Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 14, 278: Roses Are Red, Etc., Etc.

How did St. Valentine’s Day become a day associated with hearts and flowers and all things romantic? One account puts a definitely sinister spin on the origin of this holiday. It begins back in the third century with a fellow named Claudius the Cruel. As you might guess, Claudius is not going to be the hero of this tale.

Claudius (II, if you’re counting) was the Emperor of Rome, a barbarian that proved that any young boy can grow up to be emperor if he believes. Valentinus, or Valentine, was not a saint at the time, but he was a holy priest.

Claudius, in addition to his barbarianism and cruelty, was a bit of a be_my_valentine_coloring_pagewarmonger. Continually involved in bloody campaigns to destroy upstart nations throughout the region, Claudius needed to maintain a strong army.  But it was a constant battle to keep his military at full strength what with Christianity gaining a toehold and everyone  into family values. The men for their part were unwilling to be all they could be in the army because of their annoying attachment to wives and families.

Claudius had a fairly simple solution; he banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, part of whose livelihood was the performing of marriages, thought this decree unjust and defied the emperor by continuing to marry young lovers on the sly.  Claudius, as emperors will, got wind of Valentine’s doings and, true to his name, ordered that Valentine be put to death. Valentine was arrested and condemned to be beaten about the head, and then have said head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, 278.

Legend has it that while in jail, Valentine left a farewell note for the jailer’s daughter, with whom he had had a brief relationship (that will not be explored here), and signed it “From Your Valentine.”  There may have been other cute little Valentine poems as well,  but they have been lost to history.

For this, Valentine was named a saint and had a holiday created after him, though not a legal one with school closings and such. Conspiracy theorists will naturally jump up and down, saying there were several St. Valentines and the holiday could have been named after any one of them. Or it could have come from the pagan festival Lupercalia, a day of wanton carrying on. They should mind their own business.

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Sweet Sugar Cane, Part 3: The Weigh-In

Quiet please,” said the judge, ‘or I’ll empty the class. .er . . Courtroom.” They obediently reverted to subdued snickering. “Well, gentlemen,” said the judge turning to the defendants. “I guess it’s time to hear your version of these strange events. Prisoner Rollo, I sense that you’re somehow instrumental in this curious business. Why don’t you go first?”

Rollo stood. “I was drunk, your honor.”

I was drunk, too,” Napoleon chimed in.

I know that,” said the judge. “Please continue.”

I am the owner of a drinking establishment known as Leeward Lounge. On occasion I purchase rum from Mr. Napoleon, because I know he needs the money and I try to help in my own little way.”

He pours it into bottles with fancy labels,” said Napoleon.

On the day in question,” continued Rollo, “he came into my place at about noon and called for two drinks which I served up. He said: ‘this one’s for you, dear friend.’ To be polite, I sat down and drank with him, and in turn I produced two more drinks. He did the same again, and I did the same again and so on – you know how it goes, your honor.”

No I don’t, but please continue.”

Well, it got to be evening and we were fairly tipsy.”

We were wicked drunk, your honor,” Napoleon interjected.

Napoleon starts getting very serious and starts talking about how he needs money for new equipment and he just doesn’t know what he’ll do. When I show reluctance, he suddenly says, ‘I’ll sell you my wife.’ Well, I was quite surprised. The woman is fairly unattractive, as you here in court can see, but I’ve been without a woman for some time and I was drunk, as you know. So I asked him how much he’d sell her for. He didn’t seem to have thought that part out. I suppose the whole idea had been a spur of the moment thing.”

And I was drunk,” said Napoleon.

He thought for a while then said ‘I’ll sell her for two thousand dollars.’ I told him I thought that was too much and we went back and forth a bit. We somehow reached the point where we agreed the price should be based on her weight, but we were both guessing at it, and we were a good thirty pounds apart. Being drunk, that didn’t discourage us. It just made the whole transaction more interesting, a gamble. We finally settled on the amount of fourteen dollars per pound. Being a devoted husband, Napoleon insisted that the price be higher than the finest cut of beef.”

Napoleon grinned and turned red.

continued

Sweet Sugar Cane is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

February 13, 1862: Thaw Out the Holly

With the giving and getting of gifts growing to a crescendo in late December, it is to many a glass of cold water in the face when the merriment suddenly gives way to a bleak long winter with scarcely a box or a bow in sight. The people of Norwich, a city on England’s east coast, a couple of centuries ago found a way to keep on giving by elevating February 13, St. Valentine’s Eve to a Christmas-like celebration.

According to an 1862 account, this Victorian tradition was evidently peculiar to Norwich: visitors to the city were often puzzled to find the shop windows crammed with gifts in early February and newspapers full of advertisements for ‘Useful and Ornamental Articles Suitable for the Season’ available from local retailers.

As soon as it got dark on St. Valentine’s Eve, the streets were swarming with folks carrying baskets of treasures to be anonymously dropped on doorsteps throughout the city. They’d deposit a gift, bang on the door, and rush away before anyone inside could reach the door. Indoors there were excited shrieks and shouts, flushed faces, sparkling eyes and laughter, a rush to the door, examination of the parcels.

Practical jokers  were everywhere as well, ringing doorbells and running off, leaving mock parcels that were pulled away by string when someone attempted to pick them up. Large parcels that dwindled to nothing as the recipient fought through layer after layer of wrapping, and even larger parcels containing live boys who would jump out, steal a kiss, and run away.

As with most holidays that involve children out after dark and mischief, the celebration of St. Valentine’s Eve fell out of favor, to be replaced by the Hallmark-inspired and saintless Valentine’s Day.

No Valentine, This One

Hal Foster had been drawing the Tarzan comic strip based on the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs for several years, but itched to create his own original strip. He began work on a feature called Derek, Son of Thane, set in Arthurian England. Before the strip had its coming out party on February 13, 1937, it had gone through a couple of name changes, first to Prince Arn and eventually to Prince Valiant.

Prince Valiant was five years old when his story began, a continuous story that has been told through 4,000 Sunday episodes. Without a whole lot of deference to historical accuracy, Val’s adventure’s take him throughout Europe, Africa, the Far East and even the Americas in a time frame covering hundreds of years. He does battle with Huns, Vikings, Sorcerers, witches and a slew of monsters from prehistoric to modern, but always big.

Foster drew the strip until 1971 and wrote the continuity until 1980. Since then, other artists have kept it alive. Foster died in 1982, at age 89.

Fore, I mean duck

Golf is thought of as relatively safe sport.  But for the safety of others, there are just some people who should not be allowed on a golf course.  Vice President Spiro Agnew had the dubious distinction of beaning not just one but three spectators on this day in 1971 during the Bob Hope Desert Classic.  On his very first drive, he sliced into the crowd for a two-bagger, bouncing off a man to nail his wife as well.  On his next shot, he hit a woman, sending her to the hospital.  The previous year, Agnew had managed to hit his partner in the back of the head.

Sweet Sugar Cane, Part 2: Roll Out the Barrel

They were drinking from this barrel of rum?”

They weren’t, and that was odd. They’d take a drink from a bottle then pour the rest of it into the barrel until it was filled to the brim.”

And how is it that there is a barrel of rum in your kitchen?” the judge asked.

Napoleon makes rum,” Mrs. Napoleon answered, and then, glowering at her husband, added: “Very bad rum.”

Please continue.”

They were drinking and making strange talk. ‘Kind of scrawny,’ says the one. ‘Not so much as you’d think,’ says the other. ‘I’d say not over 120 pounds,’ says the one. ‘You’d be surprised,’ says the other. ‘Ready?’ says the one. ‘Ready,’ says the other. Then they stand up and stagger toward me. ‘How much do you weigh?’ says the one. And when I refused to tell them, they were happy about it. Grinning like drunk crocodiles. And the one takes me by the head and the other by the feet and they lift me off the ground. ‘Stop, let me down,’ I shouted. Napoleon just says, ‘Hush, it’ll be all right.’ ‘Take her shoes off,’ says the other. ‘And her dress.’ ‘We’ll make allowance for the dress,’ says Napoleon. I start screaming, and they dump me into the barrel of rum, right up to my neck.” She shook a fist at the defendants and shouted: “You assassins. I want you hung.”

Please, Mrs. Napoleon,” soothed the judge. “I know this is very trying, but if you could continue.”

I’ll try,” sobbed Mrs. Napoleon. “I was right up to my neck in rum. And Rollo says ‘I guess we’re set.’ And Napoleon, the fiend, says ‘oh no, we’ve got to count her head.’ ‘Well, push it in then,’ says Rollo. And Napoleon pushed my head down and rum came into my nose and I knew I’d breathed my last and he kept pushing until my head was completely under and I saw the good Lord beckoning me and I said a last prayer that both of my murderers would rot in Hell and suddenly they pulled me out and I ran screaming into the night all soaked in rum like I was the one who was drunk. I ran to the station and told the policeman what had happened. At first he didn’t believe me, thought I was drunk, but finally he followed me back. And there we found Napoleon and Rollo going at each other like a couple of wild animals, shouting about how many bottles of rum there were and how much that much rum should weigh. The policeman hauled them away and that’s the last I know.” She sat down exhausted but triumphant, and in what should have been a somber moment, the spectators, who had been giggling throughout, broke into loud laughter.

continued

Sweet Sugar Cane is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 20, 1820: Dream a Little Dream of Me

It’s a red letter day for fair young maidens everywhere, for in addition to being January 20, it is the Eve of St. Agnes, a night in which, if they play their cards right, they’ll gaze upon the countenance of their true love. Naturally there’s a ritual that must be performed to make this happen. First the maiden must go to bed without her supper, having got herself buck naked and placing a sprig of rosemary and one of thyme (no parsley, no sage) each in a shoe at the side of her bed. She then lies with her hands under her pillow and staring upward chants: “St. Agnes, that’s to lovers kind / Come ease the trouble of my mind” whereupon she falls asleep and conjures up the lucky fellow.

St. Agnes was a martyr who was born back in 291, who died a virgin in 304, and is the patron saint of young women hoping to lose theirs.

The Eve of St. Agnes ritual was celebrated in an 1820 poem by John Keats titled, oddly enough, “The Eve of St. Agnes.” For 42 rather lyrical stanzas (read that steamy, no Grecian urns or nightingales here) Keats recounts the St. Agnes Eve adventures of Madeline and her paramour Porphyro. Keat’s publishers were uncomfortable with his lyricism and forced him to bring it down a few notches (to PG-13 lyricism).

Madeline’s family is all liquored up (another custom) so she scurries off to bed to perform the ritual, hoping to see Porphyro in her sleep. Porphyro hopes to see Madeline as well, but not in his sleep. He sneaks into her room and waits in the closet. From there, he watches her as she readies herself for bed and falls asleep, after which the naughty fellow creeps closer to get a better look. She awakes having been dreaming of him and sees him in the flesh. Naturally she assumes this is still as dream, so she welcomes him into her bed. When she is fully awake, she realizes her mistake and is a bit chagrined until he declares his love for her. They dash off together across the moors and we are left to wonder about their fate. (As anyone who’s ever read Hound of the Baskervilles knows, you don’t go out on the moors at night.

To Air Is Human

Here’s an idea for a television game show: Get four contestants – makebikini them celebrities – have them stick their heads through a life-sized illustration of a famous scene or a song lyric and then take turns asking the host yes/no questions and try to figure out what scene they’re a part of.  Just for insurance, get a big star to be the host. Sound like a winner?

The scenario played out for the first time on CBS at 9:30 pm EST on January 20, 1961, the evening of the inauguration on John F. Kennedy. The program was called You’re in the Picture. The guest celebrities were Pat Harrington Jr., Pat Carroll, Jan Sterling, and Arthur Treacher. The host was Jackie Gleason, who’d been around television for a while hosting his own variety shows and a little number called The Honeymooners. That first episode was also the last episode.

Talk about a bomb. “The biggest bomb in history” said Jackie Gleason, adding that it “would make the H-Bomb look like a two-inch salute.” Time later called it proof that the 1960-61 TV season was the worst in the history of U.S. network television.

 

Born January 20, 1922, Ray Anthony became a successful band leader during the 1950s, despite composing “The Bunny Hop.”

 

Mama Eu Quero, Part 2: Fantastic News

When Maria do Carmo Miranda da Cunha was sixteen, she was already an entertainer in her own small part of the world.  She quickly became known in her own country, and in 1939, as Carmen Miranda, she sambaed to the United States for a part in a Broadway musical review.  The tower of fruit above the slight five-foot-one Brazilian Bombshell became an instant trademark, which along with her musical exuberance carried her to super stardom.  She appeared in many films, but Delia’s favorite was an outrageous Busby Berkeley musical in which she sang “The Lady with the Tutti Frutti Hat” while an army of dancers waved giant bananas.  Why would a young teenager idolize Carmen Miranda when the other girls her age wished to be Marilyn Monroe or Rita Hayworth or Grace Kelly?  Perhaps it was because even though Carmen wasn’t so pretty, she was so vital.  And they said she was really very shy.  Just like Delia.

Jorge’s last words to her were:  “We’ll be together soon, I promise.”  His first words had been:  “Another Norteamericano.  Would you like me to lie on the floor so you can walk on me?”   She had cried both times.  His last words echoed for many months even as she realized that although they were probably truthful in intent, they were spoken in summer, in Cuba, and in youth.  Jorge’s first words were quickly forgotten. They burned, made her feel a guilt that should not have been hers.  But even though his words were mean and insensitive, Jorge was not, and as soon as he had uttered them, he felt shame at having hurt a person who had done him no harm, at having acted in the same manner as those he criticized.  Spurred by her tears, his apologies rushed forth.  And within five minutes they were sharing their first Cuban beer, their first conversation and the first day of a summer idyll that would careen through the hot weeks of June and July like a possessed Cuban taxi on an open road.

Many of those conversations would turn to politics, and Delia showed a naiveté about the affairs of the country that stood just 90 miles from her own country’s doorstep.  At the center of such conversations stood Fulgencio Batista y Zaldivar, and Jorge would loudly decry his infamy. “Fulgencio cares only for Fulgencio,” he would snort.  When on a soapbox, he always used Batista’s given name.  “He doesn’t give a damn for the people.  They hate him, too.  And he knows it.  But he has the army and the police, so he doesn’t need the people.  Let me tell you how the great Fulgencio cares for his people.  Two years ago, Fidel’s attempt at revolution was put down almost as quickly as it started.  The gunfire that we could hear off and on through Saturday night had died down by Sunday morning, and my father insisted we go to church as usual.  During the service, the police appeared at all entrances to the church, blocking our exit except through the one door that opened onto the square.  Just in front of that door, close enough so that we must negotiate around it, the police had dumped a wagonload of bloodied bodies.  As we passed by we could see movement within this noxious heap and hear low groans.  Some of them had not yet died.”

Jorge turned his face away from Delia as the tears appeared in his eyes.  She shuddered and cried with him.  What seemed to bother him the most was the hopelessness.  The people grumbled and cursed, but they were apathetic. The opposition made speeches, but they were meaningless; when in power, the opposition had been corrupt too. Fidel had been released from prison but was in exile.

As deep as Jorge’s anger was, Delia conquered and subdued it as their relationship grew.  And for a time his country’s turmoil became as distant to him as Ike and Iowa were to her.

To Delia’s father, what was happening at home was infinitely more important than what was happening here in Cuba.  As a result Cuban papers rarely found their way into the household.  The New York Times did, however, although by the time it arrived the news was as cold as a Manhattan January.  Nevertheless it served the noble purpose of convincing him that he had not fallen off the edge of civilization.  And it was from this unlikely source that Delia learned the fantastic news.

continued

“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion.  It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

January 14, 1500: For the Ass Was a Donkey, You See

The Feast of the Ass held on January 14 from around 1100 until 1500 was meant as much as teach-in as a party-in, a way to present religious doctrine to the illiterati who had no books or Internet access. This festival, held primarily in France as a cousin to the Feast of Fools, celebrated the flight of Joseph, Mary and Jesus into Egypt.

Traditionally, the most beautiful young woman in the village splendidly attired in gold-embroidered cloth, carrying a small child and riding a donkey would be led in a solemn procession through the town to the church. The donkey would stand beside the altar while a mock Mass was performed. Instead of the usual responses to the priest, the congregation would “hee-haw.” At the end of the service, instead of the usual benediction, the priest would bray three times and the congregation would respond with another round of hee-hawing. The choir would then offer up a hymn and everyone would bray along — except for the ass who thought the whole thing rather ridiculous and that these people were all making you know whats of themselves.

Another story from these Years of the Ass featured King Henry IV (of France not England as in yesterday’s post). The king was visiting a small town where he found himself listening to and growing tired of a long and rather stupid speech being delivered by the mayor. As the mayor spoke a donkey brayed loudly and the king with a tone of the greatest gravity and politeness, said: “Pray, gentlemen, speak one at a time, if you please.”

How Cold Was It?

January 14 is also St. Hilary’s Day which honors 4th century bishop St. Hilarius who sounds like a pretty jolly fellow.  In England, the day is considered the coldest day of the year, probably because of the great frost that began on this day in 1205 and lasted through March.  In many subsequent years, folks would hold festivals with thousands of them stomping around on the frozen Thames.

. . . pickpockets were sticking their hands in strangers’ pockets just to keep them warm.

. . .  politicians had their hands in their own pockets.

. . . the squirrels in the park were throwing themselves at an electric fence.

. . . when I turned on the shower I got hail.

. . . mice were playing hockey in the toilet bowl.

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

JANUARY 4, 2019: COME DOWN, COME DOWN FROM YOUR IVORY TOWER

If you’ve been keeping track of the Christmas season, you’ll be fully aware that January 4 is the eleventh day of Christmas, kind of an also-ran as far as days of Christmas go, although eleven pipers piping does make a rather dramatic gift from your true love (especially at the time of year that frozen pipes are busting out all over).

In addition to celebrating plumbers, the eleventh day celebrates a saint, as each of the twelve days does. Day eleven is dedicated by those folks who dedicate such things to Saint Simeon Stylites also known as Saint Simeon Stylites the Elder to distinguish him from Simeon Stylites the Younger. He is known primarily for spending 37 years on a platform atop a pillar outside of Aleppo in what is now Syria (one could make a pretty good case that in Syria on top of a pillar might be a good place to be).

Why did Simeon choose to live up there like an Arabian Rapunzel, you ask? Simeon was very likely a wise man or at least people thought he was, because they kept coming to him for advice. Many folks would be honored to be sought out for guidance. Not Simeon. Seekers annoyed him. He wanted to be left alone to pray his private prayers and possibly entertain other thoughts as well.

So he went out and found a pillar. His first pillar was a mere nine feet tall and he soon realized that people could easily shout their entreaties to him. He thus began a series of relocations, each pillar being taller than its predecessor. His final pillar was really up there, some 50 feet above the ground and its many pests.

Sort of gets you back in the Christmas spirit, doesn’t it?

Party Hearty

If the twelve days of Christmas are not exciting enough for your celebratory desires, party1 January is pregnant with potential excuses for partying, no matter how far one has to push the envelope.

Already we’ve had, in addition to New Year’s, national days devoted to both hangovers and Bloody Marys. You no doubt caught sight of the festivities as hordes of devotees took part in National Fruitcake Toss Day or sat on the sidelines during National Humiliation Day. Perhaps you were one of the three giddy participants in National Mew Year for Cats Day. And will you observe the dining protocols today as pasta lovers birdseverywhere pig out on National Spaghetti Day. Those of us who prefer cheeper pursuits, can flock together on National Bird Day, January 5. And National Feed a Bird Spaghetti Day is surely waiting in the wings, possibly coming to a January 6 near you.

If you think that most of these holidays created by people with little else to do are a tad trivial, you’re in luck. Today just happens to be National Trivia Day. Get out the pretzels and beer, the party hats and noisemakers, and contribute a nugget of trivia (one person’s trivia is another person’s essential information, you know).

 

Stone Cold Dead in de Market, Part 2: J’accuse

stoneOne of us killed him,” said Howard.  “No other answer.  We had the opportunity, and nobody else on this island even knew him.”

“But why?” asked Wilma Dexter, looking at her husband who knew a lot of things.

“Why not might be more the answer,” said Howard.  “Did any of us really like him?  Even Adele?”  No one answered.  “I, myself, as his partner, gain full control of the business.  Adele stands to inherit a tidy sum, I imagine.  And she’s earned it, the way he’s treated her.”

“He has my promissory note for $200,000,” offered Phil Pomeroy, looking surprised, even as he spoke, that he was throwing himself in.  “A so-called loan between friends, but at a very unfriendly rate of interest.  The man was a shark.”

The conversation quickly became a group confessional.  Wilma Dexter, giving her husband, then Adele, quick sheepish looks, said quietly:  “He put the moves on me more than once.  He was fairly disgusting.”

“Oh dear,” said Adele.

“Me too,” said Myrna.  “Just this afternoon.”

They all looked at the corpse, as though seeing the totality of his corruption and vileness for the first time — although he didn’t look all that corrupt and vile at the moment with his face twisted into a silly little grin and a tumbler of Scotch in his lap.  Then they began to look suspiciously at each other, sizing each other for murderer’s shoes. “Would anyone care to confess?” said Howard.  No one volunteered.  “I guess we’ll have to call the police.”

“Do we have to?” asked Adele.  “They’re… they’re foreigners.  They’d be happy to just throw one of us in a stinky jail and be done with it.”

“Or all of us,” added Wilma Dexter.

“Does it really matter who did it?” asked Phil Pomeroy.  “I mean, when you really get right down to it, there’s no great loss.”  Adele sobbed again, and they all weighed Phil’s words.

“I guess Phil’s right,” said Adele.  She shivered.  “He was brutish, and I’m well rid of him.  It’s just… just so ghoulish to be talking about him this way.  And he’s sitting right here.”  She looked at her dead husband and suddenly giggled.  “Wouldn’t we all be terribly embarrassed if he were just pretending to be dead?”  They all studied the body once more just to be certain, and it gradually dawned on each of them that just not telling the police didn’t solve their problem.  Their problem was sitting on the couch.

The eventual plan was, of course, Howard’s, and it centered on the theory that if the body were found in a crowded public place, like say the market, with hundreds of people around — but not a certain fivesome — the police, who were probably incompetent anyway, would assume he died of natural causes, especially when they brought the bad news to his wife and friends and learned of his history of a bad heart.

Howard’s idea came under fire, however, as the morning wore on and nobody paid any attention to the dead man on the love seat in the market.  What few words were spoken on the terrace during that tense morning were given toward characterization of, first, Howard’s idea, then his know-it-all attitude, and, lastly, his parentage.

continued

If, at the close of business each evening, I myself can understand what I’ve written, I feel the day hasn’t been totally wasted. ~ S. J. Perelman

 

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

NOVEMBER 5, 1605: AND BRER FAWKES HE LAY LOW

AND BRER FAWKES HE LAY LOW

Please to remember the fifth of November, gunpowder treason and plot
I see of no reason why gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament.
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow…

Guy Fawkes, also known as Guido, was a protester some four hundred years ago, a member of a group of English Catholics who were dismayed at having a Protestant as King of England.  Their protests eventually moved beyond the verbal assaults (“Hi de hay, hi de ho, King James the First has got to go”) down the slippery slope to gunpowder, treason and plot.

Guy Fawkes was born in England in 1570 but as a young man went off to Europe to fight in the Eighty Years’ War (not the entire war, of course) on the side of Catholic Spain.  He hoped that in return Spain would back his Occupy the Throne movement in England.  Spain wasn’t interested.

Guy  returned to England and fell in with some fellow travelers.  Realizing that the Occupy the Throne movement required removing the person who was currently sitting on it, the group plotted to assassinate him.  They rented a spacious undercroft beneath Westminster Palace  where they amassed a good supply of gunpowder.  Guy Fawkes was left in charge of the gunpowder.

Unfortunately, someone snitched on them and Fawkes was captured on November 5.  Subjected to waterboarding and other enhanced interrogation methods, Fawkes told all and was condemned to death. (Evidently, James I was not amused.)  Just before his scheduled execution, Fawkes jumped from the scaffold, breaking his neck and cheating the English out of a good hanging.

Since then the English have celebrated the failure of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605 with the November 5 celebration, an integral part of which is burning Guy Fawkes (and sometimes others) in effigy.  Seems like a long time to hold a grudge.

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 31, LONG AGO: THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT

THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT

One might assume that the carving of jack-o’-lanterns was a clever promotion by the Association of Pumpkin Growers because there just weren’t enough pumpkin pies being eaten in this world. But as it turns out, folks have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. And that there’s a proper legend to explain the practice.

It all started with an Irish fellow called Stingy Jack. In addition to being cheap, Jack was a drunkard and a ne’er-do-well. During one of Jack’s benders, the Devil came calling on him with every intention of claiming his miserable soul. As a last request, Jack asked the Devil to have a  drink with him. (It’s a relief to learn the Devil drinks; Hell might not be so bad after all.)

Naturally, Stingy Jack being Stingy Jack had no intention of paying for the drinks, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks, and the Devil agreed. (It would appear that the Devil is not the brightest candle in Hell.) Once the Devil had changed himself into a coin, Jack stuffed him into his pocket next to a crucifix, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack, now having all the chips in this game, agreed to free the Devil, on the condition that he would not bother Jack for ten years and that, should Jack die during this time, he would not claim his soul. (Jack wasn’t all that shrewd either.)

Drunkenness tends to make time fly, and before Jack knew it, ten years had passed.   And the Devil, ever prompt, came calling for Jack’s soul once again. And no last drink this time, the Devil said. Then perhaps just one small apple before I go, Jack begged. The Devil acquiesced. Jack lamented that he was in no condition to climb the apple tree, and would the Devil be so kind as to fetch the apple for him? (The Devil is a lot like Charlie Brown and his football. You’d think, being the Evil One, he wouldn’t be so trusting.) So the Devil climbed the tree, and while he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark. To earn his release this time, the Devil agreed never to take Jack’s soul.

Wouldn’t you know, little time passed before Jack turned up his toes. Jack’s soul foolishly made it’s way toward Heaven where everyone had a good laugh before telling him to get lost. Then Jack journeyed to the Gates of Hell where the Devil, finally wise to Jack’s tricks,  also sent him packing —  to roam the world between good and evil, with only a burning ember inside a hollowed out turnip to light his way.  Jack of the Lantern. Obviously, the Association of Turnip Growers botched this one. Had they been on their toes, we’d all be celebrating Halloween with carved-out rutabagas.

 

halloween