The Funny Farm

When I was a kid, my dad would joke a lot about The Funny Farm.  My dad, in general, has always been a jokester and his comments about people being carted off to The Funny Farm were an ongoing thing.  The problem was, when I was very young, I was not always able to determine how much of what he said was fact vs. fiction. 

When I was only four, I imagined The Funny Farm as a place where all the funny people hung out and told jokes to each other.  I pictured a traditional farm with a big red barn and lots of laughing people standing around.  By the age of five I knew that some of the people at The Funny Farm were odd, and that funny had more than one meaning.  I thought that "ha ha" funny people were there, but also odd people that made everyone want to laugh with their oddities.

Mental illness was not an acceptable topic in those days, at least not like it is now.  Also, it was definitely not a topic to be discussed with, or in front of, children.  My dad joked about The Funny Farm, but as I got older I realized The Funny Farm was a scary place I didn't want to be taken to.

We had some family friends with a swimming pool.  Every summer they invited us over and I looked forward to visiting them.  We didn't have a pool.  As everyone knows, it gets quite hot here in Southern California.  When I was around seven we were invited over for a swim and our friend's daughter, who was only twelve, was not home.  I was surprised and disappointed. 

While I swam, I heard snippets of the adult conversation.  It was enough to know she had been sent away somewhere and no longer lived there.  They didn't know if she'd be back.  Everyone was very somber and quiet, and the conversation was hushed in an attempt to prevent me from hearing.

When I had a minute alone with my parents that day I asked where she had gone.  My dad said, "She's at The Funny Farm."  This time I could tell he was not joking and that it was a very bad thing indeed she was there.  Instantly I became afraid of The Funny Farm and the possibility that I might get sent there too. 

But for what?  I wasn't sure.  For being funny?  For being odd?  For not being funny enough?  Could it be a place where you learned to be funny?

My parents hushed me, and told me we would discuss the matter later after we left our friend's house.  I spent the afternoon on my best behavior, afraid I might also be sent away to The Funny Farm at any moment.

On the drive home they told me that the girl had "been very afraid of bugs" and imagined them crawling all over her all the time.  In my mind, her fear of bugs was why she went to live at The Funny Farm.  My dad said something about men in white coats coming to take her away and having to put her in a straight jacket.  As an adult, I realize now she had some type of psychotic breakdown and imagined all those bugs.  At seven years old, however, their comments terrified me even more. 

I have always been afraid of spiders, even as a young child.  I instantly worried my fear of spiders might be just the ticket to send me to The Funny Farm.  After all, wasn't that the "crime" of the twelve year old girl?  Being afraid of bugs?  Also, a lot of people told me I was funny.  I made people laugh and I was afraid of spiders, and therefore I just knew the men in the white coats would show up and want to take me to The Funny Farm too.  

A few nights later I got into bed.  I felt something hard bump against my leg.  In my dimly lit room, I reached down and grabbed a small hard object, pulled it out from under the sheets and peered at it closely to see what it was.  Then I screamed.  It was a small clear glass jar with a huge, live spider in it.  (Courtesy of my older sister, the demonic prankster of our family.)  I ran from my bed to my parents who sat in our family room.  I was yelling and screaming and my sister stood there laughing till tears ran down her face.

My parents chided her for her prank, but I think they had a hard time not laughing themselves.  No one sent me to The Funny Farm for having freaked out at the spider in my bed.  I started throwing the sheets back and checking my bed for sibling-pranks every night before I went to sleep.  I did, however, stop worrying about being taken to The Funny Farm.  If my parents kept me even after all my hollering that one night, I knew I didn't need to worry anymore about being sent to The Funny Farm

45 Responses to “The Funny Farm”

  1. Heather

    Yeah First one to comment! I could tell you so many things my brother did to me growing up. He still does so many pranks and he’s supposed to be an adult! I can just picture the spider in a jar!

  2. Heather

    Yeah First one to comment! I could tell you so many things my brother did to me growing up. He still does so many pranks and he’s supposed to be an adult! I can just picture the spider in a jar!

  3. Heather

    Yeah First one to comment! I could tell you so many things my brother did to me growing up. He still does so many pranks and he’s supposed to be an adult! I can just picture the spider in a jar!

  4. Lori

    Isn’t it funny how we interpret things as a kid? Your parents probably had no idea how you were hearing what they were saying. As for your sister … what a meany. Sounds like me when I was a kid!

  5. Lori

    Isn’t it funny how we interpret things as a kid? Your parents probably had no idea how you were hearing what they were saying. As for your sister … what a meany. Sounds like me when I was a kid!

  6. Lori

    Isn’t it funny how we interpret things as a kid? Your parents probably had no idea how you were hearing what they were saying. As for your sister … what a meany. Sounds like me when I was a kid!

  7. goodfather

    Ha ha funny, or ha ha peculiar?
    One of the best books I ever read was ‘One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest’. It changed how I thought about mental hospitals, and I wasn’t expecting the movie to pack the same punch when I saw it years later, but of course it did.

  8. goodfather

    Ha ha funny, or ha ha peculiar?
    One of the best books I ever read was ‘One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest’. It changed how I thought about mental hospitals, and I wasn’t expecting the movie to pack the same punch when I saw it years later, but of course it did.

  9. goodfather

    Ha ha funny, or ha ha peculiar?
    One of the best books I ever read was ‘One Flew Over the Cookoo’s Nest’. It changed how I thought about mental hospitals, and I wasn’t expecting the movie to pack the same punch when I saw it years later, but of course it did.

  10. sometimessophia

    Well, at least she didn’t let the spider loose in your bed…
    And yes, I think we all tend to distort the unknown into something fearful given the least little nudge. Thankfully, treatment of mental illness is so much improved. I just worry about those who have lost their way and their families/support systems somewhere in their travels. Advocates are mandatory when you don’t have personal control.

  11. sometimessophia

    Well, at least she didn’t let the spider loose in your bed…
    And yes, I think we all tend to distort the unknown into something fearful given the least little nudge. Thankfully, treatment of mental illness is so much improved. I just worry about those who have lost their way and their families/support systems somewhere in their travels. Advocates are mandatory when you don’t have personal control.

  12. sometimessophia

    Well, at least she didn’t let the spider loose in your bed…
    And yes, I think we all tend to distort the unknown into something fearful given the least little nudge. Thankfully, treatment of mental illness is so much improved. I just worry about those who have lost their way and their families/support systems somewhere in their travels. Advocates are mandatory when you don’t have personal control.

  13. Donna in VA

    I had something similar happen to me. When I was six or seven, my grandmother was sent to The Funny Farm and I didn’t understand. I just knew that her daughter (my aunt) who was only three years older than me had to come live with us. And she was angry all the time because we couldn’t go see her.
    Later when I was a teenager, my mother started working at The Funny Farm. I went up to her work once when I was in my early twenties and can say that I saw all I needed to see. It was frightening. But there sat my mother (who is typically cold and dry) with more compassion than I’d never seen in her before.
    I’m just not cut out for nursing. But I DO have “funny” in my family tree. That’s always comforting.

  14. Donna in VA

    I had something similar happen to me. When I was six or seven, my grandmother was sent to The Funny Farm and I didn’t understand. I just knew that her daughter (my aunt) who was only three years older than me had to come live with us. And she was angry all the time because we couldn’t go see her.
    Later when I was a teenager, my mother started working at The Funny Farm. I went up to her work once when I was in my early twenties and can say that I saw all I needed to see. It was frightening. But there sat my mother (who is typically cold and dry) with more compassion than I’d never seen in her before.
    I’m just not cut out for nursing. But I DO have “funny” in my family tree. That’s always comforting.

  15. Donna in VA

    I had something similar happen to me. When I was six or seven, my grandmother was sent to The Funny Farm and I didn’t understand. I just knew that her daughter (my aunt) who was only three years older than me had to come live with us. And she was angry all the time because we couldn’t go see her.
    Later when I was a teenager, my mother started working at The Funny Farm. I went up to her work once when I was in my early twenties and can say that I saw all I needed to see. It was frightening. But there sat my mother (who is typically cold and dry) with more compassion than I’d never seen in her before.
    I’m just not cut out for nursing. But I DO have “funny” in my family tree. That’s always comforting.

  16. Twenty Four At Heart

    Donna, I’m so glad to hear that my family wasn’t the only family using the term The Funny Farm. I was wondering if all my readers might think I should be sent straight to The Funny Farm after reading this post!? I’d be the first to admit, I’d probably fit right in! 🙂

  17. Twenty Four At Heart

    Donna, I’m so glad to hear that my family wasn’t the only family using the term The Funny Farm. I was wondering if all my readers might think I should be sent straight to The Funny Farm after reading this post!? I’d be the first to admit, I’d probably fit right in! 🙂

  18. Twenty Four At Heart

    Donna, I’m so glad to hear that my family wasn’t the only family using the term The Funny Farm. I was wondering if all my readers might think I should be sent straight to The Funny Farm after reading this post!? I’d be the first to admit, I’d probably fit right in! 🙂

  19. thistle

    Actually, oddly enough the largest psych hospital in my home province actually had a working farm attached to it where many of the ‘patients’ would work…it was a very recovery oriented trend in MH treatment that had been popular in North America and replaced the warehousing and less than humane treatment of the mentally ill found in the early part of the 20th century… perhaps the origin of the term funny farm?…as the trend is now to keep people in the community unless absolutely impossible, this facilty is largely closed…
    interesting that a 12 yr old was sent away for a ‘phobia’…would (almost) never happen now…how things have changed…

  20. thistle

    Actually, oddly enough the largest psych hospital in my home province actually had a working farm attached to it where many of the ‘patients’ would work…it was a very recovery oriented trend in MH treatment that had been popular in North America and replaced the warehousing and less than humane treatment of the mentally ill found in the early part of the 20th century… perhaps the origin of the term funny farm?…as the trend is now to keep people in the community unless absolutely impossible, this facilty is largely closed…
    interesting that a 12 yr old was sent away for a ‘phobia’…would (almost) never happen now…how things have changed…

  21. thistle

    Actually, oddly enough the largest psych hospital in my home province actually had a working farm attached to it where many of the ‘patients’ would work…it was a very recovery oriented trend in MH treatment that had been popular in North America and replaced the warehousing and less than humane treatment of the mentally ill found in the early part of the 20th century… perhaps the origin of the term funny farm?…as the trend is now to keep people in the community unless absolutely impossible, this facilty is largely closed…
    interesting that a 12 yr old was sent away for a ‘phobia’…would (almost) never happen now…how things have changed…

  22. Kelly

    My parents used to talk about the funny farm too. I remember thinking it was supposed to be a funny place too when I was little.

  23. Kelly

    My parents used to talk about the funny farm too. I remember thinking it was supposed to be a funny place too when I was little.

  24. Kelly

    My parents used to talk about the funny farm too. I remember thinking it was supposed to be a funny place too when I was little.

  25. alntv

    I know a lot of people who need to be sent to the funny farm. Most of them are republicans…

  26. alntv

    I know a lot of people who need to be sent to the funny farm. Most of them are republicans…

  27. alntv

    I know a lot of people who need to be sent to the funny farm. Most of them are republicans…

  28. Kristan

    I don’t remember my parents ever talking about it, but I know that whenever my best friend used to call me, she’d randomly say “Bless you” and I’d say “But I didn’t sneeze” and she’d say “I know. I was talking to the people eavesdropping on the phone.” That’s when I told her the little men in white lab coats would be coming for her soon…

  29. Kristan

    I don’t remember my parents ever talking about it, but I know that whenever my best friend used to call me, she’d randomly say “Bless you” and I’d say “But I didn’t sneeze” and she’d say “I know. I was talking to the people eavesdropping on the phone.” That’s when I told her the little men in white lab coats would be coming for her soon…

  30. Kristan

    I don’t remember my parents ever talking about it, but I know that whenever my best friend used to call me, she’d randomly say “Bless you” and I’d say “But I didn’t sneeze” and she’d say “I know. I was talking to the people eavesdropping on the phone.” That’s when I told her the little men in white lab coats would be coming for her soon…

  31. emmysuh

    This delightful anecdote brings back about 1,000 different memories from my childhood. I’ll try to limit them to 40 or less…
    1)The local Funny Farm around my neck of the woods was called Charter, and it was a HUUUUGE joke. Friend’s acting a little strange? “YOU’RE GOING TO CHARTER. AHAHAH.”
    2)My older sister used to do a ton of pranks on me, but when I bring them up, she assures me it’s not that bad. She would always tell a big lead in, about how TONIGHT is the NIGHT the Boogie Man comes out, then she’d “go to the bathroom” and come back screaming bloody murder. Or that tonight was the ONE AND ONLY night the werewolves and murderers came out, and then when I would have to go outside to get my backpack, she’d (you’d think I’d learn) COME SCREAMING back and scare the shit out of me.
    3)But then again, I guess we used to treat my little sister pretty badly too. We used to pretend she was invisible for hours at at time. “But I’m RIGHT here!!” And also we told her she was adopted and her real father was Martin Luther King Jr. NO REALLY, we said that.
    Welcome to my family, would you like to join?

  32. emmysuh

    This delightful anecdote brings back about 1,000 different memories from my childhood. I’ll try to limit them to 40 or less…
    1)The local Funny Farm around my neck of the woods was called Charter, and it was a HUUUUGE joke. Friend’s acting a little strange? “YOU’RE GOING TO CHARTER. AHAHAH.”
    2)My older sister used to do a ton of pranks on me, but when I bring them up, she assures me it’s not that bad. She would always tell a big lead in, about how TONIGHT is the NIGHT the Boogie Man comes out, then she’d “go to the bathroom” and come back screaming bloody murder. Or that tonight was the ONE AND ONLY night the werewolves and murderers came out, and then when I would have to go outside to get my backpack, she’d (you’d think I’d learn) COME SCREAMING back and scare the shit out of me.
    3)But then again, I guess we used to treat my little sister pretty badly too. We used to pretend she was invisible for hours at at time. “But I’m RIGHT here!!” And also we told her she was adopted and her real father was Martin Luther King Jr. NO REALLY, we said that.
    Welcome to my family, would you like to join?

  33. emmysuh

    This delightful anecdote brings back about 1,000 different memories from my childhood. I’ll try to limit them to 40 or less…
    1)The local Funny Farm around my neck of the woods was called Charter, and it was a HUUUUGE joke. Friend’s acting a little strange? “YOU’RE GOING TO CHARTER. AHAHAH.”
    2)My older sister used to do a ton of pranks on me, but when I bring them up, she assures me it’s not that bad. She would always tell a big lead in, about how TONIGHT is the NIGHT the Boogie Man comes out, then she’d “go to the bathroom” and come back screaming bloody murder. Or that tonight was the ONE AND ONLY night the werewolves and murderers came out, and then when I would have to go outside to get my backpack, she’d (you’d think I’d learn) COME SCREAMING back and scare the shit out of me.
    3)But then again, I guess we used to treat my little sister pretty badly too. We used to pretend she was invisible for hours at at time. “But I’m RIGHT here!!” And also we told her she was adopted and her real father was Martin Luther King Jr. NO REALLY, we said that.
    Welcome to my family, would you like to join?

  34. Midlife Mama

    OMG that was funny. Funny as in ha-ha, but I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time. You must have been scared that they were going to come “take you away.” LOL You poor thing.
    Here’s what I used to do to torture my little brother. Back in the 60s we still had air raid sirens in the community that would go off from time to time, for whatever reason. They used to scare my little brother, who was probably 6 or 7. He was afraid the airplanes were going to come and bomb us. I was in 4th grade and played the flute. What I used to do, was get my flute out, and make the same noise the air raid siren would make (it was a two-note siren). My brother would absolutely freak out, running around the house, screaming and crying.
    Good times. LOL

  35. Midlife Mama

    OMG that was funny. Funny as in ha-ha, but I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time. You must have been scared that they were going to come “take you away.” LOL You poor thing.
    Here’s what I used to do to torture my little brother. Back in the 60s we still had air raid sirens in the community that would go off from time to time, for whatever reason. They used to scare my little brother, who was probably 6 or 7. He was afraid the airplanes were going to come and bomb us. I was in 4th grade and played the flute. What I used to do, was get my flute out, and make the same noise the air raid siren would make (it was a two-note siren). My brother would absolutely freak out, running around the house, screaming and crying.
    Good times. LOL

  36. Midlife Mama

    OMG that was funny. Funny as in ha-ha, but I’m sure it wasn’t funny at the time. You must have been scared that they were going to come “take you away.” LOL You poor thing.
    Here’s what I used to do to torture my little brother. Back in the 60s we still had air raid sirens in the community that would go off from time to time, for whatever reason. They used to scare my little brother, who was probably 6 or 7. He was afraid the airplanes were going to come and bomb us. I was in 4th grade and played the flute. What I used to do, was get my flute out, and make the same noise the air raid siren would make (it was a two-note siren). My brother would absolutely freak out, running around the house, screaming and crying.
    Good times. LOL

  37. Smart Mouth Broad

    This was a great story. The whole blogosphere seems to be taking me down memory lane today. Funny how we used to use all those very non p.c. terms like funny farm and so many more that would be completely inappropriate today.

  38. Smart Mouth Broad

    This was a great story. The whole blogosphere seems to be taking me down memory lane today. Funny how we used to use all those very non p.c. terms like funny farm and so many more that would be completely inappropriate today.

  39. Smart Mouth Broad

    This was a great story. The whole blogosphere seems to be taking me down memory lane today. Funny how we used to use all those very non p.c. terms like funny farm and so many more that would be completely inappropriate today.

  40. merlotmom

    In our house, it was the garbage man. My sister knew not to do anything bad before the scheduled garbage pick up. Those noisy trucks freaked her the shit out.

  41. merlotmom

    In our house, it was the garbage man. My sister knew not to do anything bad before the scheduled garbage pick up. Those noisy trucks freaked her the shit out.

  42. merlotmom

    In our house, it was the garbage man. My sister knew not to do anything bad before the scheduled garbage pick up. Those noisy trucks freaked her the shit out.

  43. Di

    I remember as a child when people, parents, adults would whisper that “she’s in Cherokee”. Cherokee was the name of the town in our state where there was a well known mental hospital. Rather than discussing things openly during the 1960’s, it would simply be whispered that a person was “in Cherokee” and it would be presumed that the person was nuts. Strange, I had not thought about this since childhood…. until I read your blog entry.

  44. Di

    I remember as a child when people, parents, adults would whisper that “she’s in Cherokee”. Cherokee was the name of the town in our state where there was a well known mental hospital. Rather than discussing things openly during the 1960’s, it would simply be whispered that a person was “in Cherokee” and it would be presumed that the person was nuts. Strange, I had not thought about this since childhood…. until I read your blog entry.

  45. Di

    I remember as a child when people, parents, adults would whisper that “she’s in Cherokee”. Cherokee was the name of the town in our state where there was a well known mental hospital. Rather than discussing things openly during the 1960’s, it would simply be whispered that a person was “in Cherokee” and it would be presumed that the person was nuts. Strange, I had not thought about this since childhood…. until I read your blog entry.

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