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The Day After
by Grainne Rowland
It was December 26, St. Stephen's Day, Wren Day. Anthony and Joseph were jumping with excitement.
"Is it time yet?" asked Joseph for the hundredth time. Their mother was preparing breakfast in the early morning dawn.
"Will you two please calm down!" she exclaimed. "You can't go anywhere until you have something warm in your stomach. It will likely be hours before you come back and it is cold outside."
Joseph and Anthony gulped down their breakfasts. Why did they have to eat oatmeal, eggs, rashers, toast, and a pot of tea today of all days? They had other things to do this day!
As soon as they had eaten, the boys ran for mother's room. Mother was rummaging through a trunk of old clothes. There were many ribbons of different colors lying on the bed.
"Alright, boys," said Mother, "you may dress up in any of these old clothes. Just dress warmly. Here are the ribbons you may use."
"Thanks, Mum," said Anthony, as he and Joseph quickly put on old clothes. They chose clothes that were very old, very long, and very big. They pinned on the colored ribbons wherever they could reach. They went to the fireplace and rubbed soot on their faces. They were ready to go!
Mother smiled as she looked at them.
"You look very strange," she said. The boys grinned.
"But, remember, you are reminding people that the wren, as tiny a bird as it is, once told the Roman soldiers where Baby Jesus was. The Holy Family barely escaped. So be on your best behavior."
"Yes, Mum," promised both boys. They grabbed a jar and bolted out of the house. Inside the jar was a potato. The potato had feathers stuck into it, so that it looked like a wren.
Joseph and Anthony started down the road to the next house. They sang at the top of their lungs as they went. The "Wren Song" was the official song for this day. They heard other groups of boys shouting it out on other streets.
"The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze.
Although he is little, his honor is great.
Jump up, me lads, and give us a treat."
Joseph and Anthony went to the first house and knocked. When the door opened, they asked, "A penny to bury the wren." They were given some small coins.
This happened at every house in town. When the boys came home at the end of the day, they had a jar full of money! What a lot of treats they could buy now! Mother and Father were both smiling at the boys' excitement.
"So it seems like you had a good day," Father said.
In bed that night, Joseph and Anthony talked it over.
"If we made that much money in one day, think what we could do in two days!" marveled Joseph. "Shall we do it again tomorrow?"
"Yes, let's," grinned Anthony. "But we'd better get out of the house early."
Before dawn the next morning, the boys dressed up, grabbed the wren jar, and set out. They wondered why everyone seemed to be grinning at them so much today. And where were the other boys? By midmorning, they had made even more money than the day before. They raced home.
As they entered their own front door, Father grabbed them by their collars.
"The neighbors are laughing at this family!" he roared. "You have embarrassed all of us. Do you think we are beggars? Do we have to hold out our hands and whimper for even the smallest coin? Both of you go to bed for the rest of the day. You'll have no supper tonight!"
Surprised, the boys went to their room. What'd we do, they wondered. They listened as Mother and Father argued in the kitchen.
Later, Mother came into their room with some bread and butter. She smoothed down their hair as she explained.
"Your father was very angry with you because you went out to bury the wren a second day. St. Stephen's Day is but one day."
Mother grinned. "Do you know he did the same thing on the day after when he was your age? But don't ever tell him I told you that!"
The boys laughed out loud. Then, promising to keep the secret, they snuggled under their blankets and went to sleep.
Note: This is a true story! I know the guys who did it. Names have been changed to protect the guilty!
Image: House Wren from All Posters
Index of All Children's Stories
Mon, Jan 16, 2017
This statue of Annie Moore - the first immigrant to pass through Ellis Island - stands on the dock in Cobh. Co. Cork. She looks back towards the home she is leaving while her brothers look out to sea and, beyond the horizon, the New World, three thousand miles away.
Annie set off for America from here aboard the S.S. Nevada, on December 20th, 1891. Imagine how excited and nervous she must have been when she and her brothers arrived in New York on January 1, 1892. As the very first of 700 immigrants to disembark from her ship and two other boats that day, she was given a wondrous welcome - and also a $10.00 gold coin!
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"No man ever wore a cravat as nice, as his own child's arm around his neck."
- Irish Proverb