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The healing power of marital humor

I have been writing this column for roughly 20 years and have, no doubt, written several times about the healing power of laughter. Today’s submission carries that theme but is more personal.

My husband of over three decades is Howard Johnson. He is not “the” Howard Johnson whose name is emblazoned across aging motels all over the Eastern seaboard. However, he does have a repertoire of responses to questions like, “Are you the real Howard Johnson?” His usual response: “Yes, last time I looked in a mirror.”

Howard has a quirky sense of humor. I have heard people say, “That guy is really witty.” If you’re named after a motel, you have to be quick on the uptake.

Howard’s humor is sardonic and tuned to the times. I don’t always “get it.” But I do “get’ that he is confronting major health issues and his humor keeps him centered.

This past week we were discussing the Olympic games in Tokyo, and he commented on some of the events like rock climbing, “street” skateboarding and table tennis. His observation — without in any way disparaging the participants in these events — was, “Where do you stop?”

Let me make a slight digression for the sake of context. In 1984 Howard had long-held tickets to the track-and-field events at the Olympic games in Los Angeles, which he said cost him “a week’s salary.” Instead of attending, he put his two young children on a train, and they all traveled across five states to get married — to me, and my 11-year-old daughter. The five of us honeymooned in Howard Johnson motels with swimming pools where we played highly competitive water games like Marco Polo.

Howard and I had met three years earlier at a mid-career executive development summer program at Cornell University. Howard stood out both for his insightful questions and his humor. One exercise involved identifying how to promote an East Coast bank moving into the California market. In front of the class of 150 people, Howard did a simulated TV ad in which he stripped down to a bathing suit and sunglasses to promote the bank. It was really funny. Everyone was laughing, and I was smitten.

Back to the Olympics. As my wry husband pondered the new events at the 2021 Olympics, he came up with some new possibilities. “Tiddlywinks, horseshoes, pea shooting, lawn darts — no scratch that, too dangerous.” You get the idea.

What he was really doing was using humor to object to the seeming onslaught of new Olympic events that result in more commercials and expanded profit for organizers. He also noted that TV viewership was down. “Maybe because the Norwegian women’s beach volleyball team refused to wear bikini bottoms.”

Howard’s humor and quick wit has long been a part of our marriage. Sometimes it has definite advantage. When we are told to wait for a table in a restaurant and they ask for a name, he uses “George Clooney.”

Sharon and Howard Johnson have three children and seven grandchildren, all of whom have a well-developed sense of humor. Reach them at sharjohn99@gmail.com or Howard@fishbiz.com.