COLUMN: What’s that buzzing sound?

Farm Forum

This week, my son Michael played a Schubert sonata on the piano. His brother Richard accompanied him — on a kazoo.

These two boys are miles apart in personality.

In old photo albums, Richard makes faces in nearly every picture. He scowls on purpose, bares his teeth, bores his right eye into the camera lens. This behavior started early.

While Richard displays an ingrained, quirky sense of humor, Michael has consciously worked to add humor to his life, deliberately learning to make puns and engage in word play — as a personal project. He’s gotten pretty good at it, but it wasn’t a natural development.

Richard doesn’t work at humor, but he struggles with good taste.

“Would you like to see my mating dance?” he asks — and hops across the living room, playing his kazoo and jutting out his elbows. He is 21.

This kind of action mortifies Michael. Michael would not be caught dead doing the silly things his older brother does. Michael reads math texts for entertainment. He works logic puzzles.

While Richard also spends some time doing serious things, he mostly enjoys off-the-wall displays of whimsy.

A friend created a Facebook page just to highlight his antics. The “Richard Marmorstein Awareness Millennium page” was so named because only one day commemorating Richard’s hijinks would not be nearly long enough. It would take a millennium. On this page, friends and relatives relate strange or comic things Richard has done over the years.

Meanwhile, Michael plays chess, listens to jazz and classical music, reads another textbook and makes himself generally useful.

Despite the differences in personality, both boys have a strong work ethic. If I ask them to help, Michael will act quickly and Richard will act eventually.

If I ask their sister (to remain unnamed) to help, it is another matter entirely.

She has many gifts, but a strong work ethic is not among them. She is creative, cheerful and intelligent. But should I ask her to do something, she will first seek a way out. I can watch her eyes move as she comes up with an escape plan.

She is good at avoiding work. One method is to produce essential homework assignments when asked to help around the house. Suddenly, homework — never a priority before — becomes absolutely vital. But if she is asked about homework, she doesn’t suddenly see a need to take out the garbage. No. Usually, a hidden circumstance pops up: The homework isn’t really due until Friday; or a needed book is missing; or the assignment, magically, has already been turned in.

The boys are self-motivated, but their sister needs a boost. Even getting up in the morning can be a struggle.

My husband bought a new cordless phone that included an intercom feature. This, he figured, would let us wake our daughter without repeated trips upstairs.

However, she quickly mastered the phone features and turned the tables. As if an occult hand moved her to action, she discovered the intercom worked both ways.

Ring, ring. The kitchen intercom went off the second day we had the phone. It was our daughter, calling from upstairs.

“Mom, I’m sick,” she said. “Could you bring me a glass of water?”

Before long, I was trudging upstairs with ginger ale to aid the invalid.

My sons would never do this. Michael might call, even when sick, and offer to make coffee; Richard would call just to make a funny noise.

Family life around here is a lot like a sonata accompanied by kazoo. It might be a little eccentric occasionally, but at least it’s harmonious.

Donna Marmorstein writes and lives in Aberdeen. You can contact her at