Being the 11th in a miscellany of short posts to mark the 12 days of Christmas.
Moving with all the assurance of successful middle age, he walks to the front of the church and sits in the first pew. The rest of the congregation is well back: as usual on a Sunday morning, the rows have filled from the back forward. Sunday after Sunday, he and his wife are all by themselves, rows ahead of anyone else.
This Sunday morning in the mid-1940s, though, is different. The group making its way to the front includes a younger couple: visiting family, which pretty much everyone in this small Southern Alberta community could have guessed, going by the physical resemblance between the two men. But ‘resembling’ is not ‘being the same as’, and at least one key difference is obvious: the young man seems uncomfortable in the front pew. As he rustles around, flipping through the bulletin and looking at the hymnal, he looks over his shoulder a few times at the distant fellow-congregants, and then looks over at the man who has put him in this position: his cousin, older by almost a generation. The young man’s puzzlement at the seating choice is evident, if unspoken. What? comes the entirely spoken response. You’d pay good money for these seats anywhere else.
Ah, the Scots! Even the watered-down Canadian versions used to have a reputation for, oh, let’s call it ‘thriftiness’. And what could be thriftier than seeing value in something others actively avoid? But these days, Scots don’t even rate a mention in the stand-up comedy universe, at least not where cheapness, er, thriftiness, is concerned.
Riffing cleverly on the relative thriftiness of different visible minorities, Russell Peters claims ‘cheapest’ status for his own ethnic group, East Indians. The Chinese? Forget it, he says! Jews? We’ll give you third spot, just to keep you in the game! His depiction of a mythical East Indian’s tearful first encounter with the concept of zero — It’s beautiful! — brings his audience, including the East Indian members thereof, to tears of laughter in their own turn.
As a person of colour, Peters gets a pass from the stifling political correctness that afflicts our interactions these days. He laughs at his own group, he laughs at others, and we laugh along with him. Rude? Sometimes. Funny? Always. Malicious? Never.
Now me, I’m not your typical thrifty Scot, no siree. Although sometimes, when I stoop to pick up a penny from the sidewalk, or reach for the no-name package of rice crackers just because it’s a few pennies less than the name-brand, I hear the voice of that long-gone first-cousin-once-removed (a one-L Russel, oddly enough) in my head. You’d pay good money for these seats anywhere else. If we want a more tolerant world, knowing and laughing at our own foibles is a good place to start.