Chet Fitch lived to make others laugh. Even as a little boy, he plopped a pet turkey vulture on his bike handlebars just to get a rise out of folks.

When he told jokes, the mere thought of the punch line caused him to laugh so hard, he could barely finish.

In Oct. 1987, the practical joker walked into the Modern Barber Shop in Ashland, bloody with scratches and scrapes covering his body. Everyone jumped up and asked, "What the hell happened?"

Fitch responded, "The stock market crashed, you know. I was so distraught I threw myself off the back deck into the blackberry patch."

Fitch loved the idea of putting a smile on someone's face, usually with a joke. So when the 88-year-old jester passed away this October, friends and family thought they'd seen the last of his merry mirth.

But like all comic geniuses, his timing was perfect when 34 Christmas cards recently started arriving in the mail from none other than Chet Fitch, return address &

Heaven.

The Card

The postcard features a photo of Fitch and his wife Jessie, of 55 years who passed away in 1995, square-dancing &

something the two of them loved doing.

In Fitch's own handwriting, the card reads:

"I asked Big Guy if I could sneak back and send some cards. At first he said no; but at my insistence he finally said, 'Oh well, what the heaven, go ahead but don't [tarry] there.' Wish I could tell you about things here but words cannot explain. Better get back as Big Guy said he stretched a point to let me in the first time, so I had better not press my luck. I'll probably be seeing you (some sooner than you think). Wishing you a very Merry Christmas. Chet Fitch"

"When I opened his card, all I could think was, 'You little stinker'," said Debbie Hansen-Bernard, Fitch's friend for nearly 25 years.

"It was amazing; just so Chet," she said. "Always wanting to get the last laugh."

When his daughter Tangren Alexander opened her card and realized who it was from, she said, "All I could do was laugh and cry, and then laugh and cry some more. It was just so sweet and funny. So much like him."

A Sacred Trust

In 1987, Fitch asked a big favor of his longtime barber, Patty Dean.

"I wonder if you could help me?" he said. "I want to play one last trick on people, after I die."

Dean immediately stopped cutting his hair and looked into his grinning face.

"Thus we entered into a sacred trust," she said.

Dean married eight times and moved even more, "But I didn't make a move until I notified him of my new address. He even had instructions in his safety deposit box that I was to be notified in the event of his death."

Fitch called Dean periodically to update his mailing list, notifying her of someone's death, changed addresses or new spouses.

"He even sent extra money whenever there was a postal rate increase," said Dean.

This year, Fitch looked up his barber, who's back cutting hair in Ashland.

"You must be getting tired of waiting to mail those cards," he told her. "I think you'll probably be able to mail them this year."

He died a week later.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 x226 or .