The firing ceased suddenly, and the last of the ricochets faded into a distant memory. All eyes, on both sides of the battle front, were focused on one and only one thing. From a distance, it appeared to be a large blob of lime jello moving slowly along the ground. I, of course, knew that we had no lime jello in the food supply. Was this a trick by the enemy, sending a veritable Trojan Blob into the camp, if you will? Or was this some alien from outer space, at long last revealing to us our innermost fear, that (just as Rod Serling always claimed) we really were in the Twilight Zone? Myriad thoughts ran through my mind (not unlike the myriad buffalo that used to roam across the western plains of Nebraska), and this could indeed be some act of treachery. Still, I suspected — and one glance through the binoculars confirmed it — that said blob was none other than Aunt Ruth, crawling along with rifle in hand as she approached me with an observation.
“Captain Nauseating Nephew, the troops are restless. You’ve had us in battle for three days straight now, and we need a break! This troop, for one, needs some sleep.”
There was a marked hush that spread through both camps like wildfire. The captain on the other side of the line shouted something that sounded like, * “Hala prava uvey drau, beeden gethen migstir vau,” which, when translated, meant “The nauseating nephew and his Great Aunt Ruth may be winning the battle, but their grammar is detestable.”
Ouch. That hurt. I hurled an epithet or two and did all I could to refrain from launching a barrage of dangling participles. He was right, though, and Aunt Ruth was wrong. The word troop is not an individual soldier or person. Yes, troops refers to multiple soldiers, but a troop — one troop — is still a group of soldiers, perhaps a cavalry unit (not a Calvary unit, though that will be another blog post someday).
Well, perhaps Aunt Ruth was right — the troops were tired. It was time for a much needed rest. I pulled out my whistle and, while blowing it, made the standard time-out signal with my hands. The captain on the other side nodded in acknowledgment, and the troops withdrew for the day. If we were participating in an old Warner Brothers cartoon, we would have punched out our time cards in the time clock for the day’s battle.
Later that night, at one of the local restaurants, both sides of the battle were sharing stories. The opposing captain was there, and he was quoted (and translated) as saying, “Nothing caught my ear the way Aunt Ruth did when she mentioned that she was a troop. I knew if I didn’t take action at that point, my troops would have erupted in laughter, thus losing their focus. All would have been lost.”
It turns out that this man was a busy guy. This same captain was interviewed on an American talk show the next morning, and then he wrote a book about the subject and had it published in less than a the week. Within days, he was selected for the Nobel Prize, and when he finally responded to inquiries about his background, the fact surfaced that he was merely a character in this story — only that, and nothing more.
Aunt Ruth, going incognito after this incident, managed to avoid appearing on the front of National Interrogation, but eventually she was caught by the paparazzi, who mistakenly thought she was Barney when she ventured out in public in a purple polyester jump suit.
She laughed at herself more than anyone else had laughed at her, and she took her blunder all in good stride. I’ll say this — Aunt Ruth is not a troop, but she’s a real trooper.
* Giving credit where credit is due, the quote: Hala prava uvey drau, etc., is from friend and former colleague Doug Politi, who enjoys words and word play as much as anyone I know. Doug, if you’re reading this … “une grestle brestle nestle shau.”