Jane Again and Again, Mariachis, Brays, and a Grand Daughter

Donald Shephard

One summer Jane was busy pulling pints of beer from the cellar of the Crown Hotel, ironically because the regular barmaid was on maternity leave. The Whippet Clan switched its allegiance to the Crown from the Holly Bush with few regrets on either side of the bar. The following year, Jane herself delivered another bouncing baby, but unlike the others, this one had enormous eyebrows which reached up towards a widow’s peak. Jane consulted the baby's father and Christened the Bat-faced, lop-eared brat Henry and arrayed him in a rainbow of colors.

At the next Annual General Meeting of the Antediluvian Ladies Conversation Society there was a veritable orgasm of disapproval.

"What a disgrace!" said Mrs. Clara Biddy.

That's what I said," said Miss Dotty Biddy. "I was saying just the other day to 'Phelia, 'What a disgrace,' I said."

"What a forward hussy!" said Mrs. Ophelia Biddy.

"Just what I said, " said Dotty Biddy, " 'What a forward hussy!' I said."

This time Harry Crow was pegged as the purveyor of life to Jane's son, Henry, solely because of their similar eyebrows and multi-colored clothes. I hasten to add here that the Chief of Police had no grand children who remotely or even closely resembled Fred Plinge, a statement I make with absolutely no reservations because my dear, old uncle Fred told me so himself.

I overheard the three Biddy's scandalmongering once on a particularly slow news day.

"How come Plinge has not had one with her, I want to know?" said Mrs. Clara Biddy.

"Perhaps he's too ugly for her," said Miss "Feelyer" Biddy, with a surprising amount of feeling.

"Perhaps he can't," said Miss Dotty Biddy with a sly wink.

I declined to boast of my dear, old uncle's prowess for fear of fuelling their fire. Speaking of which, I noticed that Miss Dotty Biddy had a decidedly warm face which might lead you to believe she had some inside information, as the actress said to the bishop, but she was definitely not commenting for once.

It was a showery day as so many are in that green and pleasant land but I risked getting wet and headed off for a stroll in the fields around the village. About three miles outside Upper-Piddlington-By-The-Roding I saw Worthy running towards me. Plinge was not yet in sight which made me wonder how Worthy had sensed me before my uncle did. On meeting that venerable gentleman, I put the question to him.

"Dogs have a much more acute sense of smell than humans do, Donald," he told me gently. I resolved to take more care the very next Saturday night when I took my weekly bath. Whereupon, the rains came down in earnest.

Plinge and I settled our backs into a hedge, adjusted our positions to avoid the leaks in our shelter and settled in for what looked like a long wait. The story of the origins of the Mariachi bands of Mexico was born on that occasion.

When my dear, old uncle Fred Plinge, E.P.N.S., bless his ever beating little heart, was visiting Mexico many and many a long year ago, he became attached to the court of that remarkable king, Archie-The-Bald III. Uncle Fred was attached to that court by a long string of ladies and it was his duty to make the arrangements for Archie The Bald's wedding. Of course, you will remember from your history lessons that all the Archie The Balds were ugly, lazy and not very nice. Archie-The- Bald III, who fortunately was also the last, was the ugliest, laziest, and least nice of them all.

What a problem Uncle Fred had finding someone to marry the king! Finally the daughter of the Chief Grand Exalted and Benevolent Illustrious Keeper of the King's Buzzard's agreed. She too was ugly and lazy but quite nice really in a whimsical sort of way. You may well ask why her father the Chief Grand Exalted and Benevolent Illustrious Keeper of the King's Buzzards had such a long and cumbersome title. That is obviously because all governments increase the length of the title of a job to compensate for the lack of real compensation, so that the person with the longest title earns the least, and the one simply called "King" is paid the most. Times were very bad for the Chief Grand Exalted and Benevolent Illustrious Keeper of the King's Buzzards because the king himself earned only $1.69 according to the king himself.

Archie The Bald III, who was neither Arch nor Bald, wanted a big celebration but, of course, being a poor king, he did not want to spend much money. Uncle Fred searched all over the land for a band to play at the ball but every one of them regretted that they had a previous engagement until finally he recruited a little known group of rehabilitated school teachers and disabled Mexican mountain yodelers from the disabled Mexican mountains south of the capital. You may well be asking yourself how it is that the Rehabilitated School Teachers and Disabled Mexican Mountain Yodelers band was enticed into this task that nobody wanted. Fred always was a good politician, or at least a successful one, so he used his skills learned in the lower house of the Outer Mongolian Senate to appoint a committee of school teachers. Everyone else knows that a camel is a horse built by a committee but they did not. So it was that the committee voted overwhelmingly, to "not deny the king the privilege of hearing them." Fred hired these alleged musicians sight unseen and sound unheard, transporting them on donkeys which brayed all the way giving them the key in which to play.

After a simple rustic wedding in the Cathedral of the Sainted Mother of the Saints of the World United in One Evangelical there was a sumptuous feast without any meat because the new queen had, as she so poetically said, "seen enough buzzards eating dead animals to last a lifetime." The feast was attended by all three of the Ministers of State, all the archbishops and bishops, as well as the priests and other hungry people Uncle Fred could persuade to attend. They all had a difficult time pretending to enjoy themselves except for one particularly enterprising fellow who had smuggled in a roast leg of suckling pig under his cassock. That is the true origin of the phrase, "You ham!" But that is a story I will tell you all about some other time.

When the mountain of vegetables, some of which were once almost fresh, had been consumed, my dear, old uncle Fred Plinge, E.P.N.S., in all his sartorial splendor, carried the King's mace at the head of the procession from the cantina to the ballroom. Not the kind of mace in a can that is used by mailmen to ward off dogs, but rather the old kind of ornate stick also used to ward off dogs before mace in a can was invented or even before cans were invented for that matter.

At the ballroom, the peculiarly unique Rehabilitated School Teachers and Disabled Mexican Mountain Yodelers band was either, (my uncle pronounced it "either"), was either tuning up or practicing or possibly both or even neither, (which my uncle rather inconsistently pronounced "neither"). There they were making a joyous noise unto the king when uncle Fred thumped down the mace as much to get rid of the dog hairs and associated fleas as to announce to those he had paid to assemble, the entrance of Archie The Bald III, the ugly, lazy, and not very nice with his bride the queen, daughter of the Chief Grand Exalted and Benevolent Illustrious Keeper of the King's Buzzards, the ugly, lazy, but rather nice really in a whimsical sort of way.

By judiciously opening windows to allow the breeze to blow out candles and with the help of a strong punch of a remarkably recent vintage, Uncle Fred was able to claim the next day that a ball was indeed had by all. With only the merest hint of exaggeration he related to everyone the joys and ecstasies of the gala occasion, the brilliance of the wit, and the beauty of the ladies and their dress. They only had one dress between them and it was Maria's turn to wear it but nobody could agree which Maria. Above all, said Fred, the lightness of the music was ethereal. Whether he meant that the music transported you out of this world or out of your head, we shall never know.

Such was the skill of my dear, old uncle Fred Plinge, that he convinced all the members of the court, who were in no condition to argue, that the music was unbelievable, and in less than a week this particular band was booked up for three and a half years of one-night stands. Fred had kindly consented to be the agent of the Rehabilitated School Teachers and Disabled Mexican Mountain Yodelers Band and his business card said just that until, as often happens, with the fickle fads of public taste, they referred to the band by its first great triumphant function, that is the band that played when Archie married or the MarryArchie Band. And that is the truth because my dear, old Uncle Fred Plinge, E.P.N.S. told me so himself.

Having outlasted the storm, Fred and I eased our stiff bodies out of the hedge and walked back to the village passing the perforated yew hedge of the Police Chief which showed the progress of Jane's romances.

Before Knobby, the third of Jane's children, arrived, a brutal thing happened. Jane and Gerald got married as a result, I believe, of a scene that Plinge and I witnessed. By the way it was the scene that was brutal and definitely not the marriage as you might have surmised. We emerged from a short cut through the forest carrying a sack of rabbits which we had acquired by removing the pests from Farmer Brown's wheat field. Now I suspect that, given the opportunity, the good taxonomists amongst you might have identified these animals as the much more valuable hares preferred by the uplanders and coveted by Farmer Brown. You should realize that Plinge, being human, occasionally and entirely accidentally, erred when he chose the place to put his springes.

As we came through the trees by the lane which runs along the side of the aforementioned yew hedge belonging to the ex-Police Chief, we saw that pudgy man kicking wildly, if not accurately, at a bundle of rags and a red bandanna lying on the ground. Unfortunately for Gerald, these peculiar articles of clothing at that particular moment contained his body. I started forward but was swiftly restrained by a large hairy hand.

"Let's go rescue Gerald," I said.

"Look!" replied Plinge, "There in the hedge where Will Waistcoat made the hole, and there in the shadow of the house, and there under the trees." Several big men with large, well polished shoes were standing by while their ex-boss taught "that lazy, bloody dog" a lesson. I complained again of our apparent cowardice but Plinge bode me be quiet.

"Gerald knows how to look after himself. The old man is so mad and drunk that he is missing, but if we go in there, those bobbies will have a field day polishing their shoes on our coats."

My dear, old uncle Fred Plinge, E.P.N.S., being a brave and selfless soul, made no mention of the illegal contents of our sacks which, I am quite sure, he would have sacrificed to the next policemen's picnic with pleasure.

Of course, Plinge was right. The next time I saw Gerald Meek he was bringing up the rear as usual, but he had been ensconced as the man of the house in a small cottage with an oversized thatched roof. It suited him as did the new set of the policeman's old clothes. Well, to be honest, the suit may have fit him if the jacket had been larger and the pants shorter. Nevertheless it was an improvement for Gerald. Whenever they strolled through the village, between Jane and Gerald walked their four sons, William, Timothy, Henry, and Knobby.

Jane dressed her son Knobby all in black and, when asked why, she replied that was the color of clothes that fit him. It might have helped to know that the boy's clothes were all hand-me-downs from the Frontispiece's, the mortician's family. The Biddy's, Little Red, Dotty, and Feelyer discussed the lineage of Knobby just as they had done for his older brothers.

"There she goes again! I just don't know what to say," said Mrs. Clara Biddy. Of course, the lack of anything to say delayed her not at all.
          "It's a perfect disgrace to the village, it is," she continued.

"I wonder who the father could be this time?" said Mrs. Ophelia Biddy.

"Just look at him, he has his father's shifty eyes, his father's nose, and just look at those ears. Who do you think the father is?" said Mrs. Clara Biddy.

"Just look at those clothes," added Dotty Biddy, not quite understanding the laws of genetics.

"Why it must be Ken Bonewood, I saw him diving through the Police Chief's yew hedge one night just before Michaelmas." That utterance by Mrs. Clara Biddy settled the paternity suit for ever in their marvelous minds.

After his unexpected departure from office at fifty, the beefy, abused body of the ex-Chief of Police started to deteriorate. At first there were problems with the rhythm of the heart which he tried to ignore, but the dizzy spells were persistent. There followed a series of circulatory deficiencies which culminated with gangrene of the right leg. After the amputation, the chief’s depression was difficult to manage, and it was Gerald, his son-in-law, who man-handled him into and out of his wheelchair.

It was also Gerald who pushed him, figuratively and literally, to see his old acquaintances, lest he be forgot. As a result of this, Gerald and his father-in-law found a peculiar kind of interdependence, which allowed them to almost enjoy each other's company in escaping the whelming attention of their spouses. They got along.

At about this time, Jane gave birth to her last child, whom she wrapped in a red bandanna and named Geraldine, in honor of the girl's father. As she grew, little Gerry was most often seen perched on the step of her grandfather's wheel chair, or walking behind it helping her father push. She was a joy to both men. Privately the ex-chief was proud that his "lazy bloody dog" of a son-in-law had at last conquered his daughter and given him this light in his life.

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