St. Patrick, The Snakes and The Kids
Recently I ventured out of my comfort zone to speak to a group of school children about my love of stories and the pleasure one can derive from writing one’s own. This was the second time I’ve done this, so I knew what to expect and was quite looking forward to the experience. The kids are delightful and since their teacher has read Edward Speaks at Midnight to them in the past, they are always full of questions about Edward, which I’m always happy to answer. This year my visit with them happened to fall on St. Patrick’s Day so I had the utterly brilliant idea of incorporating the sainted one’s story into my little program.
So when the afternoon rolled around, dressed in a spring green coat, I stood up in front of the class and began to tell them about St. Patrick, starting with what I deemed the most exciting part of his biography: the snakes. When great theatricality I told them how he climbed to the top of a hill and cast all the snakes into the sea.
“And if you go to Ireland today, you’ll not find a single snake,” I said, triumphantly.
Scores of little eyes stared up at me in disbelief. There was a pause, then hands shot up all across the room as questions were hurled at me like water balloons.
“Where’d the snakes GO?”
“Did he KILL them?”
“WHY did he kill them?”
“What did the snakes do to HIM?”
“What kind of snakes WERE they?”
“HOW did he make them leave?”
“Couldn’t they SWIM?”
“You mean he just KILLED them?”
“For no REASON?”
I mumbled and stuttered in my feeble attempt to defend poor St. Patrick’s now so obvious cruelty to snakes but couldn’t get a word in edgewise. The questions kept coming and it was clear I was losing my grip on the reins of my little performance. Glancing over at the teacher for help I saw she was giggling, so I knew I was on my own. I briefly entertained the notion of smiling, nodding and backing out of the room to run to my car, drive to the airport and board a plane to someplace sandy and warm where handsome pool boys would bring me colorful drinks with little paper umbrellas bobbing up and down inside them while I sat by the sea with my eyes closed.
It took a good few minutes to settle everybody down and I’m sorry to say I eventually fell back on that strategy so well-known and beloved by parents everywhere: I made things up. Before I was through, these snakes were the most vicious, evil creatures God ever made and St. Patrick simply had no choice but to shoo them all into the waves. As to precisely how he did it? Believe me, you don’t want to know.
Later that afternoon I met Walt and his Mom on my walk with Edward and Apple. Walt is probably my biggest fan; he’s certainly my favourite. He often meets us mid-walk to tell me what about his Little League games, or what he’s doing in school, or where he’s been on holiday. He’ll tell me about reading “Edward’s book” again and he’ll laugh about “Apple talking about chipmunks and cheese”, all the while petting both dogs like the old friends they are. Walt is a curious fellow so I felt it was a good idea to share my St. Patrick experience with his mother - so obviously an expert on the minds of little ones - in the hopes of finding out just where I’d gone wrong.
“Well that’s easy,” she said with a laugh. “You mentioned snakes.”
And when Walt was out of earshot, she added,
“Next time, just do what I do. Make stuff up!”
So, it turns out I didn’t do so badly after all.