Old Man Pete didn’t laugh much. He was in a lot of pain, the kind that only whiskey can subdue. When he did laugh though it was intoxicating.
Most of the time when I saw him laugh it would be proceeded by an instant of silence then a smirk or a quick single-burst of laugh followed by smirk or smile. He would turn toward me with extended smile then the laughter would start.
Usually his communication when laughing was a shared conspiracy. “Look at that Kenny. See that?” He would ask. “Isn’t that just a bunch of shit?” Then he would laugh.
The thing about Old Man Pete laughing was that he would begin complimenting the people around him while rebuilding the story, emphasizing the funny part. “That’s the thing I like about you Kenny is that you understand life.” As he talked he would fill me in on his beliefs about life. (suddenly philosophical) I would agree and the compliments would flow. Kevin would chime in or maybe DeWayne and the compliments would shower them as well.
We need another drink Kenny goddammit yer the only person your age who knows how to make a drink. He’d say it just like that with no punctuation.
After a good laugh Pete would fall deeper into philosophical meanderings that would include his time working the troupe trains during WWII or building the great dams on the Northwest Snake River up Washington way. (Properly pronounced Worshington).
Over the years his smile changed more and more as he removed failing teeth. The dentist wasn’t allowed near his mouth, (the greedy bastards) so Dewayne would pull them for 5 bucks apiece.
Once started, the laughter would continue and the whiskey flowed. Often I had to leave because of the inconvenience of having to work but on lucky nights when I could stay, dying brain cells allowed our minds to release custody. Stupor gradually took over and Pete would begin to sing. Bit by bit German became the language and he would sing in an old growly voice and translate the most beautiful love songs. I never knew if he was really singing a song from the past or making it up as he went. Haunting, Beautiful, Hypnotic.
One of my favorite memories of Laughing Pete was a day or so after my youngest son was born. It was a warmer-than- usual day in mid May and the crew was smoking, drinking, telling stories and I grabbed up the newborn for introductions.
I walked into his house without knocking and showed the prize. Brand New Baby. Pete smiled and held out his arms, receiving the results of a 9 month project that started with a card game.
Pete, shirtless as usual on warm days looked at the tiny tyke and began telling those around about his own babies from 60 + years ago when Baby got a hold on his nipple.”Whoa, whoa there, leggo a that”! Pete somehow produce enough skin that Baby was nearly at arm’s length before the seal broke. We all laughed and while Pete was recovering from that strange situation it happened again. “Whoa, whoa there Pardner”!! After popping the kid free the second time Pete handed Little One back to me suggesting that I take him back to mamma.
C’mon back if ya can Kenny and let’s drink to celebrate!