Word count 1,261
October first of 1871 had promised to be a beautiful day: sunny and warm but lacking the heat of summer. Any pleasure Jelly Hoskins had looked forward to died with Murdoch Lancer’s words.
Jelly hooked his thumbs under his suspenders, stretched his back to full height, and glared at his boss. “I ain’t old!”
“I never said you were.”
Murdoch’s jaw tensed. “I did not.”
Jelly stuck out his chin. “Well, I don’t know what else you’d call it.”
“I said you qualified–“
“As an old person.”
“Older person, Jelly. Not old.”
Jelly snorted. “Don’t see no difference. Old or older. It’s all the same to me.”
Johnny Lancer walked around the corner of the barn at that moment. “Who’s old?”
“Me. That’s who.” Jelly pointed at himself as he spoke.
A grin tugged at the corners of Johnny’s mouth. “Who said you was?”
Jelly jabbed a finger at Murdoch. “Ask him.”
Murdoch glowered at Jelly. “I said no such thing.”
Heat rose in Jelly’s face. “Did so.”
“I did not.”
Johnny raised both hands. “Hold it, both of you.” He brought his hands back to his sides and looked at his father. “So, what did you say?”
“I said Jelly qualified as an older person.”
The rage inside of Jelly grew. “Ain’t no different than calling me old.”
Johnny’s grin widened and his shoulders jiggled.
Jelly glared at the younger of Murdoch’s two sons. “It ain’t funny.”
“Sure it is.” Johnny chuckled. “Don’t ya see . . . it’s like the pot callin’ the kettle black? If Murdoch says you’re old, he’s sayin’ the same thing about himself.”
Murdoch nearly shouted, “I didn’t say he was old.”
Jelly did shout. “You did so.”
“I did not!”
The battle of words continued.
“Jelly! Murdoch!” Johnny’s voice wedged into the argument.
Both of the older men looked at Johnny.
Johnny ran a hand up the back of his neck and tipped his hat forward. “Think you two could hurry up and get settled who’s old and who’s older. We do have a ranch to run here . . . in case you’ve forgotten.”
Murdoch muttered something in agreement.
“Well, don’t let me keep you from it.” Jelly puffed out his chest. “This old person’s taking the day off.”
Murdoch wagged his head side to side. “Older person, Jelly. Older person.”
Jelly shrugged. “Old or older. Don’t make no never mind to me. If I qualify, then I’m taking the day off.” His raised his chin, turned on one heel, and strode away from the barn. If he was going to be called old, he was going to act like it.
As he approached the corral gate, Jelly felt a hand land on his shoulder. He looked over and saw Murdoch keeping stride with him. “Where’re you going?” Jelly spoke in a testy manner.
Murdoch’s hand slid from Jelly’s shoulder. “I think I’ll take the day off, too, and finish reading a book I started last month. As Johnny pointed out . . . if you’re an older person, then so am I.”
Jelly thought for a moment. His anger slipped away and he slowly nodded. “Besides, it don’t hurt them boys of yours to run things once in a while. Right?”
The two men shared a laugh and parted at the house.
Jelly went to his room. Now what? He couldn’t spend the rest of the day reading like Murdoch planned to do. So what should he do? Take a nap? No. He hadn’t been up all that long.
An idea hit him. Fish. That’s what he could do. Maybe that big trout Manuel had missed yesterday would be hungrier today.
An hour later, Jelly sat with his back against a tree on the bank of the lake that lay in the middle of the valley. One hand rested on a long, straight branch he had carefully picked to attach his fishing line to. In his other hand, he held an apple.
Jelly bit into the white, juicy flesh and savored its sweetness. Ah, this was the life. Being old might not be so bad after all. In fact, older people all over the world ought to have a special day just for them. It’d do the young folks good to do all the work so they’d appreciate their elders more.
“Yep.” Jelly spoke his thoughts out loud. “Time us older persons had us a special day. Someone ought to declare it a holiday and make everyone all over the world abide by it.”
He let out a long breath and closed his eyes. What was that word Scott said last night? It had something to do with every country in the world agreeing on something. Nation something. Nation-ul? No. There was more to it. Started with ‘in’.
Jelly continued to talk to himself–voicing his attempts at finding the word he was looking for and accepting or rejecting them in his mind.
That didn’t quite sound right.
Close but not it.
That was it! International.
“International Day of Oder Persons.” Jelly liked the way the words rolled off his tongue. They had a nice ring to them. Yep. That’s what they needed. Every year on October first, old . . . no older people wouldn’t have to do anything they didn’t want to for the whole day.
Jelly’s pole skidded across his leg. He grabbed for it, his hand barely catching hold of the end.
The battle was long and hard. At last Jelly guided an exhausted fish to the edge of the lake. One last tug dragged it ashore.
Jelly gazed at his catch. Never in his life had he seen such a huge rainbow trout. It must weigh twenty pounds. His weariness faded and he let out a whoop. Then he danced a jig, whooping and hollering all the while. Wait until the Lancers saw what he caught. He’d defy any one of them to call him old. Everyone on the ranch had been after this fish for years.
Years? Jelly gazed at the floundering trout. Just how old was it? Five years? Had to be older than that. Ten or fifteen, most likely. Maybe even twenty. What was old for a fish anyway?
The trout fought for breath.
Jelly let out a long sigh. A fish that had lived as long as this one had didn’t deserve to suffer. It didn’t deserve to die, either.
He knelt, eased the hook from the gaping mouth, and let the fish jump from his hands into the water. “There you go. Run . . . and keep running. Us older critters got to watch out for each other.”
For the remainder of the day, Jelly rested against the tree and watched the fish play. There wasn’t any sense in catching one. He’d have to clean it. That meant work. Why not let this be the first International Day of Older Persons and get it off to a good start. The fish would always be there. Holidays were few and far between, especially ones just for people his age. He best make the most of it.
~~~ The End~~~
Note: The idea for this story came from the monthly list of holidays and observances in 2007. I originally posted this story to Lancer Yahoo groups on October 8 of that year. Prior to adding this to the files for the Lancer FanFiction group on Facebook, I did quite a bit of revising. However the basic story is the same.
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