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Imagine that a family’s life is a tree with lots of branches extending from its trunk. Some of the branches on the tree I’ve been growing with my husband and son include “Trips,” “Celebrations,” “Friends,” “Music,” “Dreams”. . .

Another big branch of our tree is “Pranks.” That limb is stout and healthy, with lots of low-hanging fruit, year around. The sort of pranks the three of us play on each other has changed over time, as has the frequency. But we still have plenty to go around.

Few of our pranks have ever occurred on April Fool’s Day. They tend to be random. While many are clever, most are just plain silly. None of them are mean. They make you feel more cared for, not less.

In short, within our family, to prank someone is a show of affection, an expression of love. And to get pranked is a sweet badge of honor.

The more loving a family is, the less guarded its members are, and therefore the more vulnerable they are to falling victim to practical jokes.

As a prankster, I depend upon that.

* * *

Naturally there had to be a prank on May 21, 1994, the day I married Jihong. To bring off the prank at our wedding reception, I needed accomplices—like, at least a hundred of them.

First, I needed someone who could translate into Chinese the lyrics of a short “wedding round” I’d composed (see above). This would be for the benefit of the Chinese speakers in attendance—Jihong’s parents, most especially.

Next, I needed both a piano player and a director who could quickly teach the song to all the guests.

Finally, I needed lots of lovely people to sing the song, with gusto, in an impromptu performance.

Happily, I had accomplices to spare.

* * *

Toward the end of our reception, Jihong and I slipped away to swap our wedding attire for traveling clothes, preparing to leave for a two-day honeymoon. The moment we disappeared from the banquet hall, my dear friend Russ Willeke set my prank in motion.

Russ had been my band instructor throughout my school years. Now in his late seventies, his voice was still a strong baritone. He distributed copies of the song to the guests, informed them of the plan, and began to rehearse them, assisted by another friend of mine, a magician at the piano.

About ten minutes later, Jihong and I returned to the hall. As we entered the doors, the crowd erupted into song. Russ led one side of the room in the round, then brought in the other side:

Water flows freely and freely we give
faith, hope, and love that together we might live
Just as the sun will shine on our days to come
love sheds its light upon our way today

On and on the people sang, cycling through the round, the music picking up steam as they gained confidence in their own singing and in one another.

I wish you could have seen the stupefied look on Jihong’s face, and his eyes, filling with tears. I wish you could have felt the ballooning of joy in that room.

When Russ finally drew the round to a close, I cheered and applauded my throng of accomplices, beyond thrilled at how well they had carried off the prank. I knew that Jihong and I would never forget it.

* * *

What happened next wasn’t part of my plan.

My introverted scientist-husband grabbed the microphone. He told the hushed crowd that he had to respond somehow to the gift they’d just given him.

He announced that he’d written a poem to share with me on our honeymoon. “But now,” he said, “would be a better time.”

In front of all those people, choked with emotion, he fished the words of the poem from his memory. He recited them to me first in Chinese, then in English. It felt as if the voices of our now silent guests were joining with his own:

Such is the generative power of a loving prank. It can open the way for the communication of even more love, as heartfelt as a poem, as serious as a vow.

Phyllis Cole-Dai

Phyllis Cole-Dai has authored or edited eleven books in multiple genres, including historical fiction, spiritual nonfiction and poetry. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota, USA.

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