The Jelly Bean Incident
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A long time before my discovery that my father had founded the Non-Luthern Museum of Madison, and almost incomprehensibly separate from my first clumsy steps outside the reality box, I once met a leprechaun. In truth I can’t really claim to have met it, but his, and I gender it only reluctantly, presence was certainly made known to me. It was a brisk spring morning in the creaky old farmhouse of my youth. The green valleys, stretching out from the house in all directions, had peeked out over the previous weeks, and the only hint of the blankets of snow that had recently covered our world was the rushing of the ice-cold water, in the gulley, just past the yard. My mother had gone out early, down the winding gravel road that barricaded my childhood from any semblance of normalcy, shopping for the milk and cheese and sweets that we couldn’t supply ourselves. My father had conscripted me into the service of the farm, a label that he used proudly but that was hardly descriptive of his hobby. The year before he had arrived home one evening with a baby lamb which, after a symbolic protest from my mother, would supplement our livestock of five chickens, a pig, three barn cats, and a border collie, pushing the operation, in his mind, well into the territory of serious farming.

There was a chill on the house from the spring dew, and while I sat in our kitchen, eating a breakfast of jellybeans, an uncommon treat, my father stomped down the pine planks that served as our basement stairs. As he stacked wood into the ancient iron stove that would warm the house and fill our noses with the woody scent I still associate with comfort, he quizzed me on my planned adventures for the day. The melting snow had left behind a sink hole, way up on a wooded hill behind the house, and my young mind was wild with imaginings of the caverns and treasures that I would surely find once I had finished a hard day of digging. I excitedly left my snack and stood at the top of the basement stairs to ensure that he was demonstrating the appropriate level of enthusiasm for my discovery. He didn’t seem quite as certain that pirates would have buried their treasure in a cave so far from an ocean, but once the entrance was uncovered I was certain that he’d come around. The fire lit, he swung the heavy stove door shut and joined me upstairs.

“You are probably going to have to dig through quite a bit of rock,” he said, placing his soot covered hand on my back and guiding me towards the kitchen, “there’s a pickaxe in the garden shed that you can use”.

“I bet that I’ll be through the top by this afternoon.” I said excitedly, “By tomorrow I’ll probably need ropes and a headlamp!”

He grinned down at me, squeezing my shoulder gently, “Finish your ‘nutritious’ breakfast,” he chuckled “it sounds like you have a long day ahead of you.”

My attention pulled back to a more immediate treasure, I let my eyes settle on the table where I had left a neat little pile of colored candy beans. It was the first time that I ever felt the glitch, the faint pull at the back of your neck followed by the sensation of falling. Where the jelly beans had been, less than a minute before, sat a single golden coin. I spun to look quizzically at my father.

“What’s up?” he asked, the confusion in my eyes apparent to him.

“What happened to my jelly beans?” I asked. “They were here a moment ago.”

“You ate them, I’d imagine.” My father laughed.

“I swear that they were right here.” I said confused, picking up the coin and inspecting it. It was chocolate, the kind wrapped in gold foil, common in stockings and at kids parties. There was nothing uncommon about the thing itself, it simply hadn’t existed moments before. At the time my father joked that it must have been a leprechaun.

When my mother arrived home, later that afternoon, I told her the story, miming out my path from the table to the stairs, demonstrating my line of site to the entrances and the only other person present, my father. She shrugged and said “If a day goes by where you don’t notice at least one unexplainable thing before lunch, then you aren’t paying very close attention.”

At the time, I remember going through stages of disbelief. First almost hurt that my parents seemed to have dismissed this impossible thing so casually. Finally ending in puzzlement at how my father, and maybe even an accomplice, had orchestrated such a brilliant trick, only to barely acknowledge my wonderment at their success.

Years later, when it became clear that my father was dying, I exhausted him with the philosophical. I was terrified that the world would forever lose his thoughts on anything that I didn’t think to ask. “The jelly bean incident”, as I had come to think of it, was foremost in my mind in those weeks.

“How did you ever pull off that trick with the chocolate coin and the jelly beans?” I asked, as we lay across the hood of my car. He had flown to Lake Tahoe between chemotherapy treatments, knowing, I think, that it would be our last chance to draw beautifully linked figure-eights down a mountain together. Skiing had always been our greatest connection and something in both of us acknowledged that this trip was the big one. We had parked the car in a parking lot above Emerald Bay to watch the Lyrid Meteor Shower, which my father had claimed was near its peak. In thirty minutes of stargazing we had witnessed a grand total of two falling stars, so the conversation had wandered somewhat from the cosmic.

“Jelly beans?” he asked, confused.

I told the story as I remembered it, complete with his explanation about leprechauns.

“I don’t remember that at all” he claimed, “maybe it really was a leprechaun.”

Something about the adeptness and subtlety of the trick made me want for him to claim it. I wanted him to step effortlessly into his role as the sorcerer of my childhood and judge me, his son, finally worthy of the secret. Instead, I got a shrug, a laugh, and was I imagining the slightest suggestion of a wink?

He was right, of course, to obscure his answer in a cloak of absurdity and humor. Even my framing of the question had not left any space for the truth. I sometimes wonder, had he lived for just a few more years, whether he would have deemed me ready for more than hints and nudges. I suspect that isn’t how any of this works, but I’m still only just beginning to see.

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