Growing up in West Point, Mississippi, in the 1950s was a magical time.
One of my favorite non-serious holidays was April 1. Henry Harris, the editor of our local newspaper loved to pull pranks on the community and he usually “got us!”
My favorite was the April 1 headline which read “Jet plane makes emergency landing on West Point High School Football Field.” In those days before “photoshop,” he had somehow managed to superimpose a shot of a jet resting on the 50 yard line. You could even see the concession stand in the background!
By 9 a.m. there was a huge traffic jam on Main Street as everybody in town rushed over to see the spectacle. If they had read the story through, they would have discovered the words “April Fool!” in the last line.
One year the warning read “water shortage in Clay County.” Daddy recalls coming home that evening and finding jars and bottles of water all over the house. Mother was determined we were going to be ready!
In sixteenth-century France, the start of the new year was observed on April first. It was celebrated with parties and dancing into the late hours of the night.
Then in 1562, Pope Gregory introduced a new calendar for the Christian world, and the new year fell on January first. There were some people, however, who hadn’t heard or didn’t believe the change in the date, so they continued to celebrate New Year’s Day on April first. Others played tricks on them and called them “April fools.” They sent them on a “fool’s errand” or tried to make them believe that something false was true.
I try to keep the tradition alive and relished playing tricks on my children. One year I went streaking through the house yelling “It snowed last night!” My boys hauled out of bed like they’d never done before rushed to the window. (Kind of mean, but it got them up and going.)
Most April Fool jokes are in good fun and not meant to harm anyone. The most clever April Fool joke is the one where everyone laughs, especially the person upon whom the joke is played.
My best effort was in 2005. My editor had just purchased a new car. I spotted a wire story about the recall of a new vehicle for serious brake flaws. I ‘doctored’ the story to identify the model of his new car and left it on his desk. When he arrived, he came charging out and went on a rampage through the building. Everyone rolled over in laughter and he looked directly at me.
He knew I’d “Gotten Him.”
“The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year. “ said American humorist Mark Twain. Oh, but wouldn’t be nice if we played the fool only on this one day each year!