*ed. note: For those not in the know, you can read more about the incredible Tom Ironsides here, here & here . As I understand it, Perrin is about to rerelease The Substitute - the first Ironsides novel - w/ a new publisher, and we should see the second installment in the not-too-distant future.
~a Tom Ironsides tale by Perrin Lovett~
Saint Thomas of Aquino College, Blowing Rock, North Carolina, December 22, 2022…
As the low December sun dipped behind the mountains, their afternoon dance complete, the slow-drifting refracted beams of stained glass light faded from the chapel wall. Several of the older congregants and more than a few of the youngsters noted the departure, with at least one mind wishing the ephemeral decorations good evening and goodbye. The tall, commanding speaker, standing in the middle of the steps before the altar, wearing a dark suit, an unusual tie, and a genuinely delighted look, took the shadowy spectacle as the signal to conclude his presentation.
‘And so,’ he said, ‘in summation, it has been, all the news of the outside world notwithstanding, a wonderful year both at the collegiate level and, especially, at our nascent little school. By the way, my earlier remarks, just to be clear, about quote-unquote wisely investing the center funds in something called FTX, that was a joke. I didn’t think enough of you laughed at the time, not in here, and it was difficult to gauge the online mood.
‘Speaking of that, what a testament! There may, in fact, be great things ahead for our concept of internet-assisted homeschooling. A note was passed to me some minutes ago, and it seems we have just over two-hundred families, benefactors, and friends joining us via the video call function. From as far away as the Helvetic Confederation and Slovakia, I might add. I regret to inform those of the digital set that they, unfortunately, will not be able to directly partake of the sandwiches, punch, and cookies which we’ll enjoy momentarily.’ Here, a peal of general laughter erupted.
‘My apologies,’ he said with a chuckle. ‘Perhaps that’s the next grand step in technology. But again and again, thank you all for coming this evening, all of you watching nationwide, worldwide, and everyone within these walls. I’d like to especially thank our tech department friends for making the wider conference possible. And I owe a debt of gratitude to all of my classics students and the other young academicians who stayed several days after finals to help. The younger kids love all of you, they look up to you, and your assistance has been beyond important. Critical, if you will. And if I’ve missed anyone, then I offer a great, all-encompassing thank you!
‘Just before we wrap this show up and commence our Christmas partying, a final word about those unpleasant secular and spiritual matters, the ones that have dogged us particularly hard of late. In an optimistic spirit of defiance, I offer you this inspirational challenge: There is no cure for this evil, but by the giving of greater force to the good hand. The righteous cause must be strengthened with might to resist the wicked, to defend the helpless, to punish all cruelty and unfairness, to uphold the right everywhere, and to enforce justice with unconquerable arms. Oh, that the host of Heaven might be called, arrayed, and sent to mingle in the wars of men, to make the good victorious, to destroy all evil, and to make the will of the King prevail! So wrote Henry van Dyke in his story of the Christmas Angel in 1905. In his young century, and in ours. Fear not! Our side is just too strong; they can’t win. Merry Christmas, everyone!’
The gathering then removed to the adjacent events center for further merry festivities. Tom inched to the back doors of the chapel and greeted everyone again as they disembarked in search of food and drink.
‘What a wonderful message, all of it,’ someone said. ‘I always loved van Dyke, and you did his words great justice.’
‘Thank you. It’s easy in a beautiful setting filled with gracious people.’
‘The virtual crowd enjoyed the show,’ a techie told him. ‘You had them overload the chat box! I emailed you all eight hundred messages for later, just like you asked.’
‘Thank you! Couldn’t have made it work without your help.’
‘You’ve made quite the start in only three years, Colonel,’ a woman said.
‘Time flies when you’re making progress and having fun!’
‘Public speaking might be your thing, sir. You should teach or something,’ one of his classics students said.
‘Yeah, I need to look into that.’
‘I knew you were trouble when we hired you,’ a Regent said. ‘My kinda trouble.’
‘All I’ve ever really been good at.’
‘What did you do to those state DOE people from Raleigh?’ another professor asked.
‘Get with me after the break about that.’
‘I like your tie, Doctor I,’ a little girl from the day school said. Her mother stood behind her, alternately smiling and biting her lower lip, and conspicuously batting her eyes at Tom.
‘It’s daffy just like us,’ he replied while ignoring the maternal flirtation and looking down at the Santa hat-sporting Duck himself.
He entered the hall last, walking and chatting with Oak Moreland. ‘I have to meet this woman, Chief,’ he said in response to some new information. ‘I suppose she’s behind these subtle changes in your ways. Have you noticed?’
‘No,’ Oak said. ‘Well, okay, I do notice her, shall we say, positive influences. I have also noticed a few things about you lately, boss. Are you aware that you, just now and three times, called this place the center? Didn’t I tell you? The Ironsides Center has a ring to it!’
‘Huh? Maybe,’ Tom said. ‘I’m more interested in seeing if a ring pops up in your life. Then you two can get on with the, you know, adding more kids to our programs.’
‘One step at a time, man! But, kids— Did you ever think, back in the old days, about your recent reason for being? I could always have seen it coming, but literally seeing it now, meeting her and all, is something different.’
‘Honestly,’ Tom said with light reflection, ‘back then, I didn’t even count on making it to retirement. Now that I’m here, I gotta admit this is the best part of life! Babysitting is the funnest job I’ve ever had, and kind of a reward for the trials of parenting – that first great go-round. Maybe a reward for any of the good work we might have ever done over all those mean years. You’ll find out before too long, one day, my friend.’
‘When will mommy and daddy be back?’ Oak asked.
‘Tomorrow, straight up from Charlotte,’ Tom said. ‘They took Jessica with them, her and her new positive, hopefully-speaking, influence, what’s-his-bubba. Bringing a college shuttle bus full of relatives, in-laws, and out-laws back with them. Thankfully it won’t be quite as many as last Christmas or the overkill year before. Got some folks scattered about this year. Oh, and I’d best remember to top that thing off before we return it. Wash it. Details.’
‘Can Todd drive it okay?’
‘Yeah. I mean, he was man enough to marry Vicky, so a box truck with seats shouldn’t be too bad. Who knows? Maybe she’ll drive. But not me! Cause I got something, somebody a whole lot more important right here!’ The men stopped and looked down at the gala’s smallest and youngest participant.
There, surrounded by college kids and swinging from Carmyn’s arm, was Tom’s pride and joy, his newest, funnest reason for being. She was named after Tom’s late mother, she was almost eighteen months old, and she was possessed of a constant bubbly precociousness. Her big brown eyes gleamed happily up at her grandfather before rapidly drifting over to Oak’s large, smiling face. She started hopping up and down and calling: ‘Bear! Bear!’
‘Hey, baby girl!’ Oak exclaimed as he bent down to her level. ‘Grrrrrr.’
‘You do look like a big, old grizzly,’ Tom said. ‘Especially with the beard.’
While the hulking man happily allowed many a tug on his beard, Carmyn proudly said to Tom, ‘not a peep from Meredith the whole time! She’s the perfect child. I’m not even sure she knows how to cry or fuss.’
‘She also failed to laugh at any of my jokes,’ Tom said with faux ruefulness. ‘Nor did she show any interest in my new Greek rhetorical powers.’
‘Gee, babe, that was all Greek to me too.’
Along with his usual Latin quips and French aphorisms, Tom babbled on in Greek a little more, or tried to, in between visits here and there around the room. He and Carmyn decided, along with an ample contingent, to simply make a dinner of the various finger foods, scrapping their earlier plans to dine in Boone. And so, perhaps an hour and a half passed pleasantly in the company of many good, intelligent, and interesting people.