The first time I was ever boo’ed off a stage was at Christmas in the 7th grade, a week after my grandparents’ golden wedding anniversary, so all my aunts and uncles and cousins from all over the world were in our living room in Pleasanton, sitting in fold out chairs near the fireplace, away, too bad for them, from any possible exit so they were trapped, forced to listen to my one-girl puppet show. The puppet stage was crafted by my Boppy, a gift for Maggy and me, and the puppet was a stuffed elephant hand made by my Gramma for Maggy, but she wisely suffered from stage fright. My unrehearsed material was taken directly from The World’s Worst Elephant Jokes, which had been a gift, just a few hours earlier, from my Boppy.
That this gift was bestowed up on me and that I had access to this beautifully crafted hand-made stringed puppet elephant was a coincidence. My Boppy swore it, as he was now the object of blame and scorn from the others in the trapped audience of thirty cornered in our living room.
“Did you have to give her that, Gib?” “Jesus, who started this?” “Make her stop, make her stop!”
I remember unwrapping the gift, sitting on the floor near the Christmas tree, peering down at this small, green paperback book in my hands. It cost $1.50 in 1981. I’m sure it is more expensive now. There was a great commotion in the living room as you might expect from descendents of Irish and Germans, and, as it so happens, most everyone on my mother’s side of the family fancies him or herself as being smart and important and so there was much noise bouncing off the walls in our house. It was difficult for a 12-year old to be noticed.
“What is this, Boppy?” I asked. Boppy was sitting on the couch with his gin and tonic in one hand, cigar in the other. Amidst all the noise and hullabaloo, I had his undivided attention.
“Try it out,” he said. His blue eyes sparkled.
I tapped Aunt Mary’s shoulder to interrupt her deep conversation with Uncle Robert. “Hey, Aunt Mary. How do you get an elephant out of a tub of gelatin?”
“Hmmm. Beats me.”
“Follow the directions on the back of the box.”
“Oh my God,” she said, but it was how she said it that carried the impact. Uncle Robert smiled nervously. Aunt Mary could have been punched in the stomach.
“What is it, Katie?”
“Why do elephants eat peanuts?”
“Oh, that’s a good question! Why?”
“Because they’re saltier than prunes.”
This was an evolved and selfish humor for me. While my audience might not have appreciated the material, their stunned, silent reactions left me in hysterics.
After dinner, and before anyone could guess my intentions, I announced the Katie Kelly Puppet Show. As my family is artistic and creative, of course they would want to support me in my theatrical endeavors. It was not difficult to move them into place.
The boos came swiftly, but I performed the whole book, channeling the spirit of an elephant comedian. I will never forget the euphoria.
This book fell out of a pile of papers when I was cleaning the other day. I wondered what had happened to it. It is held together with yellow masking tape, now turned brown. Inside the front cover it says, in my 12-year-old penmanship, “Katie Kelly is the proud owner if this great piece of literature. Whoever is holding it has probably stolen it so GIVE IT BACK NOW.
I’ve always felt like Boppy was one of the few people who understood me.