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By Sheila Zanghi
contributing writer 

The joy of the tease


November 11, 2023

Sheila Zanghi.

I confess that when I was young, I was not able to hide my joy at discovering a person who was gullible. Gullible means someone is easily persuaded to believe, and belief is a crucial element when teasing. If someone isn't gullible teasing is ineffective.

I also believe being gullible is a matter of how skeptical you are and how much of an authority you think the perpetrator of the action is. It is also a matter of how much teasing takes place in a family. I know my family teased us from an early age, not only my immediate family but our huge extended family. Teasing, joking and laughter were a fundamental part of our family. I was reminded of our habit of teasing when I was scrolling through Facebook. A posting reminded me of my most gullible friend, Joan, who has been a best friend since high school.

I enjoyed teasing people with fantastic tales and "alternative facts." But I did have a rule that if questioned I had to tell the truth. My family teased each other mercilessly but that made us less gullible. If you are trained from early years to be skeptical you don't immediately fall for any but the most skillful and convincing tease. Joan was gullible, having come from a very serious non-teasing family. I would tell her something outrageous and she would be gobsmacked. However, when she asked, "Really?" I would have to immediately tell her the truth. A Facebook posting reminded me of an incident from years ago.

Once Joan came over and she remarked on a plant we had hanging on the wall. She asked what it was, and I told her it was an air fern. She wasn't going to be fooled. She asked, "What is it really?" I said, "It is an air fern." She was upset because she thought I was teasing her. I insisted the actual name was air fern. I told her to go to any nursery and ask for an air fern and this is what they would give her. Joan, very upset by now, said, "That's like going to the grocery store and asking for a can of dehydrated water!" Guess what I saw on Facebook? A can of dehydrated water with the instructions saying, "Pour the contents of this can into an eight-cup container, add eight cups of water and enjoy."

The fact that my family teased one another was something most people didn't know, especially my husband, Don. When we first married Don thought my mom was kind and sweet which she was, but she loved to tease. When we bought our first house it had a distressed and strange looking tree that resembled a Charlie Brown Christmas tree except this ailing tree had little orange fruit, smaller than mandarin oranges, on its spindly limbs. Mom took one of the oranges, opened it and ate a piece and said, "Oh, this is good." Don took one off the tree, opened it and popped the whole thing in his mouth and got teary-eyed from how sour it was. Mom agreed it was a bit sour, but she said with proper care it should become sweet. Don fed, watered and cared for the tree. Flash forward to a year later and the same tree. Mom took an orange off the tree, opened and ate a piece, and said it had gotten sweet over the year. Don was skeptical so mom gave me a piece to try. I ate it and feigned delight and Don again grabbed an orange, peeled it and popped it into his mouth. Again, the agony of extreme sourness hit him. The next morning Don not only chopped the tree down he even cut it into small pieces. Don couldn't believe my sweet mom had conned him so thoroughly.

My mom's cousin and best friend, Vivian, were two months apart in age. They were very close but Vivian, unlike most of the family, was very gullible and that had delighted Mom for years. I remember and still marvel over the most gullible moment I have ever seen in my life. Mom and I had been making drapes and we used impressive six-inch-long safety pins for the project. One had been lying on the table when Vivian and her family came over. As we visited and joked around my mom suddenly picked up the six-inch safety pin, brought it quickly up to Vivian's eyes, and said, "Look. I swallowed this!" Vivian, eyes wide, believing it completely, said, "You did???" She was impressed. Silence fell on our group as we digested the way Vivian believed Mom's crazy statement. Finally, realizing her error, Vivian said, "Oh, you" which made us burst into gales of laughter.

I remember these moments with fondness. Sometimes I find myself laughing out loud at some of the crazy moments where the gullible met the teaser and that resulted in fun and laughter. We also knew who we could tease and who we couldn't. Teasing was a tradition and a skill of our family that was never done out of meanness or to make anyone feel bad. In fact, we relished the joy of the tease.


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