The Fullest Cup

For most of my childhood years, this was one of those embarrassing stories that my mom would share with our dinner guests when she wanted to make them laugh.

She had a particular way of telling stories – she exaggerated and cursed and made you feel like you really missed out if you weren’t there…and then she’d slam the punch line with a laugh that was louder than everyone in the room.

I had heard this story in Mom’s voice so many times, I had almost lost my own memory of it. But, as it turns out, I am my mother’s daughter – a storyteller, a writer, and very much a laugh-er.

So, for now, I invite you to pretend you are my dinner guest. And I desperately need to make you laugh today . . . .

Every child loves a day at the fair, right? I’m sure, if you try, you can conjure up a specific memory from your adolescence – the smell of fried dough and powdered sugar traveling alongside you as you peruse the grand aisles of amusements, the triumph of winning that impossible toy with a dart toss, the thrill of seeing daylight through a spinning tunnel as you emerge from that fearsome house of mirrors, that inimitable glow that surrounds you as you glide into your quiet car after hours of having your senses submerged in lights and sounds. 

If I’m being honest, I don’t really remember experiencing that kind of fair day until I was well into my twenties. In my younger years, family trips to the fair felt more like an obligation. We spent the majority of our fair time scoping out and showing off livestock for our farm. It wasn’t an option to purchase an entire day of amusement and treats for six children, so we would find clever ways to amuse ourselves, playing amongst the aisles of the stock barns or roaming the fairgrounds in between contests. My earliest memory of our frugal fair-going fun goes back to the Sacopee Valley fair, when I couldn’t have been older than six . . . 

My mom was casually browsing the market booths, while constantly corralling our curious hands away from all of the shiny attractions. I remember hearing her gasp loudly as we approached a picturesque canopy tent, complete with a stage, folding chairs, and crescent flag banners. 

Her eyes widened high as she looked at me, “Ohhh, Sarah! THIS is for YOU!” and reached confidently for the clipboard to sign me up. I was too young to read the banner at the entry table, so I had to trust the look on her face – which made me feel the kind of enthusiasm any kid would have if they were about to walk a tight rope above a pool of chocolate pudding.

In a matter of minutes, I learned that she had entered me into…a laughing contest. Which, as I understood, went through a line of contestants with a microphone and judged small children for their unique style of laughter during a duration of one minute. Inevitably, one shining star would be awarded a grand prize for being a champion at small-child laughter. (This is….totally normal, right?) 

I should go ahead and mention: at that time in my life, I specifically recall having a laugh that was…uncontrollable. My parents always drew attention to it, my siblings constantly took advantage of it, because they knew: when I fell into a laughing fit, it was ugly but funny, annoying but mesmerizing, the kind of ordeal that could almost nauseate you, if you could just look away. The snorting, the snotting, the hiccupping, the wailing, the peeing, the crying, it was all just…a part of me. I simply could not contain it, especially when I tried.

But, it turns out, it was also something I loved about me. And Mom knew that. So, naturally, she didn’t even ask me if I wanted to do it. She just knew I was going to get up there and steal the show. I looked at that stage and saw at least 10 other contestants preparing. (Of course. Who doesn’t think their kid has the best laugh!?)  

We signed up late, so I was the last in line, and before she sent me on stage, she lowered to knee level and looked me square in the eyes. 

“When they pass you that microphone, I want you to imagine every single person in this audience is tickling you, all at once.” 

She knew exactly what she was doing when she gave me that pep talk, as I was (and still am) notoriously more ticklish than most children – to the point where the mention of being tickled often makes me giggle. 

I approached my place in line and just sat there on stage, waiting my turn, with my lips pursed shut, mind on the prize, watching them pass that mic down one by one. 

One kid sang a song, another cried, a few of them really tried to laugh but fell short of the minute. I remember there was even a sibling pair who kept trying to make each other laugh harder, so the judges eventually took the mic away to keep the contest going. One thing was certain: none of us knew what we were doing up there.

Closer and closer that mic came down the line, and my emotions were a scrambling mess. I was nervous, terrified, anxious, excited, tickled, entertained, proud – all at once.

Just before the kid next to me was finished with his minute, I listened to my mother’s advice and reached into my imagination to fuel my performance. In my mind, it wasn’t just the audience I envisioned – I was simultaneously being chased and tickled by a dogpile of brothers, making goofy faces with my father in the bathroom mirror, eating ice-cold snowballs with my sister, feeling kitten tails swish across my face. All of my warmest memories and most tickly moments flashed before me at once, and I just churned them into this perfect potion in my stomach that was bubbling and bubbling and bubbling, until….

The mic was passed to me. 

My mouth erupted into an outrageous, giggly, unbridled, ruthless roar of laughter that fogged my eyes up so much I couldn’t even see the mic in front of me. I didn’t even stop a minute later when the mic was pulled away, and when I was finally able to look out into the audience, every person was either drop-jawed or holding their stomachs and crying. 


And that….was the first time I realized that happiness is a magical state of being, that I had the power to hand out euphoria to the masses – if only for a moment – by merely sharing my own joy with others. 

A simple, but universally underestimated concept. 

Aside from the crowd’s reaction, the prize for my victory was a two-liter of Pepsi, which I was forced to share with my siblings. 

Still…years later, no matter how I look back on it, I’m certain it was my giggly, unsuspecting, six-year-old self who got to drink the fullest cup that day. 

4 thoughts on “The Fullest Cup

Add yours

  1. Sarah, I don’t remember hearing this story before, but I can see your mother sitting at the dinner table with her legs propped on the corner and then when she comes to the punchline putting her feet down, leaning forward and laughing really loud. I can also hear your little giggly self. Actually your momma is sitting on a cloud with her elbows on her knees, a cigarette in her hand, a coffee cup beside her and Teka and Maddie at her feet, laughing so loud with a big smile on her face because you wrote this story.


  2. Sarah, I have enjoyed reading your stories tonight. This is one of my favorites! You are an amazing story teller and writer! So proud to call you my friend and my neighbor!


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