....... by Bill Hudson
Each Saint Patrick’s Day we host the annual Leprechaun Hunt in our yard for the grandkids. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, we missed last year. So expectations were high this year and 18 of our 20 grandchildren showed up.
It is an original idea conceived in 2006 by our daughter Val, when she lived in Phoenix. Each year during Spring Training, the Arizona Cactus League hosts about 15 major league teams that play ball in ten stadiums within a few miles of Val’s original house. Our son Luke, who was pitching for the Kansas City Royals, lived those two months of February and March with Val. Family members often drove the 370 miles from LA to be with Val and Luke and watch some baseball.
On one of those trips, Ellie and I took Kim, Lauren (then 5), and Taylor (then 3) to stay a few days. After a day game on March 17th, Val went to the market for dinner supplies. While at Walgreens, she noticed nine-inch-tall, colorfully dressed, ceramic, garden gnomes for sale. The idea hit her. Thinking the gnomes looked like leprechauns, she bought two, a bag of chocolate coins covered with gold foil, and some other wrapped candies.
It was dark when she returned home. Before coming into the house, she placed the gnomes in her front yard, 50-feet apart, slightly hidden beneath desert shrubs and grasses. Around each gnome she sprinkled the gold coins and candy. Upon entering her front door, she told everyone, “Wow, I just saw some leprechauns running around in our front yard. If we go outside with flashlights, we might be able to spot ‘em. But I’ve heard if leprechauns know they’ve been spotted, they freeze. And they stay that way until people leave them alone.”
The adults immediately realized that Val had just invented something akin to the Easter Bunny. Little Lauren and Taylor heard the news and knew exactly what they had to do—put on a sweater and go catch a leprechaun. We adults felt their excitement and quickly adapted to the concept. Luke, of course, reacted like he was a 12-year-old. He grabbed his fishing net, some firecrackers, and a baseball bat. He was ready to catch, traumatize, and possibly injure any escaping leprechauns.
Val, sensing a magic serene moment quickly going bad with Luke chasing terrified leprechauns, came up with the saving concept. She warned, “Now, be very slow and gentle. When light hits a leprechaun, it freezes. But if you touch it or harm it in any way, it can never return to a normal life. It remains frozen forever.”
“So, Val, when do they become unfrozen?” asked Kim.
“Legend has it, that as soon as all human eyes are looking away, they return to life and scamper back into hiding.”
Everything about to happen, as we all walked out that front door, was a product of Val’s swift, creative genius. Lauren, holding a flashlight, spotted a leprechaun, that immediately froze. The girls gathered the gold coins and candy at the leprechaun’s feet and put them in a bag, being very careful not to touch the little man. When they left to find the next one, Kim moved that leprechaun to a new location and spread more gold coins. Luke, adding to the adventure and laughing, threw some pebbles into bushes saying, “I just heard one over here.” Everyone stopped and turned their head.
His deception worked so well, I cryptically threw a couple pebbles in Luke’s direction. Dead serious, Luke asked, “What was that? Did you hear it?” He wasn’t laughing anymore.
“I heard it, Luke. It’s probably just some rats. Maybe a snake.”
The entire family pokes fun at Luke’s fear of rats. Seeing genuine concern on his face, each of us, sensing a great opportunity, picked up a pocketful of pebbles. The fun of the first leprechaun hunt was enjoyed by kids finding gold, while adults moved two leprechauns from place to place and threw pebbles Luke’s way.
The hunt became an annual event with various embellishments added each year. The number of gnomes increased from two to nine, making a complete baseball team. Mixed with the gold coins are small presents such as yo-yos, bracelets, invisible-ink pens, or bubbles. Dollar Tree often dictates the gifts. One year we added hidden walkie talkies allowing the gnomes to conduct conversations with the kids. But the more that is revealed by a frozen, talking leprechaun, the more suspicious children get. As with the Easter Bunny, grandkids soon graduate from "believers" to “pretenders-cause-we-want-the-gifts" to designated "helpers" for the toddlers.
How can you tell when a grandchild is ready to graduate to a "helper"? Eight-year-old Charlie gave a clue this year when he told some of the smaller kids, “Guys, I hate to tell ya this, but these things are fake.”