Monday, August 15, 2011

Honey, I'm Home

"People died far more often in the towns than in the country, and so a path of emigration to urban Europe [for the Pilgrims] might well be a road to nowhere."

Nick Bunker in Making Haste from Babylon: The Mayflower Pilgrims and Their World

These days, death is almost always a-once-in-a-lifetime experience. There is the rare exception, when a person is pulled back from the beckoning light by highly trained medical professionals and a vast array of medical equipment. But even then, the patient's return to the living is dependent upon his insurance company pre-approving the resuscitation before the Pearly Gates close behind him.

In olden times, however, death for the average urbanite occurred more often than it did for his country cousin, who usually died just once. Should archeologists find a sprawling ancient city buried beneath the sand in the Middle East it could help explain how the men in the Old Testament managed to live for centuries and beget so prodigiously. Perhaps those men died many times before dying finally and used the periodic downtime to recharge their batteries of amore. Thus, when they rejoined the living, the geezers were able to resume begetting without the need for Viagra.

The Pilgrims begat with the best of them, and their offspring often numbered in the double-digits. The more famous Pilgrims settled in the sparsely populated New World, where it was one-and-done, deathwise. The effort needed to reproduce on a Biblical scale might explain the early deaths of many Pilgrims. Being frisky every night after a day of wilderness taming had to take its toll.

But for the Pilgrims' Separatist brethren, who eschewed the New World, preferring to remain in the great metropolises of England or the Netherlands, where people died more often, life was no less difficult. Frequent dieing, after all, is fraught with problems. Imagine poor George Allerton, who returned to his apartment in Leiden one morning an hour before sunrise. When he opened the bedroom door, his wife Pricilla was sorely affrighted.

"Prithee, good wife," he said soothingly, "Be not alarmed. 'Tis only I, your loving husband."

"You have been dead for but a fortnight," she said. "The last time you did die it was for a Biblical forty days, as though you were cast adrift on Noah's ship. And the time before that thou wast dead for a span of two months."

"But when one dies again and again, one knows not how long each death will last."

"Couldst thou not have sent a missive that I might knowth of your return? Do I asketh too much?"

"You know I knoweth not a word of Dutch. What doth it profitith a man to write a letter if he cannot address it in the language of the postman? Thou art such a nervous Nellie. Have thou been drinking coffee to excess?"

Priscilla tried to cast an angry stare upon her husband but was unable to look him in the eye. George, certain as always of his wife's love for him, leaned against the doorframe and smiled until he noticed something moving beneath the covers.

"Dost thou have Calvin, our faithful cur, sleeping with thee for thy protection?" George asked.

"No. I mean yea, verily. There are many shameless and dangerous people nearby, and I oft fear for my safety when thou art dead."

A surge of pride coursed through George's body, He approached the bed to give Priscilla a warm embrace. But as he spread his arms, a bearded, unkempt man emerged from beneath the covers.

"Hey, Prissy, baby," the yawning man said, "dost thou thinkth thee can get me a cup of coffee?"

For a second, George was determined to defend his wife's honor. But the man in the bed looked familiar, and when George realized who it was, he greeted him warmly.

"William. William Hawkins. I didst believe thou were dead," George said.

"In truth, I was," said William. "I was most dead until a week ago yesterday."

"But thou were two-and-twenty when thou didst die. Often the young die but once."

"You speakth the truth, George. But surely you knowth the Hawkins' family motto: 'Die early and die often.'"

"That is most true," George said. "Thy father, hath he not died a dozen times?"

"Fourteen," William said. "He doth so enjoy being dead. 'William, my boy,' he often says, 'thy mother is a most wonderful woman, but she doth nag exceedingly, and a month or two in the grave from time to time is most refreshing. If I had to live through all the years of our marriage, I would be miserable.'"

"Ah, I do feel the same way," George said.

"Excuse me," saith Pricilla.

"I hope you taketh this not personally, Pricilla, but thou art often a bothersome wench," George said.

"And thou doth snore with great fervor," William said. "I know not, George, how you are able to sleep."

"Truly, I spend many a restless night. But death, I find, is a great restorative."

"Doth anyone care what I think?" Pricilla asked.

"Most assuredly," George said. "But not right now. As I wended my way from the cemetery, I did notice many deer and rabbits and wild boar gamboling through the forest. Come, William, let us take our muskets and do the hunting. Pricilla can stay here and do the needed gathering."

"I'll gather dust, most likely," Pricilla groused.

William quickly got out of bed and dressed.

"Let us first hie to Joanna's Diner, where we can get a cup of decent coffee before we go to the woods," George said.

In a moment the men were gone. And Pricilla spent the day wondering what it would take to get George to covet her.

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