This is a story about a group of kids growing up in a time when things were simpler and every day was an adventure. Written from the perspective of an adult looking back, its humor, nostalgia and just plain fun appeals to all ages.
Download to your Kindle (eBook)
Download to your Nook (eBook)
Barnes & Noble.com
A King in a Court of Fools
A King in a Court of Fools begins with a book -- The Book of Tom -- a journal writing assignment from Tom Ryan's sixth-grade teacher, Sister Jeanne Lorette. That's what she called it. Tom called it punishment. In it, he chronicles the adventures of the Caswell Gang, a group of siblings and friends with two things in common -- their love of adventure and their allegiance to Tom, their king.
The 1950s book was misplaced a long time ago, and all the children have since grown up, but Harry, Tom's youngest brother, still remembers it and retells for us one of its stories in a nostalgic, heartwarming, and humorous way that will have you wishing for adventure, too.
I should first introduce the Caswell gang to you. That’s what Tom called us. Tom was the oldest of the Ryan kids. He was our leader, a position he said could only be held by him since he was the one who’d started the gang. There was no argument on this point. Or, as he put it, “If you don’t like it, lump it.” Tom was born right after World War II. Mom and Dad had married during that awful time and when it finally ended and everyone went home, Dad got a job as a truck driver; they bought a house and started their family by bringing Tom into the world. Tom always said that they should have stopped there. The rest of us are happy he didn’t have the only vote in that.
Next was Mary. She was a year younger than Tom and probably the most responsible one of us. Just ask her. She was always an expert at details and organization, so Tom appointed her secretary to take minutes and collect the dues. Yes, that’s right — dues. Everyone had to chip in twenty-five cents of their weekly allowance. For those of us who got no allowance, we went without our nickel milk for lunch and drank water from the fountain instead. Believe it or not, the dues were Mary’s idea, not Tom’s. She argued quite logically that without them there would be no parties at Isaly’s, no root beer floats, no cherry Cokes at Meade Drug, and definitely no official Caswell Gang hats. I think you can see where she was coming from, but she was right as usual, and thanks to her and additional funds supplied by Mom, we each had an official Pittsburgh Pirates baseball cap to call our very own.
Then came Sam. Sam started off life very short and didn’t get much bigger for a long, long time. He was barely four feet tall in fourth grade. At first, Tom didn’t have much hope for him as a gang member. But if nothing else, Tom was clever, and he quickly found a good use for Sam. Sam became the mole, the one Tom sent into the tight spots —the storm drains, basement windows, the newly discovered caves; you know the kind of places I’m talking about. Sam was pretty good at it, too. Of course, once he got to high school, Sam shot up like a bean sprout and was never able to do that kind of thing again, but by then, the gang had long since disbanded.
Kate — Katherine that is — was the next in line. She was the family talker and, as Tom said, was so bubbly she could fizz up a flat, day-old Coke. She was also the baby in the family, even after I was born. And for some reason, no one, and I mean no one, not even Tom, dared hurt her. Tom said she was born with a built-in punch-proof, torture-proof, Colgate Gardol shield. But it was just something about her, I guess. Tom appointed her chief negotiator. Anytime another gang invaded our territory, Kate did the talking for us. She always won, or should I say, we never lost. She was our mouthpiece.
Lastly, came me — Harry. I was the youngest. Even Tom couldn’t figure out a use for me right away. I was the tag along of the gang. I was in first grade when he was in sixth, so I was more an in-the-way nuisance than an asset. “Mom made me bring him” was Tom’s patented response to anyone who asked what the little squirt was doing there. But eventually even I assumed a role. I became the official decoy, the one sent to flush out the enemy, the one to take their fire while the rest outflanked them. The others thought I was crazy for doing it, but you’d be surprised just how bad a kid’s aim can be when he’s trying to hit a little pip-squeak like me with a snowball.
The rest of the gang was other sixth graders from the neighborhood. They were Tom’s soldiers. Wayne Brubacher was one. He lived a few streets over from us. I don’t remember him much outside of the gang. Funny how that is. Bobby Fey was another. He was a nice kid, great sense of humor — I liked him — but Tom picked on him more than anyone else. Tom thought he and his jokes were stupid. Then there was Tom Braithwaite, who lived down Caswell Drive from us. There wasn’t anything special about him that I could tell except that Tom liked his sister, and that was enough to get Braithwaite into the gang. We all had to call him “Braithwaite” so he wouldn’t be confused with our fearless leader. Finally, there was Bob Cassidy. He was big, but not just big; he was really, really big. Whatever it was that Sam missed out on, Big Bob got a double dose of it. He was the Friar Tuck of the gang — always smiling and happy, and so big he’d scare the heck out of anyone, even some high school kids. That’s why we called him “Big Bob.”
Our secret hideout was in the woods next to our house. Deep in that woods was a cherry tree, but not just any old cherry tree, the Cherry Tree. That’s all you had to say, “the Cherry Tree,” and we all knew what you meant. It was the tallest tree around and if you climbed to the top, which was a good forty feet up, everything you saw belonged to the Caswell gang. And our claim saying just that was staked by a sign tacked to the base of the tree, warning off any interlopers who happened by. We defended it with our lives. Those were the rules. Our parents never knew we climbed that tree. Otherwise, I’m sure they would have banished us from the woods. But climb it we did, every day. Tom went first and sat on the King’s limb — the highest spot. Naturally. Next was Mary, then Sam, Kate, Wayne, Bobby Fey, Braithwaite, Big Bob, and lastly, me. I couldn’t even get to the lowest limb, so Big Bob always pulled me up that far before heading higher up himself. I was happy there. Anywhere off the ground made me part of the Caswells.
Everyone in the gang went to Saint Catherine’s. That was a rule, too. No publics were allowed. Tom had a book in which he kept all the rules, but he never let anyone see it. It was one of those little black books guys kept girls’ phone numbers in. He called it the Book of Tom. Sam and I never found it when we were rummaging through his room. It never left his sight.
We assembled at 7:30 every morning on the corner, wearing our school uniforms — dark blue pants, blue shirt, and tie for the boys, and blue plaid skirt and blue blouse for the girls. The boys all wore white socks because it was cool, and the girls wore dark blue knee-highs. Black dress shoes all around. The uniforms each bore the Saint Catherine’s emblem. That got us past the patrol boys and hall monitors — at least that’s what Tom claimed. Everyone carried a lunchbox — the design was optional according to gang rules. Mine was Mickey Mouse. And everyone had a book bag. I didn’t have many books in mine — papers and composition notebooks mostly — but what I did have stashed inside it, and what we all had, was the official gang Pirates cap. Once we were out of sight of our house, Tom put his hand up just like General Custer did for his cavalry to stop, and we all put on our caps. That was a special moment for us every day; that was the moment we became the Caswell Gang.