When A Lie Becomes A Legend

JEREMY BOARDED THE BUS parked outside the Smithsonian. He was among the last of his classmates and seriously considered sitting up front with the girls. They were only seventh graders, still gawkish, and not yet very appealing to a boy whose hormones were as yet blessedly diluted. Still, listening to their chatter would be better than joining the boys in the back and being teased because he failed. Damn, he probably was the only one who failed.

Smithsonian Institution

Unfortunately, Bob hurried up from behind and shoved Jeremy down the aisle. Before he could take a breath, he was shoved into a seat in the middle of the rowdiest section. Bob began to ask him the fatal question, but Jeremy was saved from answering as their chaperone, Miss Wode, clapped and shouted for their attention.

“Everyone take a seat,” the anorexic teacher commanded and gave the boys an especially stern look. “Quiet,” she added in a louder voice.

The class sorted themselves out, and soon everyone was seated and staring at the teacher. “It’s a long ride home,” she said with her eyes fixed on the back rows. “Let’s not have a repeat of the problems we had this morning.”

“Whatcha gonna do?” one of the boys challenged, his voice reduced to a husky drawl. “Threaten to turn the buses around like ya did this mornin’?”

“Who said that?” Miss Wode demanded, her eyes fixing on Jeremy who shrugged his denial. “Not another word!”

Dinosuars on display. Photo courtesy the Smithsonian Institution

The girls tittered, the boys giggled, and Miss Wode walked the length of the bus as she tapped heads, smacking a few, as she counted her students. Satisfied that all were accounted for, she delivered a few well-aimed glares in the direction of the known trouble-makers and headed back to her seat at the front of the bus. She leaned across the aisle and spoke to the bus driver. He nodded, pulled the door shut, and ground the gears into first. The tittering and giggling resumed as the bus lurched to a start back in the direction of Baltimore, about a two hour drive north of Washington.

“Did ya see it?” Bob demanded leaning close to Jeremy.

The time had come. The moment of truth. Jeremy lied, “Yes.”

A flicker of respect revealed itself in Bob’s eyes accompanied by a sharp intake of breath. Bob’s reaction surprised Jeremy and he decided to fake it. He had to. He couldn’t go back now. “You see it?” he asked his friend.

“Hell yeah!” Bob responded with his chest puffed out.

It was the same conversation being played out by groups of two, three, and four boys in the back of the bus. The conversation even spilled over from one group to another as details were added.

“Twenty-seven inches long.” “Five bullet holes.” “No, six, I counted ’em.” “Did you see the leather strap?”

That one caught a few of the boys unprepared. All the details had been handed down from older siblings for several generations. Some had embellished more than others.

One of the more adept liars recovered faster. “Yeah, the card said that he used it to strap it to his leg.”

The other boys were impressed, but all agreed they had seen the strap, as well as the pickled penis of John Dillinger, on display in a specimen jar in the hall of medical marvels.

The legend would survive another generation. More embellishments would be added. It was now the truth.

Jeremy didn’t know it at the time, but he would pass it on to the next generation. However, as the excitement died away and the children began to settle into the ride home, Jeremy promised himself to return some day and see everything he missed as he wandered the halls of the Smithsonian, looking for it. He had missed everything else he had wanted to see: the airplanes, the dinosaurs, everything.

Jack Durish is author of the historical novel, Rebels on the Mountain, the story of love, war, and the Cuban Revolution. 

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