Healthy Humor Makes a Happy White House Marriage

Some of the couples who have lived in the White House have had what could charitably be described as “political marriages.” Husband and wife are united primarily by a shared desire for power rather than mutual affection.

Such a description could not be attributed to the marriage of Calvin and Grace Coolidge, however. Their relationship was built on friendship, love, and common values. Proof of this can be seen in the way they enjoyed teasing each other.

Shortly after their wedding, Calvin presented his new bride with a collection of 52 pairs of socks that were in need of repair. Shocked at the number, she asked if he had married her just to have someone to darn his socks. “No,” he replied, “but I find it mighty handy.”

Although she excelled at sewing, Grace was never comfortable in the kitchen. Her mother even warned Calvin before the wedding, “Why, Grace can’t even bake bread!” He immediately answered, “I can buy bread. I want Grace!”

Despite her best efforts, Grace never became a world-class chef. She once tried her hand at making pie, to the disappointment of everyone who tried to bit through the nearly-unbreakable crust. It was at this time that the Coolidges entertained some guests. As Grace offered them coffee, Calvin insisted that they must all have a piece of pie. He watched with amusement as the guests struggled to swallow the terrible concoction. He then put them out of their misery when he wryly asked, “Don’t you think the road commissioner would be willing to pay my wife something for her recipe for pie crust?”

Grace was capable of returning the teasing. She developed an excellent mimic of her husband’s voice and liked to poke fun at his awkward social skills. During their White House years, Calvin wondered one morning why their guests were late for breakfast. Knowing that her husband hadn’t said a word to them the evening before, Grace replied, “They are probably exhausted from your conversation last evening.”

Calvin knew that his wife was the perfect counterpart to his sometimes-dour demeanor. He often said that Grace never failed to pick up on his jokes, and he was always amused by hers.

Humor was one method for defusing tension in their marriage. One time Grace gave in to the pressure of a door-to-door salesman and bought an expensive book of medical advice. She immediately regretted the purchase and wondered how her frugal husband would react to the extravagant expense. She decided to leave the book on the coffee table and not say anything about it. To her surprise, Calvin appeared to pay the book no notice. Only later did she find a note inside the book, written in her husband’s handwriting: “This work suggests no cure for a sucker.”

Erma Bombeck on Marriage and Parenting

“It seems I have spent a lifetime of mouthing mechanically, ‘Say thank you. Sit up straight. Use your napkin. Close your mouth when you chew. Don’t lean back in your chair.’ Just when I finally got my husband squared away, the kids came along.” — Erma Bombeck

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