When we finished our tour of the Ring of Kerry, our group decided to jaunt our way through the national park at Killarney. Not jogging. Jogging would have killed me. No, we rode a jaunting carriage pulled by a very hairy horse.
My friend the school teacher who arranged for my son Josh and I to be part of the tour said she hoped this went better than the gondola ride around Venice on one of her student tours a few years ago. The gondolier didn’t sing, didn’t talk about the sights they were passing and didn’t flirt with the women on the boat. What kind of an Italian was he? Our Irish carriage driver invited my friend to sit up front with him and included her in all his comments about the foliage, mountains, lakes and history of old Killarney. I think she came away liking Irish jaunting drivers better than Italian gondoliers.
The jaunting carriage tour began in downtown Killarney, turned a corner and entered the national park. In my first photo, you can see a touring carriage with Killarney cathedral in the background. I know the jaunting driver looks like me, but I couldn’t be taking pictures of one carriage if I were in another one. What this picture does prove is that I have a lot of Irish relatives in my past. By the way, the cathedral was very impressive. We could see it many miles away before our tour bus even got to the city limits. Many residents of Killarney don’t share the tourists’ appreciation, though. The Roman Catholic Church built the cathedral in the early part of the nineteenth century when Ireland was going through the Potato Famine. The church thought the big cathedral would give the residents inspiration. As I was told by more than one local, they would have preferred a good meal instead.
Our gregarious driver told us they had just had a late snow a few days before we arrived. In the distance we could see the mountaintops still covered in snow. He pointed out the little flower bulb sprouts were peeking through the ground and in a few weeks the entire park would be resplendent in color. Several trees had gone down during the storm and they were laying around wondering if they would be eventually cut and carried out or be left to rot and become wonderful mulch. It was still cold when our carriage horse tried its best to avoid the washed-out portions of the road. The sun shone and the wind had disappeared with the snow, so the weather was really quite pleasant, as long as you were dressed in at least three layers of clothes, wore a woolen cap and gloves. Ducks waddling alongside the road didn’t seem mind the crisp air. Neither did the Killarney natives who jogged past us. The second picture shows my elbow which was properly attired in a heavy coat.
At several points we saw crumbled stone ruins hiding among the trees and when we turned a bend in the road we saw an old castle glistening in the sun’s rays as it sat on an island of a long, wide lake.
“I’m sure you’re all wondering what happened to all these homes and castles,” our driver asked in his delightful accent. “Have you ever heard of a man by the name of Oliver Cromwell? He was the Englishman who was responsible for the beheading of Charles the First. He decided the English should come live in Ireland. The only problem with that was the land was already occupied by the Irish. His solution was to kill every Irishman in the country. His army rampaged throughout the island, killing the residents and burning and tearing down their homes. The Irish lords who lived in the castle on the island held out as long as they could but they eventually succumbed. Fortunately the English hated Cromwell as much as the Irish so he was beheaded, and Charles the Second was asked to take the throne.”
I knew the tour was coming to an end because in the distance I saw modern condominium communities on the outskirts of Killarney. You can’t get away from the modern world no matter where you go. That is not an entirely bad thing, however. When we returned to the tour station, we embarked, handed our entertaining guide a tip and found only a few steps away a toilet facility. We climbed onto our bus and on our way to our quaint Irish hotel we passed several outlet malls featuring the latest of everything at the lowest prices. The hotel itself was lovely but challenging. It was several years old, and the owners had added rooms and extra floors wherever it was convenient. My son Josh and I felt we needed a map to get to our beds.
But at least we didn’t have to sleep in a desolate castle destroyed by Oliver Cromwell.
There’s more to the Ring of Kerry than animals, although the animals were very cute.
Our tour guide began talking about a fellow which I understood to be Donald O’Conner who was the father of Ireland. We were going to stop at his birthday place so we could take pictures. Now I thought Donald O’Conner was a great song and dance man. His number in Singin’ in the Rain, Make ‘Em Laugh, was hilarious and when he went through that fake wall, I laughed. But the father of Ireland? Isn’t that taking great entertainment a step too far? It seemed I needed to clean out my ears. The tour guide said Donald O’Connell not O’Conner. O’Connell was born in the seventeenth century and was the first Irishman elected to the British Parliament. That was a big deal since Irishmen couldn’t even vote at the time. So when we stopped I had my son Josh take my photo with Donald’s statue which overlooked the ruins of the house where he was born. He may not have been able to make people laugh but he was able to begin the legal battle for his countrymen’s political rights.
I want to talk about the little town of Sneem again. You know, the one with the mountain goat and the statue of the world champion wrestler. It has a waterfall too. The teen-agers from our group were going down these steep steps to cross the jagged rocks to the edge of the falls. They were laughing and having fun. And I thought to myself, “Why can’t I have the same kind of fun as these teen-agers?” Then I remembered, “Oh. Yeah. I’m 70 years old and have a bum knee.” The other side of my brain reminded me that I wasn’t going to be in Sneem, Ireland, again anytime soon so if I wanted to climb over the rocks to the waterfall I better do it now. When my son saw he wasn’t going to be able to talk me out of this foolishness he decided he’d better come with me to pick up the body when I slipped and fell. Once I got down to the rocks I realized there was more than climbing involved in standing at the falls. There was also jumping from rock to rock. In addition, even though it felt rather warm out that day, the water puddled up between the rocks was frozen. My son took my picture, then told me I needed to get back to the bus before I broke my neck.
I did get a few pictures of Josh, one of them at the Ladies’ View. This place got its name because when Queen Victoria and her entourage came on a sightseeing tour of Ireland this long valley of lakes and streams, her ladies in waiting liked this view the best. They had good taste in scenery. The main reason I included this picture was because of my son. Every time I wanted to photograph him I had to tell him to take off his sunglasses, smile and don’t hold his hands either in front of him or behind him. Just let them hang there. He’s a Florida corrections officer and that pose is the one he takes most often at work.
“I don’t want a picture of Officer Cowling. I want a picture of my son.”
Officer Cowling is a very good state employee. He keeps order at the prison. He is trained in self-defense. I have a better bodyguard than many celebrities. I like Officer Cowling. I trust Officer Cowling. But I love my son Josh Cowling and I want pictures of him.
The weather on our trip was more than we could have asked for. I had several layers of clothing on—everything from my longjohns to heavy boots and coat, scarf and woolen cap because the temperatures were going to be between the 30s and 50s. And Ireland in March is rainy, very rainy. I had an umbrella and rain poncho in my backpack just in case. But not a drop of rain. We became totally aware of how lucky with the weather at lunch on the Ring of Kerry. This restaurant sat on a cliff side overlooking a bay dotted with little islands and outcroppings. The bus driver said if we had come a day earlier we would have seen nothing but fog.
Josh and I grabbed a table next to the long window overlooking the view. Most of the students gathered together along the other wall to giggle and chat. But one boy sat at the next table to us against the window and stared out at the view the entire time. It struck me that he got it. He knew what this trip was all about. I have nothing against giggling and chatting. Some of the best times I have had in my life have been giggling and chatting. But we can giggle and chat anywhere. When you’re on the Irish coast on a clear day in March, you look out the window. When you’re in Sneem, you climb on the rocks. When you’re in the valleys of Ireland, you relax and smile. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen often.
Three days after grandma’s funeral, Jeff began the dreary duty of clearing out her house.
Each room was filled with items bought at yard sales. Jeff knew. Every Saturday for the last three years he had driven his grandmother throughout scattered neighborhoods looking for that one special item that would make her life happy. Usually she found at least two or three items at each sale, and they went to as many sales as they could before grandma had to return home for her afternoon nap.
Stacked on the dining room table were wicker baskets of all sizes and shapes, each one bought to store a specific item.
“This one will be perfect for all the mail that comes in each day,” she told him, “and this one over here will be good to put all the bills in before I mail them out.”
She picked up another basket, saying, “I can put my knitting supplies in this one.”
Another basket was shaped like a swan. “I don’t know what I could put in this, but it is so pretty I cannot pass it up.”
Now all the baskets were dusty as they lay one inside the other. A few had dirty dish towels draped over them, towels which his grandmother fussed about not being able to find. On the floor underneath the dining room table were extra dishtowels grandma had bought to replace the ones she thought she lost.
Jeff walked into the spare bedroom where he began to pack boxes of porcelain figurines, some of Greek goddesses and some of colonial ladies, all of them slightly faded and chipped. If he closed his eyes he could still hear the joy in her voice as she cooed over her discoveries. He even remembered the twinkle in her eyes and the way her bony fingers danced across the porcelain.
It was not that he begrudged the time he spent taking his grandmother from yard sale to yard sale. She had been kind to him when he was a child, and his parents seem to care more about their careers in retail sales. Both of them went from major store to major store– Sears, Ward’s, JCPenney and many others– working long hours for little appreciation and even less income. But grandma always make sure he had all the attention he wanted or needed.
As his grandmother grew older and needed help getting around, Jeff realized the job would be left up to him because his parents still thought one day they would be rewarded for all their loyal service to the big retail stores. So every afternoon after he had spent the day teaching middle school English, Jeff went to his grandmother’s house to see what she needed. Most times she had the local newspaper spread open to the section about yard sales and was planning her route for the weekend.
Jeff sat next to her, pen and pad in hand, to take careful notes. After three years he had every neighborhood in town memorized.
“What I really need,” she confided in a whisper, “is a new bathrobe.”
Jeff just smiled and nodded and wrote it down on his pad, even though he knew his mother had given his grandmother a new bathrobe for Christmas which she had bought on sale at Sears.
After he had packed all the porcelain figurines in bubble wrap and placed them in boxes, Jeff walked into his grandmother’s bedroom and began to take down from the closet all the dresses and coats she had picked up for only 50 cents or a dollar. He knew the exact prices because many of the clothes still had the price stickers on them.
“What did she think he was buying?” Jeff muttered to himself.
By the weekend, he had all of his grandmother’s possessions organized, priced and ready to go on sale in the front lawn. As usual, he had to do all the work by himself because Saturday was always a busy day for his parents at the store. Besides that, grandma was very specific in her will. All the treasures in her home were left to Jeff to do with as he wished. She knew, as stated in the will, he would benefit greatly financially when he sold them. All Jeff really wanted was to make enough money to pay for the classified ad he had placed in the newspaper.
On Saturday morning Jeff sat in a lawn chair, which still had the sticker on which was written 50 cents.
First to go were the wicker baskets.
“I don’t know what I’ll do with it,” an old woman said while holding up the swan to a young woman standing by her side, “but it’s so pretty I have to have it.”
Jeff sold it to her for 10 cents less than his grandmother had paid for it last year.
“You can never have too many rags,” an old man told a little boy standing by him as he grabbed a handful of the older dishtowels. “They’re good for cleaning up around the garage.”
The towels went for one penny each, and how the man’s eyes twinkle as he counted out carefully each coin.
“You see, Billy, this is how you save money.”
By noon Jeff had sold out of all of his grandmother’s treasures and realized what she had been buying all those years at yard sales. It was the same thing these people had just bought.
We woke up about 6 a.m. on a Sunday, packed and ready to go. We bathed, ate toast and drank a cup of tea. A friend of my son Josh and a nice lady picked us up in their car for the trip down to Tampa airport. I had a wonderful conversation with the woman. After they dropped us off they were going to the St. Petersburg Museum of Art to see the exhibit on Star Wars costumes. As we were taking our bags out of his trunk I told Josh’s friend that his wife was delightful to talk to.
“She’s not my wife.”
“Well, your friend was delightful to talk to.”
As we walked into the Amelia Earhart door, I hoped the rest of the trip would be less embarrassing. We sat there for the next hour waiting for the rest of our group to show up. I had weaseled our way on a school group tour. We pretended to be chaperones to get a really good price on tickets. My teacher friend who had gotten us on the plane arrived so we started following her around like we were little puppies.
Once we were told which gate we’d be departing from, I asked Josh to get us something to eat. He came back with delicious hamburgers. They were dripping with grease just like the good old days in the fifties and sixties. We were finally off to Newark where we had a four-hour layover before our five-hour flight to Shannon Airport. It was during this leg of the journey I began to feel a bit queasy which I wrote off to turbulence.
We arrived in Ireland at 6 p.m. which suddenly became noon because we were traveling into the sunrise. Josh and I posed for some silly pictures, and my stomach was still grumbling. I hadn’t felt this bad since that Ronald Reagan film festival. (Extra points if you catch the movie reference.) The professional tour guides who met us at the Shannon airport said we’d get over the jet lag faster if we spent the next six hours sightseeing before checking into the hotel, eating and going to bed.
Our first stop was the most perfectly preserved ruin in Ireland, Bunratty Castle. I was very impressed. It was a tall stone sonofabitch. When we first entered the courtyard we became immediately aware of the clatter of sheep bleating and crows cawing. In their own way they were quite charming. As we started up the hill to the castle gate, my stomach stopped feeling queasy and went into four-alarm revolt over that damn greasy hamburger.
I turned off the path, tried to hide behind some bushes which had yet begun its spring foliage and proceeded with a nasty case of the dry heaves. While everyone else climbed the castle steps, I hurried back to the visitor center to find the nearest toilet. Thank goodness it was exquisitely clean.
Eventually I felt better, made it up the castle steps to the main dining hall where the group was hearing a lecture about how awful life was during the Middle Ages. The docent went into particular detail about how narrow, steep and irregular the stairs were. All the better to make the assaulting forces to lose their balance and fall back on themselves. He then invited us to climb another round of godforsaken steps to see the impressive landscape from the battlements.
I had to go back to the gift shop immediately to find another toilet. The second was as clean as the first and I wretched again, hoping this would be the last sick spell of the trip.
We all got on the bus for a trip to Adair, a quaint thatched-roof village, where we were to have lunch. The thought of food made my stomach growl again, but the tour guide suggest fresh mint tea to settle the tummy. She was right, and the tea with freshly crushed mint was soothing. But Josh—who, by the way, has a cast-iron stomach–ordered a breakfast of runny eggs and greasy sausages, the sight of which sent me to the little restaurant’s toilet. Fortunately it also was immaculately clean.
When I came to Ireland I thought I’d have a wonderful time with the wearin’ o’ the green. Instead it turned into the clutchin’ o’ the porcelain.
For our last tourist foray of the day we went in search of authentic live Irish music in an authentic Irish pub in downtown Killarney, which was really, really charming. It had a pub which claimed to be Ireland’s only Lord of the Rings themed pub. Cute but not really charming. I found another nice cup of mint tea and watched all the lovely natives enjoy their afternoon among friends. Nothing related to Lord of the Rings.
My initial intention was to forego dinner at the hotel. Since I had already paid for the food, I went downstairs just to say hello to it. On the plate was a nice slice of roasted turkey with mildly seasoned dressing. After bolstering my constitution with another cup of mint tea, I nibbled away at the turkey and dressing. By the time I finally made it to bed, my mind could not figure out how many hours it had been awake, but my stomach had decided to like Ireland after all.
Fort Belvedere bedroom, where all the fun took place
Previously in the novel: Novice mercenary Leon fails in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury because of David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Also in the world of espionage is socialite Wallis Spencer. Wallis, in quick succession, dumps first husband Winfield, kills Uncle Sol and marries Ernest. In the meantime David has an affair with Freda Ward and Thelma Furness. MI6 wants him to seduce Princess Stephanie of Austria.
The next morning they descended the staircase for breakfast. David dressed in casual checkered slacks and a dark turtleneck sweater while Stephanie wore her wrinkled evening gown with pearl necklace. He called the butler aside to give discreet instructions about arranging for a bag of clothing to be brought out to the fort while Stephanie instructed the cook on how she liked her pancakes fixed. After breakfast, while waiting for her clothes to arrive, they walked in the garden.
David paused by the fish pond. “Eventually I’m having that replaced by a swimming pool.” He then nodded to the right. “And over there I’m building tennis courts.”
“Please don’t bother to continue,” Stephanie interrupted. “I am not interested in—how shall I put it—outdoor activities.”
“So you are more interested in pleasures that are available indoors.” He smiled slightly. “I completely understand.”
In the next few days, they enjoyed meals together. Stephanie appreciated how the cook adapted the cuisine to her tastes. The couple spent early evening hours listening to the radio or records and played the game of guessing the names of acquaintances they might share. Late evening hours were filled with intimacies in the master’s bedroom. David stifled a laugh when Stephanie, upon reaching orgasm, screamed out “Seig heil!”
Each morning they slept in later and later until they accepted the reality that their first meal of the day was going to be luncheon. After the servants had left the dining room, David leaned to whisiper, “I think I have surmised your favorite indoor activity.”
“As it is yours, my darling prince.”
He bit into a scone and mumbled, “Perhaps.”
One particular afternoon they lounged about in David’s library. Stephanie ran her fingers across a few of the titles.
“Have you read Herr Hitler’s Mein Kampf?”
“No, I haven’t gotten around to that one yet.”
She turned and smiled. “I can get an autographed copy if you wish.”
At the end of the two weeks, David felt he had accomplished his assignment. He had Stephanie’s complete confidence. He learned that Harold Sidney Harmsworth, first viscount of Rothermere, had a mole on his left buttock which had a long, solitary hair growing through it. She kept insisting Herr Hitler was not as terrible as the rest of the world thought.
“He has a unique sense of humor, that’s all,” she said.
That last night they lay naked in front of the fireplace in David’s bedroom. Well, Stephanie was not completely naked. She still wore her string of pearls, which glistened in the flickering fire light. Her fingers glided across his smooth chest.
“I can tell you are of Aryan blood.” Her eyes softened.
“Yes, my great-grandmother Victoria married Albert Saxe Coberg Gothe.”
Her head went back. “What a glorious name. Why did your family change it to Windsor? That’s a castle, isn’t it?”
“Well, during the recent unpleasantness with Germany, the English people wanted us to sound more English.”
“But when you become king, you can change all that,” she purred. “Think of it, England and Germany, bounded together.”
“You mean bound together, don’t you?” David interrupted.
“Bounded together, well, means something entirely different.” His voiced oozed cynicism.
“Oh. You’re such a tease.” Stephanie slapped his bare shoulder. “But if you married a German princess….” Stephanie let her sentence dangle as leaned in to kiss David’s chest.
He tensed. David was not expecting her to press for marriage. He assumed she–and Hitler–would be satisfied with an intimate relationship with possible access to government secrets. The notion of actual marriage presented a new set of complications. He decided he needed the rest of the night to extricate himself from matrimony while maintaining close contact with Hitler’s inner circle.
“Suddenly, I feel fatigued.” David fell back on his pillow and yawned.
They arose early in order to have breakfast before David’s chauffeur drove her back to Mayfair. David eyed her as he took a bite of toast.
“I’ve been thinking about what you said last night.”
“Yes?” Her eyes brightened.
“I think I do want to marry you.”
“Who said I would say yes?” Her voice overflowed with playful mischievousness.
He ignored her question. “Of course, the government would object because you are a divorcee and you have a child from your previous marriage. Then there’s the matter of religion.”
“I have no religion,” she replied flatly.
“There you have it. But that should not deter us. These two weeks have convinced me I am capable of true, profound love. We will marry and say to hell with the rest of the world. I own four thousand acres of ranch land a few miles south of Calgary. We can marry, retire to Canada and raise cattle the rest of our lives. Your son will love it.”
Stephanie’s mouth was agape for a full minute. “Are you serious? You would give up the throne, give up everything to marry me?”
“Of course.” David observed her eyes and knew he had won.
“My dear, foolish prince. I am an important person in my country. I could not disappear to—to Calgary.”
David reached out to clasp her hand. “I suppose you’re right. But we will always remain close, intimate friends, won’t we?”
He pulled out a tiny stuffed teddy bear from his slacks pocket, put it in her hand and closed her fingers around it.
“This is for you. Always keep it with you. From time to time, pull it out and look at it to remind yourself of the one brief moment when the Prince of Wales was completely sincere.”
A few years ago children around the world almost didn’t get their eggs to hunt on Easter.
You see, the Easter Bunny worked hard and was proud of the fact he could color all those eggs and distribute them by himself. This was quite a task since each year more and more children expected the Easter bunny to visit them. His wife, commonly known as Mommy Bunny, often offered to help but he was quick to say he didn’t need anyone’s help. Besides, his son, commonly known as Baby Bunny, was so proud of him he didn’t want to share the glory with his wife. The burden, however, wore heavy on him, as was the case with many males who craved to be the sole provider for their family. What Daddy didn’t realized, however, was as he grew older the more tired he became finishing all the Easter eggs. That year the Easter Bunny cracked, so to speak, after painting the last of the eggs and immediately fell asleep from exhaustion. By dawn of Easter morning, he sat slumped against the family tree, snoring loudly with his long floppy ears flapping against his face.
“Daddy Bunny! Wake up! You’ve got to deliver the Easter eggs!” Mommy Bunny frantically jostled his shoulders to no avail.
“Mommy, why is Daddy Bunny sleeping against the tree like that?” Baby Bunny asked as he hopped from the hole under the tree roots which led to their cozy little home.
“He just worked too hard last night getting the Easter eggs ready, darling.” Mommy Bunny smiled nervously at her son before shaking Daddy Bunny one more time. Daddy Bunny! Wake up!”
All Daddy Bunny did was continue to snore, his ears flapping across his face.
“Oh, great,” she muttered. “Now all the children are going to be disappointed. What am I going to do?”
Babby Bunny hopped off a few yards to another hole in the ground. “Oh boy, is this where another rabbit family lives? I want to play with their children!”
Mommy Bunny grabbed him by his tail and pulled him away. “That’s not a rabbit hole, dear.”
“What is it?”
“A snake hole.”
“What are snakes?”
“Dangerous creatures,” she said as she pulled him back to their tree.
“What does dangerous mean?” Baby Bunny asked.
“It means they’re not very nice, and you’re never to go there again. Do you understand me?”
“Uh huh.” Baby Bunny held his head low and avoided looking at his mother.
She knew what that meant. He was going to hop right back to that snake hole the first chance he got. Mommy Bunny couldn’t very well deliver the Easter eggs herself and leave Baby Bunny alone with Daddy Bunny asleep under the tree. When she returned Daddy Bunny would still be snoring while Baby Bunny would be down the snake hole, never to be seen again.
“What am I going to do?”
Just at that moment, a dog loped along the path that came near the tree.
“Mr. Dog! Could you please help me?” Mommy Bunny called out.
“Sure, what can I do for you?” The dog looked at the Easter Bunny snoring under the tree. “Boy, he must be tired after painting all those eggs.”
“The children have to have their Easter eggs, and I can’t leave Baby Bunny here alone with Daddy Bunny. Could you deliver the eggs?” Mommy Bunny asked.
“Sure, why not? It sounds like fun,” the dog replied.
“Hurray!” Mommy Bunny cried out.
“Hurray!” Baby Bunny echoed.
“Hey, why don’t we make it more fun by digging holes in all the yards and burying the eggs? Then the kids could have fun digging them up?”
“I don’t think the parents would find that fun at all,” Mommy Bunny said, wrinkling her brow.
“Then I don’t want to do it. The old way is too boring.” The dog trotted off down the path.
Mommy Bunny hopped back to Daddy Bunny and shook him again. “Wake up! Wake up!”
She heard a clippity clop coming down the path and looked to see a donkey.
“Mr. Donkey! Mr. Donkey! Will you please help me?”
The donkey ambled over to the tree. “Sure. What do you want?”
“Will you please deliver the Easter eggs? Daddy Bunny is,” she hesitated as she looked down to see the long ears rhythmically flap over his face, “tired, way too tired.”
“He painted Easter eggs all night long,” Baby Bunny explained.
“Sure, I’ll help,” the donkey replied.
“Hurray!” Mommy Bunny shouted.
“Hurray!” Baby Bunny repeated.
“What are Easter eggs?” the donkey asked.
“What?” Mommy Bunny asked in return.
“Easter eggs. What are they?”
“You know, the eggs the Easter Bunny delivers to all the boys and girls.”
“What are boys and girls?” the donkey asked.
Mommy Bunny looked deeply into the donkey’s eyes and clearly saw that nobody was home. “Never mind.”
“Okay,” the donkey replied cheerfully and continued to clippity clop down the path.
Mommy and Baby bunny went back to the tree and tickled Daddy Bunny’s feet. He began to giggle, giving Mommy Bunny hope that he might actually wake up, then he settled into his snoring pattern and the ears continued to flap over his face.
“Boy, Daddy Bunny really is tired,” Baby Bunny said.
“I’ll give him something to be tired about.” Mommy Bunny was losing her patience.
She felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Excuse me, madam, may I be of service?”
Mommy Bunny looked up to see a United States Postal Service employee, dressed in his blue uniform, peering over at Daddy Bunny.
“Do I need to call for an ambulance?” He reached for his cell phone.
“No,” Baby Bunny said. “He’s just tired.”
“Mr. Postman, could you please help us by delivering the Easter eggs?” Mommy Bunny asked.
“Of course, I will.”
“Hurray!” Mommy Bunny cried for joy.
“Hurray!” Baby Bunny hopped up and down.
“Will that be first class or parcel post?”
“All the eggs have addresses clearly printed on them?”
“Why no.” Mommy Bunny shook her head.
“And we must have your return address. And you want them stamped fragile, don’t you?”
“We don’t have addresses. They go to all the boys and girls everywhere.”
“How about insurance?”
“The Easter Bunny never bothered with things like that before. He just delivered them on Easter Sunday morning.”
“Easter Sunday? You mean today?” the postman asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Well, then no can do. I’d need at least eight to ten business days.” He tipped his hat and walked away. “Have a nice day.”
“What am I going to do?” Mommy Bunny was on the verge of tears. “I can’t leave you here alone while I deliver the Easter eggs.”
“Why don’t you take me with you?” Baby Bunny suggested.
And that’s what she did. She got their biggest wheelbarrow and placed Baby Bunny right in the middle. She surrounded him with all the eggs Daddy Bunny had painted the night before. Looking at the sun on the horizon, she figured she had just enough time to deliver the eggs so the boys and girls wouldn’t be disappointed.
“Hurray!” Baby Bunny shouted.
Before lifted the wheelbarrow, Mommy Bunny looked back at Daddy Bunny who was still snoring under the tree, his ears flapping over his face. “He’s not getting away with this.”
“What?” Baby Bunny asked.
“Never mind,” she replied. “Stay right there. I’ll be back.” Mommy Bunny hopped angrily over to the tree and yanked Daddy Bunny’s ears so hard his eyes flew open.
“Ouch! What’s going on?” Daddy Bunny said.
“It’s Easter morning, and I’m not going to deliver these eggs by myself. So get and help.”
Daddy Bunny blinked his eyes and hopped up. “Uh, sure, right.”
“Now wave at Baby Bunny and say, happy Easter,” she ordered.
“Happy Easter!” Daddy Bunny said with a quaver in his voice.
“Tell him we’re started a new tradition. We’re all going to make eggs together and deliver them together!”
“You’re going to help me make Easter eggs from now on, son!” Daddy Bunny called out.
“Hurray!” Baby Bunny cheered.
And that’s how Easter eggs truly became a family tradition.
Long Island dunes
Previously in the novel: War Secretary Stanton holds the Lincolns captive under guard in the White House basement. Janitor Gabby Zook by accident must stay in the basement too.
Heat, pervasive and stultifying, filled every corner of the billiards room in the Executive Mansion basement during the last half of May 1863. Gabby Zook sat on his pallet behind the barrels and crates, took off his shirt, unbuttoned his union suit, and pulled down the top, revealing a ghostly white, flabby, gray-haired belly. Before reaching for a washcloth in a nearby porcelain basin, he lightly stroked his abdomen and thought back to the days on Long Island, playing on the beach with his buddy Joe. If he closed his eyes as he dribbled water from the cloth onto his face, Gabby could swear he smelled the salt air and felt the sun’s rays as he floated on the bobbing waves. Joe erupted through the water and landed across Gabby, sinking him below the surface. Gurgling, he came up and, laughing, pushed his friend’s head down repeatedly. The boys, choking on salt water, rolled in the surf until they landed on the beach.
Then, Gabby remembered, they had heard the reeds rustle on the dunes. Joe had sat up suddenly and looked around.
“What’s wrong?” Gabby asked.
“I think there’s somebody watching us.”
Gabby bolted up and turned to stare at the dune. Reeds rustled more rapidly. The boys scrambled for their pile of clothes, hurriedly slipping into their cotton undersuits which quickly soaked up the seawater and clung to their trim, tight bodies.
“Hello?” Gabby called out.
“I love to watch young men laughing and playing.” A tall, odd-looking man in his early twenties, wearing a wide-brim straw hat, stood nonchalantly among the reeds. He began to saunter toward them.
“Who are you?” Joe asked.
“You shouldn’t be watching us, Mr. Poet,” Joe said.
“Poet is who I am,” he explained. “Words flow from my belly to my fingers.”
“Huh?” Joe knitted his brow.
“My friend meant your name,” Gabby said.
“My name is Legion.”
“What the hell does that mean?” Joe growled.
“It’s from the Bible.” Gabby turned to his friend confidentially.
“The ocean waves teach me always to see beyond the things on hand, as the ocean always points beyond the waves of the moment.” The man in the hat looked beyond the boys to gaze at the ocean.
“What the hell does that mean?” Joe muttered again, this time to Gabby.
“You two are so young and strong.” The eyes of the poet who called himself Legion returned to the soaked, lean white bodies before him. “You should serve your country. The army needs young men like you.”
“We’re going to West Point this fall,” Gabby said.
“Good.” He nodded as his hand reached out to touch Joe’s stomach, which showed through the unbuttoned undersuit. “Such strong, lean, white bellies.”
Joe stepped back, his eyes widening and his mouth dropping.
“Your nation needs you.” Suddenly, the man cocked an ear toward the reeds on the dune. “More raucous laughter. There’s nothing more alive than male laughter.”
Without further word, the odd-looking man walked away toward the laughter and disappeared behind the dune.
“Gabby, I know what that guy’s name is. Nancy.”
Gabby laughed, hitting Joe on the arm as he bent over to pick up his trousers and shirt.
“But what the hell did he mean,” Joe had continued, “with all that talk about ocean waves and pointing and things on hand?”
Sitting now in his suffocating hot corner of the billiards room in the basement of the Executive Mansion, Gabby pulled up the top of his union suit as he tried to remember what he had told Joe that day on the beach. “Ocean waves taught him always to see beyond the things on hand as the ocean always points beyond the waves of the moment.”
Now if Gabby could just remember what that meant…
If truth be told, I’ve lived in Ireland all me life and have kept a most peculiar secret. Since I’m away from home among strange and foreign peoples, I’ll share it with ye.
Me best friend in all the world is a leprechaun.
Now laugh if ye must, but it’s the God’s honest truth. It began when I was a wee lad in—oh, I can’t tell ye the name of me village, because ye be likely to go there and look for me best friend’s gold, and I can’t have that. Let me just say I live in a tiny town in a lovely meadow surrounded by tall trees and awesome hills. Ha! The whole of Ireland looks like that, so what good does that do ye! As I was sayin’, I was a wee lad without any friends and no prospects for any kind of prosperous life. Me da had long since died, and me ma had to take in laundry to feed and clothe us children.
Me ma had sent me out into the woods searchin’ for berries when I first came upon the little man. No more than three feet he was, and not much shorter than meself. Bein’ a lad who had no such knowledge of leprechauns, I mistook him for another child.
“Hello there,” says I. “Do you want to play?”
“Off with ye, ye little devil!” the leprechaun says in a mean and nasty voice.
I’ll be not ashamed to tell ye, I sat right down on the ground and began to cry like a baby.
“Why don’t nobody want to play with me?” I says in a bawl. “Am I such a terrible mortal being that I must be shunned me entire life?”
Now the little man took a step back and then twisted up his face. “Bah! It’s all just a trick to get me pot of gold.”
“I don’t want a pot of gold. I just want a friend.”
I must have sounded like the most pitiful creature he had ever heard in his life because he took a few steps towards me.
“Don’t ye know who I am, child?”
When I lifted me little tear-stained face, I saw that what was standin’ in front of me wasn’t no child at all, but a shriveled up old man. If I had had any sense about me at all, I’d jumped to me feet and run home.
He put his hands out between us. “Don’t look into me eyes!”
“No, sir, I won’t,” I says in reply. “To tell ye the truth, I’m a mighty shy lad and don’t like lookin’ into no body’s face at all.”
The little man slowly lowered his hands. “That’s good, because if ye did stare into me eyes I’d beholden to take you to me gold.”
I wiped the tears from me eyes and rubbed me nose on me sleeve. “Why do ye keep talkin’ about a pot of gold? I don’t think nobody in Ireland has a pot of gold, and that’s the God’s honest truth!”
His wee mouth fell open. “The saints preserve us, I do believe ye don’t know who I am.”
“Ye are a mean wrinkled up old man, and I want nothin’ to do with ye!”
“Ain’t ye never heard of leprechauns, lad?”
“No.” I was about to get to me feet and run away.
“What kind of a da would ye have that would not tell ye of leprechauns?”
“Me da is dead! And me ma must wash clothes all day and all night to put food on the table! Now, go leave me alone!”
“Oh, child, I didn’t know.” He pulled a leather pouch from his pocket and took out a gold coin. “Now why don’t ye take me gold coin? It should make it all better.”
Now I was really mad. I stood and kicked dirt at the little man. “And how do I know it’s a real gold coin? And if it is real, then one of the O’Leary boys will steal it from me before I get home.”
He put the coin piece away and put his arm around me waist and said, “What brings ye to the woods, lad?”
“Me ma craves some berries for supper. She sent me to look for some.”
“Well, ain’t ye the luckiest boy in all of Ireland. I happen to know where the best berries grow.”
And he showed me where they were. And the next evenin’ he showed me where the prettiest heather grew so I could take a bundle to me ma. Then he said he liked to use heather to make some poteen. I bet ye don’t know what poteen is. It’s what you call in this country moonshine. I told him quite honestly that I didn’t think me ma would care much for poteen.
He laughed and I laughed and we had a grand old time. Over the next few years he told me exactly what a leprechaun was and why he was so jealous of his pot of gold. I kept tellin’ him that I didn’t care a thing for gold, but he just puffed on his pipe and said, “One day, lad, one day ye shall grow up and ye will care about gold then, and then we must part our ways.”
I swore to him that it wasn’t true, but he just smiled and puffed his pipe. Oh, what things he taught. I learned how to make a fine pair of shoes. I could make money for me family now. He taught me how to sing and dance. And what young lady could resist an Irish lad who could sing and dance? When I turned the ripe old age of twenty-one, the leprechaun said, “Ye are a fine strappin’ man now. Ye have a fine business and a beautiful wife. We can never see each other again.”
“Ye are just as mean and nasty as ye have ever been,” I says to him with a snort. “But ye won’t run me off as easy as that.”
The next thing I knew I felt a crackin’ pain on me head and I was out like a light. When I came to, there was one of those O’Leary boys—Fergus, the meanest one of them all—staring into the eyes of the leprechaun, and sure as could be he was forcing me wee little friend to take him to his pot of gold. Like a sure footed deer I followed them to a cave. And when that devil Fergus O’Leary came out holdin’ me friend’s pot of gold, I jumped on his back and rassled him to the ground. We was tradin’ blow for blow until I found meself on my back with Fergus O’Leary standin’ over me with a giant log, about to bash me to death. Then, poof, a cloud of smoke and all that was left of Fergus O’Leary was a teeny green frog.
I saw the leprechaun standin’ there, with his arms still outstretched, pointing at the frog that once was Fergus. I stood, picked up the pot of gold and handed it back to me friend. He took it and stared a long time at me.
“But ye could have kept the gold, and there was not thing I could have done to stop ye.”
Smiling, I says, “Are ye daft, man? What good is a pot of gold if you don’t have a friend?”
There I was under my usual cluster of trees at the annual art festival in my hometown sketching charcoal portraits of children for a donation to my tip basket. Sometimes I made enough to pay for a whole month of going out for coffee with the guys.
I don’t right remember how long I’ve been doing this. Let’s see. The festival’s been going on for thirty-six years. I didn’t start drawing until after I retired so that makes—well, too many years to figure out. The folks who put this shindig together have always put me on the row with vendors with local produce, the dog cremation company, the historical society, the man who sells plants that eat bugs and politicians handing out petitions to be signed.
The real artists and craftsmen are on the other side of the park, and that’s all right with me. Nope, never won a ribbon. Wouldn’t know what to do with it. The house is filled with my wife’s clutter, and it’s been two years since she died.
What I get a kick out of are the parents who force their kids to sit in my chair long enough for me to draw them. Basically, all the little boys look the same. Just like the girls. The mamas don’t care. They can see the resemblance, and that’s all that matters. They toss a dollar into my basket and move on.
Some days are busier than others which is fine. If I draw too many pictures in a day, arthritis plays hell with my fingers all night long and I can’t get a decent sleep. My fellow old men will sit in my chair to rest up before they finish their walk around the circle. A few want to bend my ear about local politics and others just stare in the distance at something, then without a word they stand and walk away.
A handful of mamas through the years have brought their children for a drawing each festival. They say it’s saving their kid’s childhood, picture by picture. That’s kinda nice. I also like to watch the mamas watching their boys and girls squirm in the chair until I’m finished.
On the last day of the festival this year a woman—she must have been as old as I am but I couldn’t tell for sure because she wore too much makeup—walked down the path toward me. She held the fingers on her right hand like she was holding a cigarette. I figured she had smoked for years until her doctor told her she would die of cancer if she didn’t stop. She beat the nicotine habit but she couldn’t keep her fingers from assuming their long-time pose of sophistication. Smoking used to be considered very sophisticated back in the old days.
I became aware of her standing behind me as I finished a charcoal rendition of twelve-year-old boy. The mother burbled something about how she was so glad to have this because next year he’d start changing into a teen-ager and never be her little boy again. She walked off without putting anything in my tip basket.
The old broad leaned into my left ear. I could smell her lipstick. It had to be red; red lipstick had a smell all of its own.
“You do know you’re not really talented, don’t you?”
I turned and smiled. “Of course. If I was really talented, I wouldn’t be in this one-horse town drawing pictures for free.”
Her lacquered fingertips went to her rouged lips as though she wanted to puff on her imaginary cigarette. Boy, I thought, she really missed smoking.
“Then why do you even bother?”
“Because when I give it up, I start to die.” I shrugged. “Oh, I know I’m dying.” I patted my chest. “But if I stop things I like just because I’m not really good at them, then my soul begins to die.” I paused to smile my best little boy smile. “And I don’t want to die before I die.”
After all these years I think I finally decoded one of the many mysticisms of femininity. If I’m wrong please don’t tell me. I’m so satisfied with myself for understanding something new about women I don’t want it spoiled.
Going back to when I was a young man in the 1960s I was a bit confused about why some women wanted to hyphenate their names after getting married. One person explained that it was about a woman keeping her own name. But, as I thought but dared not say aloud, it wasn’t her name anyway. It was her father’s name and his father’s name before that. I didn’t actually say it because I didn’t want to come across as being a male chauvinist pig.
I even knew a woman once who had a hyphenated name whose husband hyphenated his name with hers. The trouble was that she eventually divorced him. His being so understanding got on her nerves, I think. Anyway, after the divorce he kept his hyphenated name.
Don’t get me wrong. I was all for anyone calling themselves anything they wanted. If they hyphenated every name from the last ten generations it was fine with me. I was especially all for women making equal pay for equal work. When you’re a stay-at-home dad with no other income, you become real women’s libber.
My daughter, being raised by a stay-at-home dad while mom was a probation officer, grew up to be very opinionated and independent. She didn’t even take her first husband’s name when they married. He actually volunteered to take her last name. It’s just as well that he didn’t because she divorced him anyway. He didn’t do his share of the cooking and cleaning. What’s the use of having a man around the house if he doesn’t do any housekeeping? She got a new husband now. He cleaned house, and she took his name.
Anyway, in the last few years, I noticed more women used their maiden names as a middle name, not hyphenated. My wife told me women had to do that for legal documents, like deeds and stuff. That was true, but I saw it places where it was not a legal document.
This was where my epiphany came in. The feminine mysticism became clear. I was wrong. Nothing mystical about that. But I was wrong thinking the insertion of the maiden name had to do with identity issues. That was not it. It was a love issue.
Women who identified themselves with their maiden names in the middle were giving credit to their mothers and fathers. They wanted the world to know who was responsible for who they were. It was the woman and the man of a certain name who raised her with self-esteem, values, common sense and education. I wanted to think these women were honoring their parents.
You see, men didn’t have to think about things like that because our parents got credit, or blame as the case may be, automatically because of the way society was. Leave it to women, through their mysticism, to go the extra mile to give credit where it is due.
Please don’t tell me I’m wrong.