"A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones." (Proverbs 17:22)
My father, Eugene A. "Gene" Baril passed away in 2000. He'd be over
ninety years old if he were living today. Dad was a very complicated
guy. He spent many years in law enforcement, starting as a Boston
Police officer in the early 1950s and retiring as a Supervisor at the
Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles in the early 1980s. Dad was a
very strict father, a perfectionist, and had a very serious side.
Nevertheless, there was also a side of Gene Baril that was hysterically
funny. He had a magnificent sense of humor, was a good storyteller, and
sometimes would be struck funny by some of the most unlikely of life's
incidents which would render him helplessly laughing with seemingly no
ability to stop laughing- almost to the point of crying! This story
from his youth vividly illustrates his "funny side":
Somewhere around 1940 when my father was in his late teens, he had to
pose for a very important portrait. I've wondered if this was for his
high school yearbook photo, but I honestly don't think that's what it was. I do remember that it was a very important portrait and that it had to
be taken at a specific photography studio somewhere in the city of
Boston. Dad told this story a few times, and I've even heard my mother
tell an abbreviated version of the story (although my mother was
generally not one you'd consider to be a captivating storyteller).
Despite the many times I've heard the story, there are some key details
I'd love to know, and I'm not sure why I never asked for more details.
Now that my parents have each passed on, I'll have to present what I do
know of this tale. My father went by himself to the photography
studio. The photographer was an older man; perhaps he was in his
sixties as I am today. I know he was of foreign origin; having come to America from eastern Europe. I picture the studio as old.
I picture it as rather dark and a bit imposing. I can imagine the
smells of developing fluids in the place; not overwhelming smells, but
just enough odor that you know you were in a place where developing
chemicals were used. I picture the camera and other equipment as old;
perhaps dating from the 1900s or 1910s. I imagine the chairs, stools,
and other furniture as old, also.
It's not difficult to imagine how a young man in his late teens would
feel upon entering such an establishment and meeting an older guy who
was culturally eastern European. At that young
age, you just kind of want to take care of business as quickly as
possible and quickly get out of there! I can imagine the photographer
sitting my father on a stool, and manipulating the positioning of his
hands and his legs and his head, and even adjusting his tie and his suit
Now, in order to really appreciate what my father heard that day,
I want you to think of the word "give"; but I want you to think of the
word "give" being mispronounced. Think of "give" sounding as if it
could rhyme with the word "heave". That word would sound like "geave".
Even so, "geave" is not quite right. It needs to have a little more of an "f" sound and a little less of a "v" sound; maybe like "geafvfe". Yes, I think that's perfect.
There was my Dad, in his late teens, in that dark old photography studio
sitting on that old stool looking at that old camera and at the old
ethnic man operating the camera. There was my Dad feeling so awkward
and uncomfortable and just wanting to get out of there. There was my
Dad thinking, "I just want to get out of here. If this doesn't get over
with fast, I'm liable to burst out laughing." It got very quiet. It
got very tense. Fifteen seconds suddenly felt like fifteen hours.
Then, a stark breaking of the silence as my father heard the following from the photographer:
"Now, geafvfe a little smile."
That was all it took!
Out of my father's belly erupted instant hysterical laughter! Have you
ever seen the episode of The Three Stooges where they're under the
influence of laughing gas? Well, I imagine it was like that. Dad
laughed hysterically and uncontrollably. He couldn't possibly pose for a
photograph to be taken! He laughed and laughed and laughed and
laughed- harder, and harder, and harder, and harder! He laughed until
he was almost crying! He laughed until he had almost lost all bodily
control! He laughed on and on and on and on! His laughing just did not
Dad got up (laughing) and staggered out of that photography studio! There was no way that photo was going to be taken that day!
But, now Dad was facing a real problem. He had to have that
picture taken. It was very important. I'm not sure how many times he
may have tried to go back to the studio and have the picture taken.
Somehow I can picture him walking there only to put his hand on the
exterior door, burst out laughing, and be unable to enter the place!
Eventually, however, he did go back. He walked into the studio.
He exercised agonizing discipline to keep from laughing or feeling
silly at all. I know that as an adult, my father would think of dead
loved ones to try to keep from laughing in certain situations. Dad
managed to speak to the photographer, to get back onto the stool, to go
through all the preparations, to come to the fifteen seconds that seemed
like fifteen hours again. Everything was done all over again.
Amazingly, the photographer had not recognized him and was not aware that this was the young man who'd had a hysterical meltdown in the studio.
Following the fifteen seconds and the tension, the words were spoken:
"Now, geafvfe a little smile."
It happened again! Yes, it happened all over again! The instant, hysterical, uncontrollable laughter, again!
"You!" the angry and bewildered photographer yelled, "You! YOU!!"
I don't know why, but several weeks ago, I thought of that story,
completely "out of the blue" as it were! And as I thought of the
"Now, geafvfe a little smile."
a big smile formed on my face and I began to chuckle!
I honestly don't know if that photograph ever got taken! Somehow, I don't think it did! If it did, it had to have been done by another photographer.
I've not only inherited my father's talent for storytelling and his
tendency to laugh hysterically at the most inappropriate times, but I've
also inherited my mother's tendency toward deep depression and
hopelessness. I've walked through many low moments over the past few
years. I've got to tell you, thinking of that story and having that
smile form and the happy chuckling that followed sure felt good! It's
ironic that an incident from over seventy years ago would bring such a
smile and feeling of happiness to me. It's especially ironic that it
came after I mentally heard the words
"Now, geafvfe a little smile."!
The memory of this story came to me seemingly "out of nowhere". Our
Lord knows that "a merry heart does good like a medicine" as His Word
proclaims! I choose to believe that God brought this back to my
memory to bring me a laugh and to brighten my day! I know most who
read this piece will have never known my father, but I hope as you
picture that nervous teenage boy and his fits of uncontrollable laughter
that you'll also at the very least "geafvfe a little smile!".
P.S. There are very few photos of my father that can be found on-line, but at the Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles website is an article about the early history of license plates in the state. At the link below is that article which incluces a photo of my father taken around 1980 when he was in his late fifties. He's on the left in the photo holding the first Massachusetts license plate and on the right is plate collector Stu Berg holding the state's first Dealer plate.