9. Wetting the Baby’s Head

Saturday 25th June 1853
Hannibal is 21 months. Jed is 3 days.
By Calico

PROLOGUE – THE NIGHT BEFORE

“Ah…” smiled Charles Myers, “…here they are! Come on in. Find yourselves a hay bale.”

Alex and Nathanial settled themselves and exchanged friendly greetings with Eli Williams and Myers. Myers was hosting a small get together for his neighbours. His place was the venue because it was – by a whisker – the most central of the four farms. The friends were in the barn rather than the snug cabin because Mrs. Myers was not fond of the smell of tobacco.

“Not that I’m forbidden to smoke in the house, you understand…” stressed Myers, offering the box of cigars brought back with him from a provisioning trip made to the Fort that very week, “…I’m not a man to live under the cat’s paw…”

“No, no, Myers.”
“Sure and would we think such a thing? Indeed and we would not!”
“Perish the thought!”

“I hope we all know – if a man can’t be master in his own home…?”

The first inhalations were taken on the precious cigars. Tones became a shade gruffer – a touch more masculine.

“Stands to reason.”
“Sure and there’s a lot of truth in there.”
“A man’s home – however humble – is his castle.”

“But – with the baby…Myra thinks the smoke might make him cough…And, the noise might keep him awake…”

“Sure and aren’t we snug as bugs in a blanket here, anyhow?” smiled Nathanial.

“We are, Curry. We are!” nodded Charles Myers. “And …this is for you.” A bottle of whiskey was handed over. “I guess I overlooked it when I dropped off the rest of your order with Mrs. Curry. And…one for myself.”

“That reminds me,” chimed in Eli Williams, “…here’s what you asked for Heyes.” A third bottle of whiskey was placed on the barn floor. “And…one for me. I must have – er – forgotten to hand yours over when I unloaded the flour and sugar and the rest for Mrs. Heyes.”

“So, I guess we oughta update you on the news from the Fort…”

Three glances were exchanged, as the official reason for this masculine gathering was mentioned. Three glances eyed the bottles.

“Yes,” the man who had NOT joined in the glancing, leaned forward. “…What was the general feeling there on the popular sovereignty question? I read…” A newspaper was produced. “… that it WILL be incorporated in the legislation to split the territories even though…”

Alex was spoken over. The neighbours WERE interested in this stuff, but, well! First things first!

“I brought MY bottle,” interrupted Charles Myers, uncorking it and producing four mis-matched mugs and tumblers from behind his hay bale, “…because I knew we would soon have not one – but TWO – babies’ heads needing wetting.”

“Same here!”
“Sure and haven’t you taken the words from my mouth? Indeed and you have!”
“Great minds think alike!” accepted Alex, cheerfully. His opinions on the likely contents of a Kansas-Nebraska Act would keep. Nathanial had half-listened to a summary on the walk over, anyhow.

“AND…” continued the host, pouring out four generous tots, “…I believe BOTH babies have now made their appearance MORE than promptly, so please raise your glasses to…” A hesitation.

“Ladies first,” deferred Nathanial, with the hint of a bow to Eli Williams.

“Do we have a name yet, Williams?” queried Myers.

“Hannah,” offered the first proud father.

“Then…” A glass was raised. Mugs and tumblers met it. “…to Hannah Williams. Long life and happiness to her.”

“Hannah. Long life and happiness!”

Whiskey was drained. Coughing. Appreciative murmurs.

“No, no!” protested Alex, seeing Myers about to pour. “My round! Let me stay you with flagons!”

Pouring from Alex’s bottle. Approving grunts.

“Now, Curry…” asked Myers, “…do YOU have a name for us?”

Nathanial held aloft his tin mug. “Jedediah Curry!” rang a brogue swollen with joyous satisfaction, “…The luck of the Irish to him!”

“Jedediah! The luck of the Irish!”

Drinks were disposed of in the traditional single gulp. More coughing. More appreciative murmurs. Happy beams.

“Sure and – my round,” offered Nathanial. “We’ll toast the mothers!”

The drinking vessels were recharged. And again – for the second new mother.

“Did you bring the cards?”
“Sure did…”

Dealing. A pause. A throat was cleared.

“It seems only fair to toast the two ladies who did midwife duty,” suggested Eli Williams, with a cheery smile.

“And…then, the proud fathers,” nodded Alex.

—oooOOOooo—

SUNDAY 26th JUNE 1853 – THE MORNING AFTER

“Why? No!”

Hannibal tugged at the collar his mother was trying to button. Why did he have to put his best shirt on just to go over to Esther’s place? That was dumb! Why was this called his best shirt, anyhow? It was scratchy! The collar was all stiff! As far as he was concerned this was his WORST shirt.

“It’s a special day, darling. We’re all putting on our Sunday best and we’re going to help Mister and Mrs. Curry say ‘Hello’, properly, to their new baby.”

“Why?”

“It’s…it’s…” Well, having no church to go to, Sarah supposed ‘christening’ was not the right word. “It’s like a special birthday party – for Jedediah. You remember Jedediah?”

“No! Why Jeb eye?”

“Jedediah is the new baby. You saw him Wednesday. Well…” temporised Sarah, “…you would have seen him, but you fell asleep.”

“Why?”

“I guess you were tired.” Sarah pressed on, over the inevitable ‘why?’. “You’ve drawn a beautiful picture for Jedediah, as a present…haven’t you?”

“Uh huh,” Hannibal nodded. His picture for the new baby was real good. Especially the elephant! The trunk was HUGE!

“And…you’ll give it to him, won’t you? Won’t that be kind?” went on Hannibal’s mother.

“No! S’an’t!” Pffftt! He wasn’t going to hand over his ‘elephant and cookies’ masterpiece to any dumb baby!

“Yes you will,” said his mother, “…because you’re such a GOOD boy. AND, because when you hand it over, EVERYONE will say how marvellous it is!”

“Why?”

“Because – it IS marvellous!” said his mother, firmly. “And I’ve knitted lots of tiny socks for the baby – and everyone will say how lovely THEY are too!”

“Why?”

“Because they’re too polite to tell the truth,” grinned Sarah, ruefully. She glanced at the closed bedroom door. Still nothing. Hannibal followed her eyes.

“Far’fer noddup! Nordy!”

“Your father’s NOT naughty,” reproved Sarah. “He’s just a little – tired – this morning.” She glanced at the clock. A crooked smile lifted one thin cheek. “I don’t think Father heard me, last time I told him it was time to get up, Hannibal. Why don’t you run in and remind him? Nice and loud! There’s a good boy!”

A minute later a successfully roused, VERY grumpy, Alex appeared in the bedroom doorway, followed by Hannibal – bottom lip quivering. Silently, apart from the barefoot stomping, Alex collected soap, towel, bucket and went out to the pump.

Sarah watched her husband hoist a pail full of water over his head and tip it. His face winced at the impact. He looked down at himself. A pair of very heavy, brown eyes blinked. Shoulders drooped, as he realised what he had forgotten to do first. The bucket was refilled. This time, Alex remembered to peal off the nightshirt, already back to front and inside out – now sodden too – before giving himself a second icy dousing.

“Silly Far’fer!” called Hannibal. The lip stopped wobbling. “Silly!”

“Shush, darling,” warned his mother. “Father might have a – a headache – this morning.”

A third and fourth bucketful. Soaping. Rinsing. A complete dunking of a dark head in cold water. Towelling. Striding back – less grumpy.

He squatted down. “I’m sorry I snapped at you Hannibal, you didn’t deserve it.”

“No! Didn’! Nordy!” Hannibal agreed.

Alex straightened up. “Er…I don’t actually remember a thing after sitting down out on the porch to take my boots off,” he confessed. “Do I owe you an apology for anything? Other than, presumably, snoring like a pig, which I think a man’s entitled to every so often.”

“No,” smiled Sarah. “In fact,” A teasing eyebrow was raised. “…I have no complaints whatsoever about your conduct – which could best be described as exhilarated – out on the porch last night!” .

“Oh good,” said Alex. Then, as it sank in. “Oh!” He searched his memory. Sheesh! That hurt! Still a blank. Dang! “…In that case,” he asked, “…may I be spared the traditional punitively runny egg at breakfast?”

—oooOOOooo—

LATER – OVER AT THE CURRY PLACE

“Isn’t he beautiful, Hannibal?” prompted his mother.

Hannibal and Esther exchanged a glance. And, a shrug.

“Look at his fingers. Aren’t they small?”

Another shrug. Yeah – so?

A wistful maternal sigh. “You were that small, once.”

A snirt. Yeah! Right!

“And look at his toes!” Hannibal’s mother cooed on. Hannibal stared, unimpressed, at a miniature pink foot. (The sock his mother had knitted had worked off. It was a bit loose. No. It was a lot loose.) “Have you ever SEEN anything tinier that those tiny, tiny toes?”

A dark-head nodded. Hannibal, who had been told to be on his very best behaviour, decided to give his mother’s latest question a civil answer. “Uh huh. Some bugs’r liddler.”

Mrs. Curry, holding the supposedly ‘oh-so-exciting’ new baby – whatisname – laughed.

“And his eyes!” gushed Hannibal’s mother.

Sheesh, thought Hannibal, STILL not done here!

“I think his eyes are the bluest things I’ve ever seen!”

Hannibal reached out a small finger to prise up a lid and take a look.

“No, darling,” his hand was gently caught. “No poking. There’s a good boy.”

“Jedediah needs a lot of sleep,” said Mrs. Curry. “You don’t want to wake him up, do you?”

—oooOOOooo—

“Misder Cruy,” said Hannibal. Nothing. Hannibal lifted up the hat, which Mister Curry had pulled low over his eyes. Mister Curry and Hannibal’s father had both said they were going out to talk and, to ‘give the womenfolk some room to finish lunch’.

The lunch was going to be real good! There was chicken. And pies. And, Mrs. Curry had done a big cake…with letters on! Letters made of sugar! Hannibal’s mother had spelt the letters out for him. There was an ‘H’ – like for Hannibal. That was right at the end. There were a couple of ‘E’s. ‘Esther’ started with an ‘E’. And, a ‘D’. Both Hannibal and Esther wanted the slice with the ‘D’ on – because it looked as if that was the biggest! The letters made a name. Not ‘Hannibal’ though.

Esther and Hannibal found their fathers behind the barn. They weren’t talking – they had SAID they were going out to talk, as well as make room, but Hannibal guessed they had decided ‘making room’ was enough. They were just sitting in the shade, backs against the barn wall, legs sprawled in front of them, with their hats pulled down. It looked real dull! Hannibal reckoned they’d be real pleased to have a little lively company!

“Misder Cruy,” repeated Hannibal louder. “You shleep?”

“If only!” groaned Mister Curry. “Don’t climb on me, Esther me darlin’. I told you, your old Pa’s feeling poorly today.”

“Was you nordy? Las’ nide!” asked Hannibal.

“Huh?” Nathanial removed the two-year old hand from the brim of his hat and pulled it back down.

“Was you nordy?” Hannibal pointed at the second hat obscured face. “Far’fer’s nordy!”

“Hannibal! You’ve been told. I’ve told you. Your mother’s told you. I wasn’t NAUGHTY!”

“Sure and – even if we were – isn’t it a sin that brings its own punishment in the morning?” came a rueful Irish brogue.

Alex laughed – and then, winced. Sheesh! He must remember not to do THAT again! “Why don’t you two run and find your mothers?” he suggested, without much hope. “Or…” better idea, “…why not go take another look at that cake?”

“Why wassen din? Las’ nide? Why?” asked Hannibal, climbing into his father’s lap. His father LIKED being climbed over! “Swing me!”

“Sheesh, no!”

“Why?”

“Run away Hannibal. Please.”

“Why wassen din? Why?”

“An’ you,” Esther tipped her father’s hat back up. “Why? Oud! Why?”

“Because – we had something important to do,” said Alex.

“Some’n nordy?”

“No!”

“Sure and it wasn’t naughty at all, Hannibal,” Mister Curry said. “It was – more of a ritual. Like this special lunch today – where we’ll say ‘Thank You’ for Jedediah – is kind of a ritual.”

“Wha’s rijul? Why?”

“A ritual is a good thing. For marking special occasions.”

“Sure and last night weren’t we after keeping the fine old Irish ritual of wetting the baby’s head? Indeed and we were.”

“Wetting the baby’s head is certainly a worthy tradition,” concurred Alex. “One of the best traditions, there is.” A beat. “Not sure it’s uniquely Irish,” he demurred.

“Is it filching ALL our finest traditions, you’d be at there Alex?”

“Why?”

“Sure and that’s what I’m asking meself, Hannibal!” said Mister Curry.

—oooOOOooo—

Esther and Hannibal, supposedly ‘playing quietly’ watched their mothers carefully. Both mothers were real busy. Sooner or later they would… Yes! Now! Both mothers had their backs turned.

A scratchy ‘best’ shirt and a prettily pin-tucked ‘Sunday dress’ slipped into Esther’s Ma’s bedroom.

“Dere!” pointed Esther. “In dere!”

Sure enough the new baby – er – again Hannibal resorted to ‘whatsisname’ – was sleeping peacefully in a crib at the foot of the big bed. A pair of deep brown and a pair of green eyes peered in.

“Don’ do mudge,” said Hannibal.

“Don’ do nuffin’” Esther informed him. She gave her small brother – not a poke. Poking was forbidden. She gave him – a little shove. With one finger. STILL nothing. What was all the fuss about?

“Dug?” asked Hannibal.

Esther pointed at the water pitcher. “Care flul!” she urged, as Hannibal carried it over.

Tongue protruding in concentration, he nodded. Esther removed a crocheted blanket. Her Ma was real proud of that blanket. Ma would be cross if they got THAT wet.
Lifting. Water sloshed on the floor. Plenty left though. One, two…

“BWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

Sheesh! What a noise! Hannibal looked at Jedediah with dawning respect. Maybe he was not so bad after all? He was loud!

The door flew open.

“BWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

Two pictures of innocence looked up.

“BWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

“Nod nordy!” Esther cheerily informed her horrified Ma. “Gud fing!”

“BWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

A dimpled Hannibal nodded in confirmation.

“BWAHHHHHHHHH!!!!”

“Rijool!” he explained to his astounded mother. “Weddin’ baby sned!”

THE END

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