You know the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow story. A leprechaun named Fred, living in Iowa, taught my wife and me it’s true. Sort of.
We were visiting our old haunts in Iowa City last March. The Iowa River running through the University of Iowa campus was just starting to thaw, but from the perspective of the past thirty years living in Atlanta, everything seemed to be in transition.
Iowa City had changed so much we barely recognized the place, but to our amazement we found the old house on Dodge Street where we rented the upstairs apartment. We parked our rental car to stare at the dilapidated dwelling as if it were a shrine to our youth, when a tiny man with a red-gray beard popped up from behind a barberry hedge.
“You look lost. Can I help you find yourself?” He giggled, sounding like Truman Capote on helium.
I noticed immediately that Vickie, my wife, was utterly transfixed by this little man. “Excuse us,” she said, “but we used to live here and—”
“Well, well. I live here now. Come see.” And before we could say another word, he was helping her out of the car. Vickie, all five-feet-three-inches of her, towered over him.
“My name is Fred,” he said, doffing his green cap and bowing theatrically. “I have a last name, but I seem to have misplaced it.” His giggle returned.
We introduced ourselves and told him we used to live in the upstairs apartment.
“Are you the ones who spray painted the walls and ceiling all the colors of the rainbow?”
“No,” I lied.
“Oh, too bad. I liked it so much I kept it. Just sprayed more yellows and blues through the years when the old paint faded. I’m afraid I forgot my basics. And much of the paint transformed to green. Quite a lovely shade. I usually rent out the upstairs to students, but I’m between renters at the present.” He looked past me to Vickie. “If you’re interested in returning, I can make you a fine deal.”
We assured him we were just visiting.
“Why don’t you get out of the cold and visit the old place?”
He led us to the back of the old house where the steps to the upstairs apartment were located.
Fred opened the door and stepped aside, allowing Vickie to go first. But he slipped his little body in front of mine so quickly I felt like an intruder on their reunion. As soon as he flicked on the light switch, the narrow staircase lit up with sprayed-on color. Fred was right; there was more green than I remembered, but it still looked familiar.
Vickie opened the door at the top of the stairs and walked into the tiny kitchen area. The cabinets and refrigerator were white and new, but the walls were sprayed with the same rainbow of color as the hallway.
We toured the little apartment and then sat down on a torn, Salvation Army-era couch that seemed eerily familiar. Could it be the same sofa that was in the apartment when we lived here? He brought us all beers and we talked about Iowa, telling him we left in 1985.
“That’s when I moved here,” he said. “Bought this house, I did.”
Suddenly, Fred jumped up from the arm of the chair where he was leaning. “I believe I have something for you. Don’t go away.”
Before we had time to even contemplate an escape, he came back dangling a gold charm bracelet. We recognized it immediately. I had given it to Vickie for our first anniversary, and it had been lost soon thereafter.
“I found it under the cushion of that couch,” he said cheerfully.
We thanked him and offered him a reward, although I knew it wasn’t real gold.
“A kiss on the cheek from the fair bonnie lass is all that I require, it being near St. Patty’s Day,” he said, assuming an Irish brogue bordering on the ridiculous. Vickie complied with a kiss on both of his cheeks. She had to bend down as if kissing a small child.
Hugging him, she said, “I wish I could kidnap you and bring you home with me.”
I saw a momentary look of panic in Fred’s eyes. But he relaxed when she assured him she was kidding.
He giggled once again and soon we were regaled of stories of how Iowa City had changed. “There’s a pedestrian mall downtown, you know. Yet with all its changes, the town still doesn’t begin to thaw out until St. Patrick’s Day. It’s as if everyone remains inside until the first sign of spring.”
We shared another beer and conversation. As we were getting comfortable, he jumped up and said he had enjoyed our visit, but he had things to do. He walked us to our car, but before we could offer a proper goodbye, he disappeared.
“Thank you, Fred,” we called out. There was no answer. We drove off, mystified.
But that’s not the end of this story. When we returned home, unbeknownst to me, Vickie had the bracelet appraised. Now I know the bracelet had cost me about twenty dollars when I bought it, so I wasn’t prepared for Vickie’s enthusiasm when she came home that afternoon.
“Oh, you sweet, wonderful man,” she said, kissing me like I had suddenly transformed into George Clooney. “And even when I lost it, you never said anything.”
“I’m not going to ask how you got the money for a solid gold bracelet back then, but… I owe you the reward of your life.”
Thank you, Fred.
And I discovered more than just gold at the end of the rainbow.
Wayne Scheer has locked himself in a room with his computer and turtle since his retirement. (Wayne’s, not the turtle’s.) To keep from going back to work, he’s published hundreds of short stories, essays and poems, including Revealing Moments. He’s been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net. Wayne lives in Atlanta with his wife and can be contacted at email@example.com.
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! We’re lucky to have friends like you.