The word that got her was “sandpaper.”
There was nothing funny about the three syllables in and of themselves, nor did they have any hidden meaning or ironic subtext. No, the reason she laughed (with tears gushing and everything) was because all seven of us said the word simultaneously for no apparent reason while staring right at her. Cousin #4 flinched at our voices washing over her, then busted out in stuttering giggles.
As we explained to her later, I had made a bet with the other cousins that her default setting was to laugh. Cousin #4’s natural effervescence compelled her to smile at anyone who wasn’t actively furious (and few people are in her presence). So I suggested testing the thesis by saying, “sandpaper” at her and seeing if she laughed. She did, of course, but that may have been because we were so flash-mob choreographed about it.
I had first witnessed her tendency to be joyful on the day I met her, when she was a small child. She and her brothers (Cousins #2 and #6) were coming to America after the death of their father (Uncle #1). I sat next to her on the plane, vainly trying to answer her questions about the United States. She spoke only Spanish at that point, and my grasp of the language was abysmal. Furthermore, I was a teenager, and so prone to dismissing people with a curt snap, especially little kids who asked a million questions.
I wanted her to go to sleep and leave me alone, but conjugating verbs was beyond me, so I just said, “Sueno!” at her (which means “I sleep!”). Cousin #4 looked at me in confusion for a second, then laughed so hard that our fellow passengers wanted to know what was so funny. At regular intervals for the rest of the trip, she tapped me on the elbow, got close to my face, and shouted, “Sueno!” Then she laughed and laughed.
Her cheerful demeanor has carried over into adulthood, but this doesn’t mean that she goes through life giggling or is incapable of dealing with adversity. Indeed, as a child she had to deal with the murder of her father and assimilating to a new country, challenges that few of us will ever face. As an adult, she has raised two daughters, one of whom has special needs. Her marriage is currently under attack by the U.S. government, which is a long story and the subject of another post. It’s doubtful that anyone could be nonstop happy-go-lucky through all that.
Still, every time I see her, she maintains her composure and optimism. She relies upon her faith (maintaining ties to our childhood Catholicism) to get through these horrific times in which we live. And perhaps most impressive, she is still able to laugh.