You know the kind of stories that reduce you to a senseless mass of convulsive laughter, where you involuntarily blurt out laughs like coughs, where your eyes stream with tears and you can’t speak? And just when you stop, you make eye contact with another person who also got the joke and start all over again?
Those were the kind of fits to which my family would routinely be reduced when told stories about my grandmother Meany’s party pranks. Though she grew up in a wealthy household, Marie Elise (1908-1984), the eldest daughter of Julius Kruttschnitt, Jr., and Marie Rose Pickering, didn’t much care for pretension.
So when she and her husband Bill were invited to a dinner party, and told that a very important unidentified guest would be joining the party during the evening, she couldn’t help herself. She convinced her gardener to dress as a Japanese army general and brought him to the party as a guest. A seamstress, Meany kept costumes in her legendary attic of wonders.
The gardener somehow slipped through the introductions–people in Westchester County, N.Y., were used to having important visitors. But by the time the guests had gathered around the dinner table, most had recognized the general as an imposter. But by then it was too late for the stuck-up hosts to say anything. Besides, they were waiting on their important guest. All pretense was lost when the alleged officer ate with his hands rather than the fine silver that was provided.
Another time, Meany and other dinner guests were asked to leave a party early because the hosts were expecting an important call from overseas. This didn’t sit well with Meany, who convinced several guests to retire to her house, where they staged the ultimate prank call. It helped that one friend had been stationed in Japan during the war and another friend had lived in France. They hatched a plan.
The pranksters took their stations at phones throughout the house and called their dinner hosts. One caller posing as an operator told the hosts that they were about to receive an important call from overseas. As the hosts held the line, the call was presumably routed to France with the appropriate static, where an operator spoke some unintelligible French and relayed it to Japan. Then the call inexplicably failed.
The diminutive Meany tortured those same stuck-up neighbors one Halloween night by dressing up as a trick-or-treater. Only after the neighbors had grudgingly given the late-arriving, seemingly older guest candy, and closed the door, did they realize who had actually been at their door. The families didn’t talk much after that.
Meany’s brothers, Julius and Ernest, were just as funny. When my parents, Boyce Thompson and Marie Patricia Simmers, were married in 1954, Meany and Julius went to the train station dressed as peasants to meet their sister, Babs, who had remarried in the early 1950s. Her new husband, Robert Manss, hadn’t met any of her relatives. When he disembarked, he was greeted by Julius wearing an outfit with yellow fins sticking out behind.