My father’s wigs were a sort of shorthand for his sense of humor, and one of the ways he poked fun at himself. The summer after my freshman year in college, I went home to Connecticutto work in my parents’ retail lumberyard. Several of my friends were also back in town, and I invited them over for brunch with my family.
“Hi Bones! Hi Stretch!” Dad greeted each of them at the door, using nicknames he had given them over the years. “How do you like Providence College? What are you up to this summer?” He didn’t say anything about his dark sunglasses or the ill-fitting black wig that covered his mostly bald head, so neither did they.
Over drinks on the back deck, there was still no mention of my father’s appearance. He came out and poured himself a mimosa. My guests were trying not to stare; I was trying not to giggle. “Do you like my new get-up?” he asked my friend Liz. “Uh – it’s great,” she replied. He laughed so hard he almost spit out his drink. “I’ll bet you thought I was having a midlife crisis…”
Dad’s quirky sense of humor made our lives interesting. One minute he would be talking with me about interest rates and measures of money supply, the next minute prancing down the stairs in my mother’s bathrobe and another wig.
His wigs were always perched on the front of his head, where researchers say the frontal lobes of the brain pull together signals from other parts of the brain to process and react to humor. Are our personalities really just electrical signals in our brains? And did the persistence of some of Dad’s sense of humor contain clues about the underlying causes of his dementia?