The way my mother told the story as I remember it from childhood, the Hare, who was quite fast and who had won a number of awards for his impressive speed throughout the state of Louisiana, challenged the Tortoise to a foot-race in order to boast of his speed through an uneven match. My mother explained that the day the Hare had chosen to set the race turned out to be the hottest day of the year. “Quite possibly,” she added, “the hottest day the great state of Louisiana has ever suffered.”
The story went as the story does but when the story concluded, I found the correct moral had been lost on me. The lesson I took was to never race anyone on the hottest day of the year. For me the story made little sense. I was a very curious child and in many ways I suppose I still am. So after my mother the brilliant raconteur finished her cautionary tale, I began to ask questions that I found to be completely rational. When did the Tortoise and the Hare first meet? Were they classmates? Did the Hare hold a personal grudge against the Tortoise and, if so, is that why he singled him out? What happened to the pair afterwards? Did they ever mend their relationship? Where were they today? I asked all these and many more questions of my mother and every time I did she gave the same response,
“It’s just a story.” She tried her best to explain the stories intentions, but while I understood its main thesis, I couldn’t put my curiosity to rest. After so many requests to hear the story and after so many questions followed each rendition, my mother eventually stopped retelling the story. When I refused to give up my requests, she all-together cut the words “tortoise” and “hare” from her vocabulary. “Tortoise”, luckily, isn’t a word that gets used too often, but from then on my younger sister and I found a virtual well of joy when it came time for our visits to the barber.
My years came as they do for all kids. I became more preoccupied with my studies and even more so with girls that soon, before I had even realized a shift had occurred, my thirst for the knowledge of what became of the legendary Tortoise and Hare slipped into non-existence; if not all-together, then it was simply lazing beneath a shady tree on the hottest of summer days, the finish line no longer a priority. After my formal education, I spent a few years grazing out on my own with my girlfriend and many of my closest friends. When Christmas time came one year, I had a sudden and overwhelming fancy to visit my family over the holiday season. So, I packed up and invited my girlfriend and a few others to come along. They were fantastic friends and I knew if they were with me the trip was sure to be a wonderful time.
It was early December when we packed up and left and I received word from my sister just before we left that she would be attending as well. When we arrived the hugs and kisses were spread around, introductions were made, settling in commenced, and then we as a complete family sat down and discussed how best to send the evening. My father simply suggested eating as he wasn’t a billy for making extravagant plans but did enjoy dining, and my mother suggested long walks it the snow covered fields as she was a nanny that always yearned for such hallmark moments. The family eventually compromised by eating our meals in the field whenever the weather permitted. About halfway through the season, very close to Christmas, we were walking through the hilly meadows which surround my family’s estate and my father was telling me a work story involving a guy they called “Turtle”. At the same time, my mother made mention of the rabbits that get into the carrot patch of her garden to my girlfriend and my sister. I just barely caught the end of her story. My sister was on the other side of my girlfriend and had previously oblivious to my mothers rant, but upon hearing my mother’s use of the word “rabbit” she interjected, “Oh Mother, you still refuse to use the word “hare”?”
That night my mother and father brought my company and the company of my sister’s up to speed on what my father dubbed the “Tortoise-Hare Debacle”. We all laughed and my sister and I gave our viewpoints as though we were testifying in open court. We gave our own accounts of so many family stories that night and often embarrassed ourselves for the sake of seeing our favorite of all our loved ones laugh. The moon came and passed and sunk low beneath the tree line. We decided the night had gone long enough. That night as I laid in my old room, in my old boyhood bed, all my unanswered questions woke up suddenly and drowsily. My curiosity of the Tortoise and the Hare’s fate kept me up to see the sunrise. The whole time my bed seemed to be spinning or the walls were revolving around me as though I had been on a three-day bender. The nostalgia had taken its roots and there are very few experiences as satisfying to the soul as being drunk on nostalgia.
I spent the spring semester researching and tracking down the two famous athletes at the expense of my studies. I worked meticulously-day and night- on my questions and procedures. When the start of May came rolling around, I packed up once again, this time with Louisiana as my destination. The state my mother had made the story’s setting; the state where the rivals now lived in the same retirement community. The Louisiana summer had started without me, but was kind enough to stand waiting for my arrival. The hot sticky air kept me company as I navigated the labyrinth of French road system. Eventually I found the complex set out amongst moss-covered Cyprus trees. Their deep green threads hung like the explosions of fireworks frozen in mid-air on the edge of the deep-south bayou. The ankle-high grass along with the moss swayed gently with the low breeze. There wasn’t a cloud in sight. The home itself was an old plantation house, easily over 150 years old. It stood at two stories with a wide front porch that went the entire length of the house. Tall, white pillars held up the porch’s high awning that stuck out past the second floor windows. The clear windows gave view to the dark rooms of the house. There was no electricity inside so the rooms depended on the sun for lighting. The front door stood wide open. Nurses and chambermaids pored in and out to attend to the residents who were sprinkled across the porch and the front yard.
On the porch, some were seated in old rocking chairs with the same paint job as the pillars. In the yard, some wondered confused but entertained by the dancing moss of the trees. I walked up the gravel path that cut through the front yard up to the porch. A nurse came through the door and yelled at a Mr. Bromell that the apple he was about to bite into had not been sprayed for bugs. In reality the apple Mr. Bromell held as a rock. I went straight for her. After the old man dropped the rock, I inquired as to the whereabouts of the Tortoise and the Hare. The main dinning room in the west wing was wide with hard wood floors and a high ceiling. Along the west wall were tall, slender windows overlooking a lovely garden. The sun lit the red wooded floors and the room’s several spread out tables with strips of yellow. All the tables had soft lace table clothes and all were vacant save for one in the far back left corner. The table sat next to a window that allowed an enormous amount of light to pass through. On the table’s left sat the Hare in control of the white forces of the chessboard before him. Opposite the Hare, whose hair was a deep gray and who wore an old pair of steel-rimmed spectacles, sat the monocled Tortoise, his skin hung in deep creases around his eyes and long, slender neck. The Tortoise slowly reached across the board to reposition his one remaining rook and said shakily,
“Old friend, I think you’ve got this one.” The Hare moved his knight just a slowly as the Tortoise had moved his rook and said in a very high but soothing tone,
“Checkmate, old boy. Shall we have another?”
“First things first,” said the Tortoise and he gently laid his king flat on the board.
I backed out of the room with a smile. Sure, my curiosities were begging my feet to turn back. They were pleading with my mouth to ask all the questions they had prepared and they were using every trick in the book to convince my mind to turn back, but my heart, as hearts so often do, knew the right thing to do. I couldn’t impose on such a splendid scene. After all, who was I to interrupt a game of chess between friends.
© Copyright 2016 E Lewis Elly. All rights reserved.