The maraschino cherry that rested (Was it really resting? I mean, does a maraschino cherry get enough exercise that it needs to take a break before it can continue being a maraschino cherry?) on top of a dollop of whipped cream, capping a bowl of rich, decadent chocolate pudding, was what I was looking forward to most.
Aunt Ruth, I knew, would try once again to find a way to gain possession of said maraschino cherry and devour it before I realized what was happening. She could fool me once; she could fool me twice; well, okay, she had fooled me five times in a row, on our regular Sunday afternoon picnics at the park, but I wasn’t about to let it happen a sixth time.
I had finished my celery, carrots, and bologna sandwich while she was still working on her celery. My goal was to finish my food so quickly that she didn’t have time to form a plan to get the maraschino cherry. I was eating my banana — the last step before going for the pudding — when suddenly she blurted out, “Look, it’s Halcyon’s Comet!”
She pointed upward at some location in the sky behind me. What? Halcyon’s Comet? I had never heard of such a thing. Always enamored with events astronomical, I turned and looked. I didn’t see a comet.
“Aunt Ruth,” I said, still looking up and behind me, “did you say you saw Halcyon’s Comet?”
“Hmmm mmm, hmmm mmm,” she mumbled, for some reason not speaking in her usually articulate way.
I turned back and proceeded to finish the banana. It is possible that I wouldn’t have noticed anything was awry for another, oh, thirty seconds or so, except that Aunt Ruth had a smudge of whipped cream on the corner of her mouth.
My maraschino cherry was gone!
“You savage beast!” I exclaimed.
“No, my naive nephew, just clever.”
“Clever indeed. Halcyon’s Comet? Where did you come up with that?”
“Well, that’s the famous comet, right? Isn’t that the comet that came the day Mark Twain was born and came again the day he died?”
“Something like that, I guess. But the name of that comet was Haley’s, not Halcyon’s.
“Really. If you had said Haley’s Comet, I wouldn’t have turned.”
“Just lucky I guess.”
“So do you know what Halcyon means?”
“Well, sort of. Halcyon is that mineral that you need to keep your bones strong; you get it from drinking milk and spending time in the sun.”
“Um, no, wrong answer. Thank you for playing and have a nice day.”
“Oh wait — halcyon is when you imagine you are seeing things that aren’t there.”
“Nope, that’s also incorrect.”
“Okay, my dear nephew, when did you become the vocabulary expert? I thought you were a grammar sort of guy.”
“So it’s like this, Aunt Ruth. The word halcyon now means peaceful and calm; it’s also meant to imply a kind of happy nostalgia for days gone by.”
“Do you mean like the golden years?”
“Mmm, I guess so, though maybe it’s more like golden days. There’s an expression — halcyon days — that reminds me of something Ray Bradbury might have written.”
“He’s one of my favorite writers. I’ve heard that expression before, but I always thought it meant something about comets. He did write about space things — Martian Chronicles, for example.”
“Yes he did — and I love his writing — but he also wrote stories of youth and growing up. Dandelion Wine is one of my favorites. Stories like that remind me of halcyon days.”
“And it’s not about comets.”
“It’s not about comets.”
“Where did halcyon come from?”
“I’m glad you asked. It’s a long story, but the Nauseating Nephew Notes version of the story is that a halcyon is a type of bird, related or similar to a kingfisher, and it would build its nest out on the calm sea, where it would lay its eggs. The sea was peaceful for one or two weeks out of the year, and those were the halcyon days because that was when the bird could safely lay and hatch the eggs.”
“Is this for real or is it mythical?”
“There’s more to it in a mythological sense, but I’ll stop here. The bottom line is that halcyon is used these days to mean calm, peaceful, and golden.”
“Thanks for explaining this. Did a halcyon bird look like the bird over there in the jujube tree?”
I glanced behind my shoulder. I didn’t see any bird; nor did I see any jujube tree.
“What jujube tree, Aunt Ruth?”
“Hmm mmmm, mmm mmm hmmm hmmm.”
I quickly turned around. Aunt Ruth was gone, and so was the rest of my chocolate pudding. In its place was a half eaten piece of celery and a carrot, along with a note that read, “You need to eat more vegetables and less dessert. You’ll be in better shape and thus happier. Someday, when you look back on these times, you’ll find yourself thinking about halcyon days.”