“Tonight it’s Gertruida’s turn to tell a story,” Boggel beamed as he poured a round of Cactus Jack. They always look forward to Thursday evenings, when they change the routine in Boggel’s Place slightly. Instead of drinking and complaining about the drought, they rotate the privilege to tell an original story. Whenever Gertruida gets that opportunity, they know they’re in for something special. She doesn’t relate the usual tales of hardship, broken tractors or who-bought-what in Sammie’s shop – she is much more creative than that.
Gertruida swigged back the Jack, smiled at them, and sat down next to the till so they could all hear properly. Then….:
Few people can claim the recognition that Archie Mendez received over the centuries. The son of an Italian Peasant with a Hispanic mother, Archie grew up in the suburbs of Athens, where Papa had a pizzeria. While his dad was frugal and careful with his business, Archie went through puberty with the usual arrogance we all exhibited when fuzzy hair appeared and pimples prevented us from shaving it off.
The Mendez family lived next door to the Byrds, a Scottish family with an interest in the local bar. As it happened, the Scots were blessed with two absolutely gorgeous daughters, something that drove young Archie to spend countless hours peering through the hedge between the two properties. He simply had to find out more about these girls, but he lacked the self-confidence to introduce himself.
In Archie’s case, things went wrong from the start. He had no interest in running a take-away for the Greek royalty, but rather spent his time inspecting his bodily changes with great interest. He excelled in Biology, as this was the only subject that had pictures in the handbooks to supply some of the answers his curiosity demanded. He later took up a position of assistant in one of Athens’ bathhouses in order to study adult anatomy, but the absence of females proved to be an immense frustration. How could he understand the urges that were brewing deep inside his body if he didn’t have a clue what the purpose of all his appendages were?
Mama Mendez saw the worried frown on her spoilt son’s brow and told him it was time to have that ‘secret’ chat. It was inappropriate (in those prudish days) to talk about such matters with one’s offspring where others could hear, so she packed a picnic basket and took him to the little wood, some distance from the city. Here she was explaining the delicate nature of the female mind (as well as a few other juicy titbits)) when a member of the Civil Copulation Bureau passed by and demanded to know what they were talking about.
Mrs Mendez came from a long line of stutterers but still wanted to tell the truth.
“We’re t-talking about the B-Byrds and their b-b-b…., wanting to say ‘boobs’ because she took it from the proverbial top. The CCB agent was in a hurry, and completed the sentence for her. To this day the talk is referred to the ‘birds and the bees-talk’, although few parents actually realise that the ‘b’s’ actually refers to boobs, bums and bonking.
Anyway, young Archie went home with the firm resolve to put his newfound knowledge into practical experience. By that time the day had progressed considerably and he had to return to the public baths to lock up for the night. To his surprised delight, he found young Erica Byrd loitering outside. She was actually named ‘Eureka’, a popular name for girls in those days. She was a free-minded and adventurous young lass, always laughing and joking around. Because she was considered – even way back then – as ‘red hot’, some lovesick botanist later named some flowers after her. The bell-like blooms reminded him of her laugh, he said.
The two young people realised that doing all the B’s in public could cause problems, so they sneaked off to the presidential bath, a private affair set aside for royalty. Here young Archie sank into the warm water and invited Erica to join him. She did. Archie found out that everything his mother had told him was true. Upon reaching a deeper level of understanding and a peak in his experience of inter-gender relationships, he called out her name the way men do when they gain these heights.
“Eureka!” The shout was repeated a few times…
Her father heard the commotion and stormed in; demanding to know what was going on. Young Archie explained they were busy with a scientific experiment. The father didn’t buy it, gesturing to the splashed surfaces all around the bath. Archie said the water was displaced. The father asked by what and why. Archie said by the volume of their bodies below the surface of the water, in an exact equivalent ratio. “This,” he said, “is not the same as the weight of the bodies in the water – it has to do with equivalent volume as opposed to mass.” Archie, as we can see, was as stupid as everybody assumed.
The unconvinced father called a meeting with the Athens’ Mathematical Society, told them about the nonsense the young man was trying to sell him, and was astounded by their gasps of awe.
The learned men set about examining the lad’s statement in great detail and finally decided that they – at last – knew why some boats float while others sink on leaving the dry dock. For this, Archie was awarded a handsome reward, something that caused all the poor people of the city to ask him for contributions. Even Archie’s Hispanic relations started nagging him for handouts, and he fled the country with his fortune.
“Henceforth I shall change my name,” he wrote in his diary. “I shall combine my name and surname so that no Mendez will ever come begging again.” After considering several combinations, he settled for Archiemendes, later wrongly transcribed by Pliny the Younger as Archimedes.
The point of the story is this: when talking to your children about the Byrds and all the B’s, keep them away from any girl named Eureka for a while. Just to be safe, you see? Specific Gravity has long been described and it’s stupid to keep on repeating history.
Maybe the next big invention was by the escapade under an apple tree while a young Newton is resting in its shade, but Archie had done the bath-thing already.
Sadly, since George Washington put his axe to the apple tree, the Mendes family now has to earn an honest living as greengrocers in Upington.
Kleinpiet wasn’t impressed. “Gertruida, the object of these evenings is to tell stories. Giving us a lecture on history isn’t the idea.”
“Ja, man… History is boring. Whatever happened to the good old jackal-and-wolf stories? Or maybe something like The Three Bears? No, next time we expect much better from you. Be inventive, Gertruida, it’s much more fun.” Vetfaan signalled for another beer.
Servaas, however, was a bit kinder. “It’s interesting to hear what National geographic writes about these days, Gertruida. It really is. But Vetfaan is right – history isn’t very exciting.”
In the ensuing argument, Boggel almost decided to cancel these evenings until Gertruida promised to tell them about the Apple that Changed the World, next time. That, they all agreed, sounded like a story with huge potential.
Don’t forget Father’s Day: