Guest Chick: Priscilla Paton

Becky here to welcome the very funny Priscilla Paton to Chicks on the Case for a dose of smiles. My husband was always just a tad leery of my dad too, never really knowing whether he was joking or not, so this post tickled me. I hope it does you too!

That’s Not Funny

The following is my father’s idea of a joke. Imagine yourself in 1970s rural Maine where the paved road stops and the dirt road begins. My farmer father had the face of Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab and the muscles of Alley Oop. He was described that way by a former boyfriend—they all became former boyfriends after meeting my father. He would greet his next victim with, “You found your way here. Can you find your way out?” One intrepid sweetie asked what my father had been doing—“working” came back. A follow-up question—what would he be doing next? “Working.” The twitch of his eye hinted that Daddy was joking, but one person’s humor is another’s devastation. I became lovelorn.

Stealth humor, dry to desiccated humor—I was raised on that. I love a good laugh provided it doesn’t have to be out loud. Detective Erik Jansson in my Twin Cities Mysteries has that kind of stoic humor, and his partner, Detective Deb Metzger, is never sure how to take him. When asked why, given his Scandinavian heritage, he is not blond, he muses that his great-great-grandmother “may have behaved badly” on the ship coming over. When pressed about his wholesome upbringing by preachers and teachers, he admits that “surrounded by goodness” he ran to crime.

Deb Metzger, on the other hand, holds nothing back. She introduces herself as “6’2” and lesbian. What could be scarier?” and an evaluator called her “Strong Vinegar looking for a Pickle.” She wears Wonder Woman pajamas and Muppet socks. She is also fierce in defense of the marginalized and believes she should receive “hazard pay” for working with inscrutable Erik, but they’re stuck together like gum to a shoe. That, forgive me, makes them “gumshoes.”

When the House Burns, about sex, death, and real estate, begins darkly: “The only forever home is death.” Then the scene zeroes in on Deb staring at the spot on a condo floor where a body outline had been: “That’s what made this condo unit cheap and available, the sudden death discount.” The demise of the unit’s previous owner is not henceforward treated with high seriousness. But there will be a death that unhinges many, as well as homelessness, arson, and assaults.

Sticking humor to serious is a challenge. Take that noir classic Hamlet as a “tragical-comical” example. Shakespeare’s investigator is damaged goods with plenty of snark, his girlfriend seems untrustworthy, the informant can’t appear in court because he’s been ghosted, and the villain is a seductive conman. Not only is the Father-King dead, so is the stand-up comedian, Yorick, but the sleuth-prince makes digs at other characters, especially the fall guy, Polonius, and gravediggers quip over the coverup of Ophelia’s suicide. Like cross-examiners, they ask, “How can that be, unless she drowned herself in her own defence?” The ending, however, sucks, so many shuffling off their mortal coil.

Death is not funny. Unless you can take it that way without deep harm to empathy; cozy and traditional murder mysteries are strong with fellow feeling. If life can be absurd, so can death. Poet Robert Frost profoundly confronted death in many poems but also took it this way: “Forgive, O Lord, my little jokes on Thee / And I’ll forgive Thy great big one on me.” Back to When The House Burns, a sexy widow laments to Erik that the manner of her husband’s death was “silly.” He echoes her feeling in recounting his grandfather’s death. Despite warnings, his grandfather climbed onto a roof for the view and suffered a fatal fall. Erik’s consolation: Grandpa Elmer died doing what he loved most, ignoring everyone’s advice.

Humor like suspense is about timing, surprise, and pushing the limits of outrageousness, but you must also dope out when not to make a joke. My husband when not yet my husband survived encounters with my father by not taking him too seriously. Though guilty of bad punning, my husband knew when not to joke. It’s when the automatic manure remover in the dairy barn breaks down. My father and husband-to-be worked on opposite sides of a manure spreader, each armed with a pitchfork for pitching in the stinking waste. Not the time to toss a forkful at someone for fun, not the time for a sh*tty prank. (I caught the bad pun thing from my husband.) There was nothing fun in that Herculean labor.

Except it makes for a funny story now.

Readers … do you have any funny stories about your dad or someplace you’ve lived or using a pitchfork?

Priscilla Paton lives in Minnesota and writes the Twin Cities Mystery Series (Coffeetown Press) featuring Detectives Deb Metzger and Erik Jansson. The first two in the series, Where Privacy Dies and Should Grace Fail, were finalists for a Foreword Indies Book Award. The third, When The House Burns, will be released in February 2023.

18 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Priscilla Paton

  1. My Dad grew up on a farm in CT. The family was of strict Puritan descent. The farm life was not for my dad who went off to college to get a degree in accounting and had a weekend job as church organist. He was serious, but would sit at night and laugh out loud to himself reading the Laughter is the Best Medicine section of the Reader’s Digest, then jump up, run into the kitchen and read it all to the rest of us as we were clearing up after dinner. When he got together with his best friend, the two of them threw puns back and forth at each other, and then would become characters from old radio shows. The lesson I learned from him was that life should be taken seriously, BUT it doesn’t hurt to lighten up and enjoy it as well.
    I can’t wait to read your new book!

    Liked by 3 people

  2. My father is the king of “dad-jokes” and weird trivia. My friends loved him.

    The Hubby has intimidated pretty much all my kids’ friends and every boyfriend The Girl ever had, except for the current one. The Hubby doesn’t think of himself as intimidating, but I think it’s that “former Army officer” attitude he sometimes has.

    Liked by 4 people

  3. My dad was stationed in a ship in the Pacific during World War II. When I was a kid, he would tell me that they had a basketball court on the ship and when he timed things right, he could dunk the ball. I thought that was cool. The he said that the timing involved waiting until after the ship crested a wave. He jumped up as the ship went down and, taking advantage of the shorter than usual distance, slammed the ball through the hoop!
    To this day, I think he was pulling my leg, but it made for a fun story.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. Priscilla, awesome post! Your series sounds amazing — just added to my Must Reads. (Also, I visited your author website, and I love your photo!) My dad had a lot of good friends and went on a lot of fishing trips, and I suspect he shared jokes with others that were not directly heard by me, my sister, or my mom. This is a little thing, but whenever he saw an older gentleman with a jaunty scarf zipping around in a sportscar with the top down, weaving in and out of traffic or blowing past everyone on the Merritt Parkway, he’d mutter, “Old sport, new car.” It never fails to make me smile when I spot these guys.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. As someone whose sense of humor doesn’t always translate to those who don’t know me, I get it. I need to remember that a bit more than I do. But the jokes usually pop out without me even thinking about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Priscilla, your dad sounds great! My dad was a Mad Man in New York. As the city kid of a city kid, I can guarantee you I’ve never touched a pitchfork. I don’t think I’ve even ever seen one in person.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. My dad’s sense of humor leaned heavily to sarcasm, which we kids were leery about growing up, as we didn’t always get the joke. But I thank him for passing on that wonderful “snark” gene to me; it’s helped me countless times to get through difficult situations.

    As for farm tools, my favorite story is how my stand-partner/fellow alto in chorus used to muse that it would be oh, so much more appropriate for the devices we used to provide us with the correct pitch for A440 to be called “pitchforks,” rather than tuning forks.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I’m late chiming in, but you had me in stiches, Priscilla. (The good kind!)

    My dad is like an M&M: hard outer shell but sweet inside. Unfortunately, it was rare for a suiter to make it past the sarcasm-laden shell!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s