The tiny red-faced infant sucked his fingers contentedly as his proud parents congratulated themselves on their good fortune. They were getting older and this child would their last… in this century anyway.
Father and Mrs. Time had given birth to countless adorable little minutes since the very Beginning, but these inevitably became obnoxious adolescent hours and the old couple was becoming ever so tired.
“Well, my dear, “ sighed Father Time, “after all we’ve been through, I think we owe ourselves a little treat. Let’s have a party!” Mrs. Time stared open-mouthed at her husband. “ Oy, are you nuts?” she shouted. “In case you forgot already, mister, we do have a new little minute!”
“Exactly!” Father Time grinned. “And he will be our guest of honor!”
“But I’m in no shape for anything!” his wife moaned.
“Oh, don’t you worry, sweetheart,” he soothed, kissing her wrinkled cheek. “I’ll take care of everything! Now let’s go have a nice cup of tea.” “Oh, o-k,” Mrs. Time rolled her eyes and followed her husband down to the kitchen.
Later that afternoon, while his wife and newborn were napping, Father Time planned his party. “Let’s see, he thought. “New Year’s Eve is in three days. That’s perfect. I’ll spare no effort or expense to make this the best celebration ever! Now the expense part’s easy,” he mused, “ I’m a watch and clock salesman; everyone knows that time is money! But finding the very best refreshments…hmmm; that’s going to require real effort!”
Taking care not bump his scythe into the intricate gears turning thanklessly through eternity, Father Time quietly shut the glass door to his grandfather’s house and stepped out into the road towards the marketplace.
As a gentle breeze ruffled his long white beard, the old man signed with pleasure, waving to his friends and acquaintances along the way. After stopping to accept their congratulations and free advice, he graciously invited them all to his celebration.
At the marketplace, Father Time carefully inspected each stall, listening to merchants’ sales pitches and sampling their wares. Eventually, he was convinced that he’d found the best refreshments time and money could buy. He slung his selections over his scythe and headed home.
Mrs. Time, refreshed from her nap, greeted her husband cheerfully at their door. “It looks like we’re going to have a lovely party, dear. What did you bring?” She smiled at his bulging shopping bags.
The old man’s pale blue eyes twinkled mischievously. “Now, my sweet; I promised that I would take care of everything and I want you to be surprised. Our party is going to be just perfect!”
Mrs. Time frowned suspiciously at the bag’s mysterious bulges. Although they sported logos from several gourmet shops, she couldn’t even smell anything mouth-watering. What could her old man be up to?
On the day of the party, Father Time was up bright and early, bustling about the kitchen and dining room. Mrs. Time confined gently but firmly to the nursery with her son, squirmed with curiosity. At last, the doorbells chimed and she heard her husband pound up the stairs.
“All right, my dear,” he panted, “everything’s ready. Wrap Little Minute in his best blanket and let’s welcome our guests!”
A crowd of friends and acquaintances poured into the narrow foyer laden with gifts and good wishes for the Times’ new arrival. “Oh, isn’t he cute!” My, what an angel!” came the squeals of adoration. After a few seconds, everyone wanted to know what there was to eat. Mrs. Time raised her eyebrows at her husband. “Well?” she challenged silently.
With a flourish, Father Time bade his guests enter the dining room. The table was elegantly set with the finest china and silver. A beautiful crystal goblet sat in the center of each plate and two neat rows of shining golden pitchers flanked a colorful floral centerpiece. When all were seated, Father Time proceeded to fill their goblets with water from the golden pitchers. “I’d like to propose a toast to my new little minute,” he announced. “May he grow into a happy, healthy hour and be a blessing to all our days!” The guests, who had expected something bubbly to drink, looked uncertainly at each other and lifted their goblets. Amidst the clinking crystal and murmured agreement, Father Time prepared to serve the first course. Soup plates were brought out and filled from the golden pitchers. The guests began to make faces and whisper among themselves.
Suddenly, Herr Tickermann, one of Father Time’s important Swiss customers, spoke up. “ So what’s with the water, already? Was it on sale this week?” Several people started to sputter. “Yeah,” someone else snickered, “Perrier is giving the stuff away since they finally admitted to filling those little green bottles at a car wash in New Jersey!”
Mrs. Time, who was nearly as red-faced as her squalling infant, gave her spouse a vicious poke. “What have you done, you old fool? You’ve invited all these good people to celebrate the birth of our new minute and all you serve them is water? I knew I shouldn’t have left it all to you!” Father Time just stood there whistling to himself and staring at the ceiling with infuriating patience. When the laughter had run out of steam, Father Time put his arm around his spouse and held up his scythe for attention.
“Friends,” he smiled. “We want to thank you for joining us on this special occasion. Now I will explain ‘what’s with the water’.”
Father Time cleared his throat and took a sip of water from his own crystal goblet. “Three days ago,” he began, “when we decided to have a party, I took it upon myself to make it the best ever. So I went to the marketplace in search of the finest refreshments available. My first stop was the fishwife’s stall. I’d heard that she carried the best, most expensive lox on the planet. But Goldie, who is an honest soul, told me that her herring, though less expensive, was a sweet as sugar. So this gave me an idea. If herring is as sweet as sugar, then sugar must be better than herring! So I went over to the confectioner’s stall and asked for a large bag of sugar. Well, the confectioner, who was pleased at the sale, proudly told me that his sugar was as sweet as honey. Then I thought that honey was better than sugar so I asked him to sell me honey instead.
“Certainly, Father Time,” he said. “My honey is as clear and fragrant as olive oil.” Of course, I figured that olive oil had to surpass honey in quality, so I changed my order again. But I really became confused when the poor fellow began to fill a jug with olive oil because I heard him mumble, “this oil is so pure, it pours like water!” Well, at that point, I decided that water surely had to be the finest refreshment of all!”
“So,” the old man paused significantly, “you can now understand why I couldn’t serve anything less than this water, which is the very best refreshment I could find!”
When Father Time sat down at last, his wife leaned over and kissed his damp wrinkled forehead. Little Minute, squeezed in the crook of his mother’s elbow, drooled into his father’s goblet as the room filled with the crystal sounds of a joyful toast.
“Happy Birthday, Little Minute! And A Happy New Year!
Story & Illustration©1994 Ilene Winn-Lederer
Father Time’s Perfect Party is from a series of stories published in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review under the title ‘Visual Fiction’ during the years 1993-97. Some of the others may be seen at this link:http://bit.ly/vZP5Dh