31 July 2011

The Memoirs of Finn O'Brien Villens: Introduction

Note: These Memoirs pick up where the "Lastoc of the Annumpi" left off. Reading the Annumpi Chronicles, as they are sometimes called, would help understand the relationships and many references in Finnn's Memoirs. I have included a chart of the cast of characters on the second page of this website. If you have any questions, leave a comment and I'll try to help.

The Memoirs of Captain Finn O’Brien Villens, Irish Regiment, 
Army of the Eastern Coast, (Ret), 1842.

I woke this morning with nothing to do. My sword rested in its scabbard, carelessly leaning in the narrow slot between the dresser and the wall. I looked for my uniform, but it was not hanging from the brass hook on the back of the door. In its place was a collection of worn corduroy and cotton. Had I somehow been transformed into a gardener overnight?

I carefully negotiated my way out of bed. I could feel every insult I’d dealt my body over the years. For years, decades, I’d taken my body for granted and abused it terribly. All the wounds, the overexertions, the illnesses, returned to leave reminders of old pains. I stretched and bent, as much as I was able, to loosen my stiff joints and painful muscles. With creaks and pops, my body attempted to convince itself that it was twenty again. The twinge in my back said I would be better aiming for forty. Perhaps fifty, considering it was about to rain and my rheumatism was flaring up.

So this was retirement. After a lifetime of haring about fighting, exploring, traveling to discreet meetings in dangerous places, and generally living a life of action, I was now to dress like an assistant gardener and pick aphids off the roses. When no one is listening, I will admit that I am tired. I fear I cannot keep up my old pace. Yet there must be a way to move from one state to the other, from man of action to man of leisure, without such a sense of abrupt dislocation. I need a way to stay active, while acknowledging that I can no longer survive the risks I faced for so long without consideration.

After dressing in the odd clothes, I walked to my desk and checked the box that held the reports from the previous day. It was empty. Of course, it was. I was retired. I remembered the ceremony yesterday and the reception last night at the Villens’ chalet. Maria and Eduardo were extremely gracious to honor me by hosting the reception at their home. Maria has always been special to me. I have loved her since I was a young boy, and until I met Julianna, I had thought she was all a women could be. Now I knew that in my heart Maria is woman idealized. Julianna is woman realized. I have never regretted learning the difference.

Eduardo was a hero to me from that first bloody day he came into our lives. When I was a boy, I followed him as a puppy. He could do no wrong. When we had to flee my home, he became my mentor and substitute father. I am fortunate to have had two men to call father such as Pau O’Brien and Eduardo Villens. I am proud to hold both their names and have endeavored to bring honor to them. These men taught me much and the service I provided each of them in desperate situations are my proudest moments. Even though I have seen their feet of clay, I love and honor these men. Lord knows I have tracked mud across many a floor with mine.

I decided to see if Julianna was in her room. I wanted to talk to her. I was going to need help with retirement, and Julianna was the one whom I knew would give sound advice. I went to the private door that connected our rooms and opened it quietly. It was not quite six and I thought she might still be sleeping. Julianna was nowhere to be seen, and on her bed, propped up on a mound of pillows larger than she was, sat my granddaughter, Bridget. 

“Good Morning, Grandpa,” she said brightly.

“Where is your grandmother?,” I asked.

“In the kitchen making you a special breakfast,” said Bridget. “She told me to keep you here until she sends for you.”

“And how do you propose to me here, Little Mouse?,” I asked with mock seriousness.

“Momma said to tickle you,” said Bridget.

“I’d like to see that,” I said.

“Come here,” she replied. “You’re too big for me to catch.”

So I went to the bed and a brief tickle fight ensued. I let Bridget win, but considering how ticklish I am, she had a good chance in a fair fight.

While I caught my breath, and I noted that this took longer than I liked, Bridget hopped off the bed and raced to the door, opening it just enough to peek through. “Get ready, Grandpa!,” she cried. “Momma is coming! It’s time! It’s time!”

I sat up and arranged my clothes to assume a measure of dignity commensurate with my age, but I could do nothing about my red face. Eloise, my oldest daughter, came into the room and scooped up Bridget. “What have you been doing, child?,” she asked. 

“I beat Grandpa in a tickle fight,” she said proudly, while her mother tried to tame the child’s wild hair.

Eloise glanced at me and I said, “My shoulder acted up or I would’ve taken the little monster.” My daughter smiled at me and I knew that she remembered tickle fights from before I carried so many wounds. I looked at her and the child in her arms and, for a moment, the two merged and I saw my daughter and the child she had been and my granddaughter as the woman I hoped she would become. Time seems more fluid these days. Memories flow into the present and project into the future. I suppose at my age I have more memories than any other form of time, so it is reasonable that they leap their paddock rail and sport about where they will.

“Come you two gladiators,” Eloise said. “Breakfast is ready. We mustn’t be late.”
Breakfast was a feast. It was served in the kitchen, my favorite place for meals. The room was crammed with family and friends and the odd dog and cat. I’ve never had such a noisy and boisterous breakfast, nor one that lasted such a long time. My many grandchildren contested for the honor of serving as my waiter, which led to my having four glasses of orange juice and eight pieces of toast at one time. I slipped the extra toast to the dogs and Julianna quietly removed two of the juices.

There was a lull in the general furor and I looked up from my eggs to see my wife raising her right arm for quiet. She stood quietly among the noisy throng, stillness flowing from her, silencing the crowd. “It’s time for the gifts,” she said softly, that playful smile I loved so much dancing across her lips. As always, her smile made we wish we were alone. She could still make feel like the passionate fifteen year old I was when I saw her for the first time.

I will not bore you with the details of the gifts. They were clearly intended to be the goods I needed to carry with me into the next world of leisure. They fell generally into two themes and when combined made it apparent that I was being outfitted to be a gardener with a drinking problem. However I must tell of the final gift, Julianna’s gift.

As Eduardo and Maria presented me with a wonderfully aged French brandy, Julianna signaled to Bridgette who scampered over to me and handed me a box of fine marquetry. Inside the box was a thick leather book. I was surprised to receive a book. I am proud that I can, read, but I freely admit I do so only when necessary. I looked up a Julianna and the question must have be on my face.  It could have simply been in my head, for I swear Julianna can read my thoughts. 
“Don’t worry, dear,” she said. “You don’t read this book. You write it. It’s for your memoirs.”

I thought I had prepared myself for retirement, but the idea of my writing my memoirs undid me. I imagined a bent and withered man huddled over a crowded desk, his crabbed hand filling notebooks with trivial passages from his life as he attempts to get it all down before death claims him. Forgetting the crowd that swirled around me, I angrily blurted out, “But I still have things to do. How can I write my memoirs? My life’s not over yet.” I dropped the book the table and rose from the table. I must have been more agitated than I realized, because my daughter put her hands on my shoulders and said, “Why don’t you write your memories of your life up to this day? Then, when you finish, you can work on the material for the next volume.” 

Nervous laughter rippled through the room, as I struggled to calm myself.  I was keenly aware that I was ruining the breakfast. Julianna was at my side and whispered in my ear, “We’ll talk about this later, when everyone is gone. Don’t worry, dear, it will be all right.”

The growing silence was broken by Maria, who called across the room to Eduardo, and beckoned him to leave. The others followed their lead and the room quickly emptied. My daughter made to sit down next to me, but Julianna nodded toward the door and she left. Julianna pulled a chair next to me and sat down. She took my hands in hers and met my eyes. We sat in silence for a while and I calmed down. 

“I’m so sorry, darling,” I said softly. “I guess I’m not quite as ready to settle down as I thought. It was the idea of writing my memories. It took me by surprise. Until that empty book was put into my hands, I hadn’t thought that the active part of my life my life was over. I’m not ready for it to be over. I’m not ready for my body to fail me. I’m damn angry about the whole thing, if you want to know, and it’s a struggle to pretend otherwise. And here all my family and friends are being so kind. It was more than I could do to smile and grin and go along with it.”

Julianna smiled and said, “You are Finn O’Brien. You fight back. You never calculate the odds. I’ve known that since we first we met. But, Finn, you have also learned to use your brain. You know that you have used your body hard and it will not stand up to further abuse. I have been very understanding for many years, but now I am going to be selfish. I don’t want to be your widow. I want to spend many years with you. I would also like to know what all you were up to all those years you were wandering around the country.”

I knew that I owed Julianna so much, and she knew that I could not refuse her anything when she asked. I would try to write my memoirs. I owed her that or more. But would she want to know all that had I done?

Bridget has been wandering in and out of the room while I have been writing. She just asked me when I would be finished and I told her that I thought I’d done enough for the first day. She asked me the title of the book and when I told her that I hadn’t thought of one yet, she glared at me in indignation.  She has spent far too much time with her mother, cousin Ethna, and Maria. She has learned the art of righteous indignation from masters. Her grandmother, my darling, Julianna, is a more understanding, forgiving soul for which I have had many occasions to give thanks. 

I grow weary of writing. I suppose I must deliver a title to my tiny taskmistress so I can lay down my pen. On the shelf above my desk is the memoir of a fellow officer. The title is twenty-seven, carefully arranged words long. He strives for dignity, I suppose, but it doesn’t seem to fit me. Just as he seemed born to wear a general’s gold braid, I never felt comfortable in my officer’s uniform, even though I wore one so long I feel strange without it. I must gather my thoughts. Ah, I have it. My memoirs shall be called, “Times That Failed to Kill Me.”