heads with our jackets to hide our identities—just like you see when famous people in trouble are escorted to and from their cars. When we entered the house, an old hag with curlers in her hair warmly greeted us with a lively southern accent. I turned to Linda and said, “I warned you!”

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When my husband, Marty, and I were engaged, we travelled from northern Utah to Sebastopol so Grandma could meet her future grandson-in-law. When we arrived no one answered the door, but it was unlocked. We opened it and I called out, “Grandma?” She didn’t answer. So we walked into the entryway and called out again. The only thing I could hear was heavy breathing and grunting noises. I thought maybe she was hurt! Adrenalin starting pumping through my system thinking we had an emergency situation on our hands. Just as I was about to investigate the rest of the house, a black hairy creature jumped out from the hallway. A gorilla! When I started breathing again, I turned to Marty and said, “Meet my grandma.” With a lumbering gorilla gait, she approached Marty and started picking through his hair looking for critters. (Yes that’s Marty with a perm and a mustache.)

Happy Birthday Mona?  But of course. 

Happy Birthday Mona?  But of course. 

When Grandma Cora turned 65, her family and friends organized a surprise birthday party for her. My Uncle Bill ordered a cake and instructed the baker to write the words, “Happy Birthday Mom” on it. When he arrived to pick up the cake, it was obvious the person who took the order did not hear him correctly because it said, “Happy Birthday, Mona.” The baker was apologetic and offered to fix it on the spot, but Uncle Bill replied, “No, this will be perfect!” And it was. For it created yet another day in the laugh of Cora that still offers giggles decades later. 

By her 65th birthday, Grandma had earned a new title and was affectionately referred to as Crazy Cora.  Remember, Lily Tomlin said the goal is to die laughing, well Crazy Cora is the only one I know who has done that for sure. In fact, she was still cracking jokes AFTER her death in 1995. How you ask? Grandma made sure she was the featured commentator at her own funeral! She had produced an audio recording of her farewell speech prior to her death. When my uncle walked up to the pulpit, inserted the cassette into the tape player, and adjusted the microphone to aim at the machine, everyone smiled and chuckled, shook their heads, and in unison thought,  “That’s Cora for you!”  Following are excerpts from her talk:

“It’s good to see ya! It’s been a heck of a long time since I have seen some of you. Well those benches are pretty hard and we’re going to be here awhile talking about how great I am, so just sit back, slip off your shoes, and make yourself comfortable. I want you to really enjoy this! You’re lucky there isn’t a speaker looking down at you…because you can close your eyes and only you and I know you’re asleep.

Some of you might be shocked at this somewhat out of the ordinary ceremony. But if you really stop to think, everyone here today is either my friend or relative, and you all know that if I can do something really different, or if I can get some attention, or bring on a laugh, that is what I’m gonna do! This is my day and I decided I didn’t want anyone else standing up here saying how great I was and telling lies. Whatever lying there is to be done around here, I’ll do it.

It’s so nice to have a captive audience and it’s a wonder some of you haven’t already gone out the door… Hey you! Come back here! … Well we’re going to have a great visit here because I don’t have anything else to do! I won’t keep you long because there just might be a lot of good food over at the house. So I’m inviting you all to go see if I’m right. I want to hear a lot of laughter—don’t disappoint! Thanks for everything. I love you. See you soon…well maybe not soon but I’ll be lookin’ for you and I’ll have everything ready for your arrival. Goodbye.”

Crazy Cora really knew how to put fun into a (fun)eral.’ It’s been over 20 years since I listened to my copy of her service. I had to chuckle when I saw the label on the cassette tape. It reads, “Mona’s Memorial.”

These are only a few of Crazy Cora’s antics, but I hope as you read, either your own “Day in the Laugh of…” moments came to your memory, or you feel inspired to create some new ones. Keep funny alive!

(Note: To learn more about the importance of laughter in our lives see chapter 33, “Humor Me,” in my book titled Sacred Soul-Space: Making Room in Your Life for What You Have to Offer This World. I know by personal experience even serious issues, such as infertility, can produce laugh out loud moments!) 

 

A Day in the Laugh of… a Happy Phone Owner

To succeed in life, you need three things:

a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.

—Reba McEntire

Being the butt of a joke is not always the most pleasant experience. However, what if one of the Velcro curlers your friend had in her hair when you picked her up for work, ended up on her butt? Now that could be funny. Of course, between fits of laughter, you sound an alert before she walks into the conference room for the staff meeting.

Have you ever been at a dental appointment and the newly trained hygienist accidently activated your gag reflex with the spit-sucking wand? Personally, I would rather lose my dignity at a holiday gag gift exchange fighting over a set of electric eyebrow tweezers. By the way, those things are lethal!

Remember middle school physical education class where a good part of our grade depended upon how fast we ran the mile? Ohhhhh it still hurts to think of the searing side aches we tried to ignore by vice gripping our waistlines. But hey, give me a sidesplitting reason to laugh and I am all-in for a marathon!

Reality is…

…belly fat can ruin a cute outfit, but the belly laugh will never go out of style.

…spilling our guts in an effort to heal from emotional trauma is exhausting, but laughing our guts out brings a sense of energetic relief.

…vindictive people often get the last laugh, but looking for a laugh a minute can assuage the sting of life’s injustices.

…we avoid facing the fact that sometimes we err, but other times we are first to pay good money to be entertained by a comedy of errors.

Reality is…people we love die, but to die laughing is the best way to go.

With this introduction, I am happy to announce the first post in a series I am calling “The Day in the Laugh of…” Too many days are too serious, too busy, too sad, and too frustrating. My hope is to counter balance days like these with laughter. Humorist, Erma Bombeck, was a master at this. Her motto was, “If you can't make it better, you can laugh at it.” And that she did—column after column, book after book, and interview after interview for over thirty years.

My paternal grandmother, Delpha Virginia Jones Hall, was 15 years old when Erma Bombeck was born in 1927, giving her a head start when looking for humor in everyday experiences. Granny was a master storyteller and wished to eventually become a published writer, but that day didn’t come until after she had lived a lifetime of laughing at things she couldn’t make better. When Granny’s health drastically declined due to heart disease, she spent her days sitting in a recliner, aging backwards in her mind as she wrote out her memories in the form of letters to the family.

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Somehow these letters caught the attention of a staff writer for the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin, the local newspaper that serviced the small town Granny lived in for the majority of her life. And, like Erma Bombeck, my grandmother became a newspaper columnist. She was 86 years old and the name of her column was “Granny’s Gumption.” She loved it and the readers loved her.

Granny eventually had to move to a nursing home, but that didn’t stop her from preparing her articles. She was so dedicated to her readers that when she was unable to do the actual writing, she would dictate her stories to a staff writer who was sent by the newspaper to the nursing home. Her last article was printed the day before her death in September of 2000.

I now present to you, “A Day in the Laugh of Delpha Hall.” May it bring a smile to your face.

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In 1943 my husband, Ray, and I bought our first real home. We moved with our four children from Mercur, Utah to Tooele, Utah, a distance of twenty-two miles. We were the first ones to live in the house and it was great. In the past we had always used an outhouse, but our new home had an indoor bathroom! It also included a coal furnace, an electric cook stove, and many other modern conveniences I never had before.

I thought I was really something with all these nice things around me, but there was one thing that was missing—a telephone. When I went to apply for a telephone, I was informed we couldn’t have one installed because only government workers could have them. I explained that my husband was a mechanic and worked on government cars so the government workers could get to their government jobs. I was told that didn’t count. But I still wanted a telephone and I wasn’t about to give up.

One day I looked out my kitchen window and saw two men digging a trench in our garden. I went to see what they were doing. Lo and behold they were from the telephone company! They said they were putting a guy-wire in the ground. I said, “Stop right there! No one is putting a guy-wire in my yard unless I get a telephone!” They responded with, “We’ll see about that.” As soon as they left, my boys and I covered the trench.

When the men came back, they had the boss with them. Again they started digging in my garden, but as fast as they dug, the boys and I fill it in. Again I told them when I got a phone, they could plant their wire. By this time even my husband was mad at me, but I didn’t care. The telephone company needed to plant that wire and I wanted a telephone. From my point of view, it was an obvious win-win situation.

Not much time passed before the men returned. For this round, they brought the big shot boss from Salt Lake City. They demanded that I let them bury the wire. I planted my feet, squared my shoulders, faced those men straight on and said, “Not until I get a telephone!” Big Shot Boss then declared, “I have never met such a stubborn woman in all my life! You get your phone.”

And that is how I got my two-party phone line, and how the telephone company got to bury their wire in our row of radishes... 

I encourage you to thoroughly enjoy every "Day in the Laugh of..." moment that comes your way.

(Note: To learn more about the importance of laughter in our lives see chapter 33, "Humor Me," in my book titled Sacred Soul-Space: Making Room in Your Life for What You Have to Offer This World. I know by personal experience even serious issues, such as infertility, can produce laugh out loud moments!)