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It's All Greek to Uncle Thaddeus Copyright © 1993, Joe DeRouen All rights reserved

   Uncle Thaddeus was a retired travelling salesman. During his

career, he'd sold just about anything from aluminum siding for cars to diet edible underwear. No matter how ridiculous the concept was, Uncle Thaddeus could sell it.

   What was his secret to the Great Sell, as people often referred to

it? He talked them into submission. Something about their lives or the product would remind him of a story he'd once heard (or, more likely, lived) and he'd just take it from there.

   Thaddeus was by far the best in his field. People would often buy

anything at all from him just to get him to shut up! If there was anything he loved to do more than smoke Royal Cuban cigars, it was to talk. And he didn't just talk, he told tales. Tall tales, to use a phrase from days gone by. Oh, we could never prove that his tales weren't true; he crafted each with the precision of one of those little ship-in-a-bottle builders.

   We'd learned to avoid his stories whenever possible, or suffer the

always-jolting consequences of his punch line. Often, though, it just wasn't possible.

  We were all sitting around the fireplace, waiting for Aunt Louise to

bring out the Thanksgiving turkey. My brother Bobby, Heather (my wife), and, of course, Uncle Thaddeus. "You'll have to come over more often, Joe!" Roared Uncle Thaddeus, between puffs on his Royal Cuban cigar. His red face beamed down at me, and he smiled. "It's been ages! Why, we have so much to catch up on!"

  "Umm. . . I think I hear Aunt Louise in the kitchen." I replied

hastily, knowing the signs of Uncle Thaddeus gearing up for one of his stories. "She might need help with that turkey."

   Heather smiled at me. "I'll go. You stay here and visit with your

uncle." She rose with a flourish from the couch that we shared and before I knew it was through the kitchen doors and gone.

   "Damned woman. . ." I muttered to Bobby, who shrugged with 

resignation.

   Uncle Thaddeus managed to stand, his hulking 6'4" frame just

clearing the roof support beam above. Crimson cheeks spread out in a smile, and he blew a generous puff of smoke in my general direction. "This reminds me. Did I ever tell you about my friend Penny Stein? No, of course I didn't. You'd remember something like that." He paused expectantly, waiting for me to say something.

   "No, I don't think you have." I almost sighed, relinquishing myself

to the unavoidable.

   Throughout this exchange, Bobby had edged further and further away

from the edge of the couch. He was just about to make a run for it when, quick as his frame could take him, Uncle Thaddeus was beside him.

   "You'll want to hear this too, Bobby. It's a marvelous tale!" He

thundered, slapping my brother on the back. "You see, it all began many years ago, when I was dating a reporter by the name of Penny Stein. Ever heard of her, Joe?"

   "I don't think that I have, now that. . ."
   "Probably a little bit before your time." He frowned, rolling the

cigar around in his mouth. "You see, she was an up-and-coming investigative journalist then, and had her eye on the biggest story of her career. You see, the King of Shag Gydo'G had just died." He paused for effect, then cleared his throat to continue. "Shag Gydo'G was, and still is, I imagine, a curious little island off the coast of Greece. Being a curious little island, it naturally had curious and quaint little customs to go along with it.

   "Tradition held that a King's soul was so full and rich that he

needed more of a vessel for it that the human body would normally provide. On a King's 13th birthday, he was taught in the ways of ceramics. By the 14th birthday, he was to have sculpted and created a urn of great and magnificent proportions. This urn was to help house his soul and, ultimately, see his demise."

   "And what a magnificent urn the King created! There were gold

inlaid runes on one side, depictions of great battles on the other, and great diamonds and rubies everywhere else! Truly, the urn was fit for a king!"

   Bobby and I groaned in unison, knowing that the worst was yet to

come.

   "When the King died, he would be cremated and his ashes sifted into

the urn, and dumped - urn and all - into the Aegean sea, upon the hour of his birth."

   "So all of his life, the king was expected to preserve this vessel,

guarding it with his very life. If the King didn't keep his urn, as it were, he'd soon be out on the streets."

   That one hurt! I stifled a groan at my uncle's pun. I'd never let

him know that one got to me!

   "Of course," He continued, seemingly oblivious to my lack of

response. "I wouldn't expect either of you to understand. After all, it IS just Greek to you."

   "Oy vey!" Bobby slapped his head in mock-rage, apparently unable to

show the great restraint I'd thus far managed.

   "This King," Intoned Uncle Thaddeus, the barest hint of a smile

visible on his full lips. "had been born at the stroke of noon, and would go out the same."

   "I think I need to. . ." Bobby started, then fell quiet as Uncle

Thaddeus' gaze turned to meet his.

   "It's no use." I sighed to Bobby, leaning back in the couch. 
   "Penny had stowed away on the yacht that had been assigned to take

the King's ashes out to sea. You see, the Crown Prince Hali was also on the yacht, and the world awaited with bated breath to see the new King's visage. Penny planned to shoot a few pictures and then escape on a rubber lifeboat she'd managed to hide aboard the yacht, and, with a few photos, make her career. What she hadn't planned on was terrorists from H'Chali, a small island off the *other* coast of Greece, and mortal enemies of the great King of Shag Gydo'G."

   "Penny had managed to steal a few shots of the Crown Prince Hali,

and was just about ready to make her escape when it happened. The terrorists were upon the boat in seconds, just half an hour before the urn was due to be dumped. The terrorists - there must have been hundreds of them - overwhelmed the Shag Gydo'Gians, slew the Crown Prince, and set the yacht on fire, all in a matter of minutes. And then they were gone."

   "Penny drew herself out from the lounge she'd managed to hide

behind, only to discover everyone dead and the ship going down in flames. Her film forgotten (alas, for she never gained the fame she rightly deserved) and her hidden lifeboat blocked by flames, she let her instincts for survival take over. Running to the ceramic urn, she dumped the King's ashes into the sea. With a wish and a prayer, she jumped into the urn, pulled the plug in over her, then rocked herself until the urn tipped over the bow of the burning ship and into the waters below."

   "Just about a week later, the urn washed up on the southern coast

of Greece. Dehydrated and half-starved, Penny thanked her lucky stars to be alive. She'd lost over half her body weight during her week-long ordeal but, of course, everyone agreed that if they couldn't have the full Penny a ha'Penny would just have to do. Truly, she must have been blessed!" Thaddeus smiled, scoring another stifled groan from Bobby and myself. "You see, the moral of this. . ."

  "Ahem." I coughed, barely able to contain myself. A smug grin

spread over my face. I had him! "May I?" Uncle Thaddeus look non-plussed, then motioned for me to speak with a grand sweep of his arms. I smiled again to myself. Finally, I was going to beat him at his own game. "The moral of the story, of course, is this: A Penny urned is a Penny saved."

   Bobby smiled, the light of truth finally dawning upon him. "Hey,

you're right!" Thaddeus reduced us both to silence with a single nod.

   "Close, my boy, but," He paused to sit his still-smoking cigar in a

nearby ashtray. "No stogie. You see, your moral is a good one, and partly true, but it doesn't quite capture the essence of the story."

   "Oh C'mon!" I was starting to get annoyed. I had him, and he knew

it. I'd finally beaten him at his own game.

   "Hear me out." He smiled, a merry twinkle dancing through his eyes.

"The Shag Gydo'Gians hadn't been paying attention. I said it was half-an-hour 'til noon when the terrorists attacked. That wasn't altogether true, though it was from their standpoint. You see, they'd crossed a time zone only hours before, but failed to take that into account. It was actually 12:30 PM when the terrorists had boarded their ship, half an hour *after* they were to have dumped the urn. If they'd been on time, Penny would have been forced to go down with the ship." Uncle Thaddeus winked at us, on a roll now. "You see, if the Shag Gydo'Gians had been better clock-watchers. . ." He paused, plucking his cigar from the ashtray. Things grew hazy as he sucked on the end of the Royal Cuban, billowing out a stream of smoke, then stepped through it. "Suffice it to say that a switch in time saved Stein."

   I groaned with defeat, barely able to discern my uncle's crowning

smile through the gauzy screen of smoke.



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