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Bedtime Fiction Kids

“Ma, what was your dog’s name when you were little?”

“T’was Phelan, Hun! Same as our current Phelan and countless other dogs through many generations of O’Donnells!”

“Why are all our dogs always named Phelan?”

“Ye can ask me Ma when she and Grand-da come over for dinner with Uncle Daffyd and Aunt Rosalie! Go on and play outside now. I’ve got me washing to do!”

Mary shook her head as she watched Seamus call Phelan to him and the two of them took off running like a pair of bandits trying to run off from the tax collector. “Always so full of questions, that one!” She shook her head, gathered armfuls of dirty laundry and set off to the laundry room.

*

Their tummies full of Ma’s leek and potato soup and soda bread, The O’Donnells and Mahoneys sat by the fireplace. Pa pulled his fiddle out of its ancient case and tuned it up. It always went out of tune in the constant salty humidity of the coast. While his pa was tuning up, Seamus saw his chance.

“Nan, why are all our dogs always named Phelan?”

Grand-da grunted, “Because your three times great grandpa though he got himself a wolf for a pet a long time ago. Probably was as drunk as a bunghole as usual! Phelan means ‘like unto a wolf’ in the Old Tongue, you know! So it couldn’t have been a pure blooded wolf like the legend of Joel O’Donnell says!”

Nan playfully slapped Grand-da on the back of the head. “Ye’re telling it all wrong! Come here, Seamus! Sit on my lap and I’ll tell ye the story!”

Uncle Daffyd rolled his eyes and exclaimed, “Not that fiddle-loving wolf story again, Ma! Ye know perfectly well ye canna tame a wild wolf unless you steal him out of his den before his eyes have opened! Ye have to get them that young! And even then, they are never fully tame, are they? Yer ancestor Jojo was the village crazy! And yer story is just as cooky as he was!”

Nan swatted at Daffyd who ducked and laughed! He loved to tease his Ma. Seamus sat on his grandmother’s lap. “Tell me anyway, Nan! I want to hear the story before bedtime!” Rosalie, Seamus’s youngest aunt, teased him a bit: “Ye’re just trying to delay bedtime!” Seamus glared at her and put a finger to his lip in a “Don’t give me away!” gesture! Da started playing his fiddle quietly as Grand-Ma started the story.

*

“Your three times great-granddaddy was named Joel O’Donnell. He built the cottage near the flour mill. We inherited both from him! Your Da is playing his fiddle right now! It’s been passed down in our family through the generations, same as this tale about the first Phelan!

Jojo, as his friends called him back then, was a grain miller by day and a fiddle player by night. And like your Grand-da said, often drunk as a bunghole from too many toasts shared with the dancers at the village balls! You see, he was a wonderful fiddle player, so the villages around his hired him to rotate through to play at their dances.

One night, after the last of the dancers had left the village square, Jojo put his fiddle in its case and staggered on towards home. He was a good two miles away from his own village and had to climb to the crest of a hill before starting his descent toward the river, the mill and his nice warm bed.

T’was a harsh winter and the hill was iced over. In his inebriated state, Jojo kept slipping and skidding and in one big fall, almost bashed his fiddle case. He decided that instead of taking the hill road, he would take the longer but flatter road along the river and through the woods. He was bound to arrive at his mill that way and his precious fiddle would stay intact.

So, there he was, trudging through the woods, his feet crunching through the thin ice layer on top of the snow, keeping the river to his right, when he stepped into a hunter’s trap. Boy, did the pain ever sober him up! He tried to pry open the trap’s teeth but could get no leverage with just his hands. He crawled around to try and find a stick sturdy enough to pry the teeth open but stopped when he noticed a pair of glowing yellow eyes staring intently back at him.

‘Jesus, Mary and all the Saints, protect me! A Wolf!’ Jojo thought, looking down at the trap, not wanting to stare straight at the wolf’s eyes for fear that the beast would take that as a challenge and pounce. Jojo was more and more sober by the minute! His ankle throbbed in the trap. He was pretty sure the bone was broken, though the thick leather in his boots had kept the teeth from drawing blood. He could sense the ankle swell and could feel his own heartbeat in the wound.

The wolf walked closer and closer, a gleam of hunger in its eyes, his ears alert. It was limping. It was scrawny as though he had not eaten in days. Probably that lame back paw kept it from hunting! No sign of the rest of the pack! Maybe it was an outcast! All those thoughts crowded in Jojo’s head in a split second.

As the wolf crept ever closer, Jojo searched around for a stick and was no more successful in the attempt than he had been before. He resolved to use his fiddle as a defensive weapon. He’d bash that wolf on the head if it crept any closer!

As Jojo gripped the neck, ready to swing, the wolf sat on its haunches and tilted his head sideways, in the same cute fashion puppies did when they heard high pitched noises. That gave ole Jojo an idea. Slowly, he put the fiddle in place, grabbed his bow and started playing. Surely, his wife would worry when he did not make it home! She’d send out one of their older sons to search for him. They would hear the fiddle for sure! If the wolf did not eat him first!

The first notes trilled, and the wolf’s head tilted even further, ears flattened back. He lowered his front paws to the ground and lay on his tummy, creeping slowly forward. Jojo stopped playing for a few seconds, long enough to toss a crust of soda bread from his knapsack to the wolf who gulped it down in seconds. Jojo played on, getting colder and colder by the minute as the winter wind picked up and swirled snow around them.

Anytime he stopped playing, the wolf bared its teeth and growled, so Jojo played the longest concert he had ever played, staring at the wolf as he played. No one came for him. Of course! They were probably searching for him on the main road between the village and his millpond, and not out in the woods! Playing music kept him warm, and more importantly, awake! The wolf’s warnings kept him playing.

By morning, when there was noise of an approaching human, the wolf slunk away and hid in the thicket. Jojo was relieved when the hunter arrived to check his trap and freed him. The hunter could not believe his eyes when he saw what he had caught. And he asked Jojo about the big paw tracks that came so close to him, then headed out in the other direction. There was wonder in the hunter’s eyes. “Ye must have faerie blood not to have been eaten by that wolf!”

As he worked to pry the trap open, the hunter apologized and said, “I thought for sure I’d catch that lame wolf. He’s been stealing chickens at our farm. Probably got kicked out of the pack when he went lame! See those tracks? He’s hardly putting any weight on his back leg! Did you see him?” Jojo nodded, taking off his wool cap and running his finger through his coarse hair. “Phewwww! What happened to your hair, Jojo? Is was auburn yesterday and now it’s full-on white!”

After resetting the trap, the hunter helped Jojo stand up on his good foot. He supported him as they hobbled away, a pair of gleaming eyes watching them go from the thicket. The village did not have a doctor, so when Jojo got home, the blacksmith set his ankle, Jojo hollering like a stuck pig, then bandaged it to immobilize it. One of Jojo’s sons carved him a single crutch to lean on. Chickens continued to disappear from the village coops.

Jojo occasionally caught sight of that pair of gleaming yellow eyes, or of a tail disappearing into the thicket behind his house. He convinced the hunter and the other villagers to stop hunting the wolf. He claimed that even though his own ankle had healed at a funny angle and never stopped giving him pain, especially when it rained, the villagers still brought grain to be milled by a cripple! The wolf had saved his life that long night. Jojo felt sure he would have fallen asleep and would have died of hypothermia had the wolf not insisted on his playing all night long! His wolf deserved the same chance to heal! He would feed the wolf by leaving his own food in the open, behind his house and away from the chicken coops. They’d see! He’d never steal from them again if Jojo did that!

Jojo often watched from his open backdoor. Anytime he saw the wolf, he played his fiddle. He was considered daft for his strange friendship with the wolf. Eventually, the wolf filled out and became a regular sight even inside the village instead of just by Jojo’s house. They all got used to the wolf. Even the mothers stopped pulling their children to their chests when he passed near! The village dogs never did get used to him, though! They all growled anytime the lame wolf came near! All except for one, a female in heat.

The first dog named Phelan in our family was half-wolf and half-dog. He liked fiddle music as much as his da had that night long ago when Jojo had played for his life! The wolf eventually died and was buried in Jojo’s backyard. That’s my backyard now! Ye’ve seen the flat stone by the hawthorn hedge, the one with a fiddle carved onto it and fiddle ferns around the back? That’s the wolf’s grave! Or so I was told by me own Ma!

When our ancestor Jojo died years later, he had had four Phelans in his life, all descendants of his nighttime wolf. Matter of fact, Jojo’s grave in the cemetery has four wolf foodprints carved into it, three deep and one light, right below the name Joel O’Donnell! You can check this out tomorrow if you come with me to put flowers on our family graves.”

*

Seamus nodded, rubbing sleep out of his eyes. It was way past his bedtime. That night, he fell asleep to the melancholy melodies his da played quietly downstairs and the sound of grownups teasing Nan for her belief in her ancestral tale. Seamus dreamt of the lame wolf and of his ancestor, the village cripple, Jojo. He dreamt of yellow glowing eyes in the dark. He snuggled up to his own Phelan, asleep and snoring near him on the goose feather comforter. When he woke up, he knew for sure that Grand-da and the others had it wrong and Nan had it right! His own Phelan loved fiddle music, after all…

June 14, 2021 08:12

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02:23 Jun 24, 2021

'Conflicting origin' of tradition not brought out.

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