Janet Hommel Mangas: Celebrating the laughter

I cannot recall my first incidence of laughter or who initiated it — but I can assume it was my father, mother or two older sisters Leta or Debbie.

Although in all possibility I imagine it could have been during Sunday supper at the Hommel Farm or during an August Hommel reunion at Province Park in Franklin, laying in one of my parent’s arms when one of my hilarious aunts or uncles walked by, making a funny face or squeaky noise to welcome me into the family.

Recording my first laugh was not something my mom and dad wrote down — not with seven kids to keep alive.

I was thinking about laughter after my 3-month-old grandson John Steven and I locked eyes and entertained each other with joyful sounds of amusement. John has been smiling since he was six weeks old (through it could’ve been gas.) Sometimes when I’m bottle-feeding him, he stops for a moment as we lock eyes, and just smiles behind the bottle. It brings back heart-felt memories of my infant daughters doing the same when I nursed them more than 26 years ago.

I began to read up on laughter when the hubby captured a few moments of John and I locking eyes. After I shared some silly words like “whoopsie-doopsie,” John reacted with explosive infectious baby laughter which continued for minutes. Soon thereafter I reread that amongst Navajo people, there is a first laugh ceremony — a tradition that has been passed through many generations.

It is said that when the baby feels comfortable with his or her family, the baby will laugh — and there is a sort of competition of who makes the baby laugh. Whoever makes the baby laugh first throws the ceremony celebrating the child growing up and living a happy life and adopting the virtues of generosity and gratitude.

What a grand idea for a celebration.

In case you were wondering, as a Christian grandmother, John Steven and I pray together but I’m especially proud to share that I have been teaching him another language in case he gets kidnapped by a gang of puppies. Since my grandson has been about six weeks old, for some reason that I cannot explain, I’ve been asking him, “What does the fox and the hound-dog say?” After asking him, I answer my own question: “Aah-WOOOO.” Yes, that’s from the 1981 Disney film “The Fox and the Hound;” that’s what Todd, the hound puppy, says he’s supposed to do when he’s done tracking and he just met Copper, the baby Fox.

My bilingual grandson has been pursing his lips and attempting to imitate my “Aah-WOOOO” for the last month — sometimes more successfully than others. But last Monday, as we sat down in our usual comfy hunter-green leather chair to take a bottle, he surprised me first with a perfectly spoken: “Aah-WOOOO!”

John Steven made me laugh — it’s time for another celebration!