Believe it or not, there was once a time where I was innocent and not so worldly.
My Uncle Herschel had a Radio Room for as long as I can remember. He and the other men in my family would retreat to the Radio Room to talk about manly matters and converse with other radio operators from all over the world.
Sometime after the Iran Hostage Crisis, I noticed that Uncle Herschel had a wooden statue of Ayatollah Khomeini on top of one of his radios. He showed it to my father and he laughed and shook his head, while my Uncle Jimmy threw his head back and howled. I had never thought of the Ayatollah as being particularly funny, so I picked him up and inspected him closely, while the men watched me. Still perplexed, I put the Ayatollah back on the radio.
Mama, Aunt Geraldine, and Aunt Barbara came into the Radio Room a few minutes later, and Uncle Herschel offer it to them. Aunt Barbara rolled her eyes and handed it to Mama, but she said, “I don’t want to touch that thing!” Aunt Geraldine scolded her husband. “Herschel, did you dig that thing out of the trash?”
Then Memaw walked in the Radio Room. She picked up the Ayatollah and peered through her bifocals at him. She cursed and told Uncle Herschel that God was going to get him for keeping something like that.
Again, I picked up the Ayatollah and turned it over and inspected it from every angle, but I could not figure out what was so obviously funny to everyone else. A hush fell upon the room. Finally, Mama told my father, “Ernie, take that thing away from him.” I surrendered the Ayatollah to my father, and asked, “What’s so funny about it?”
Uncle Herschel and Uncle Jimmy snickered. Memaw put her hand on my back and said, “Let’s go have sheet cake, honey.” I was ushered out of the Radio Room and fed dessert. “Make him wash his hands, Mother!” Mama called after Memaw.
I forgot about the Ayatollah Khomeini until last year when I went home for the holidays. We were talking about Uncle Herschel, who had died the year before, and it brought to mind all those memories of time spent in his Radio Room. I recalled how he had tried to teach me Morse Code. (It didn’t take.)
“That reminds me,” I said. “What was so funny about that little wooden statue of the Ayatollah Khomeini that Uncle Herschel had that y’all laughed so much about?”
Mama seemed bewildered at first, then recalled what I was talking about. She shook her head. “It was shaped like a penis.”
I thought back to the li’l Ayatollah; now I could see that his turban did resemble the shape of a glans.
“That’s it? That’s what was so funny about it?”
“Well, I’m sorry to disappoint you.”
“That’s not what I mean,” I said. “The way everyone laughed, I expected it to be something more … sophisticated, not something so pedestrian.”
“If I had known the truth wouldn’t be good enough, I would have tried to think of something more clever.”
I rolled my eyes. “I wonder what happened to it?”
“Memaw put it in a bag of clothes and dropped it off at Goodwill.”
Mama and I stared at each for a moment, then both burst out laughing. We both envisioned some little old lady sorting donated clothing to find a tiny, penis-shaped Ayatollah Khomeini at the bottom of a paper grocery sack.
Now, that was funny!