Chapter 30. The Little People

The house had been filled with the aroma of roast chicken for a couple of hours. 

Liz lifted the heavy roasting pot out of the oven and set it on the butcher block.  The large oval light green enamel-covered roasting pot that said “made in Holland” on the bottom, had been a wedding gift to her husband’s grandmother in 1939.  Liz used it for her roast chicken and vegetables almost every Sunday.  She also used it for her pot roast with vegetables. She figured that it would be doing Sunday dinner duty for another 75 or 80 years.  

While the chicken was roasting, Liz had whipped up the family’s favorite buttermilk Irish Soda bread batter, and had placed the loaf pan in the second oven to bake. She then retrieved the shamrock-shaped sugar cookies that she made yesterday from the cookie jar, and iced them with Kelly green royal icing while the bread was baking. 

After Liz married Brian, whose ancestors hailed from Galway, she got serious about celebrating St. Patrick’s Day. They didn’t just celebrate on March 17th; they stretched out their celebration for a few weeks.  The decorations had been put in place the week before, when Marta switched out the Valentine’s Day pink and red velvet sofa pillow covers for the green silk patchwork and velvet ones that Liz made last year.  Marta loved to decorate the O’Connell house for the holidays almost as much as Liz, and had set out other items from the St. Patrick’s Day decorations that Liz had accumulated over the years—including ceramic leprechauns, pillar candles of several shades of green, green table runners and shamrock placemats.  

Now, getting further into the mood, Liz played Irish tunes on Pandora while working in the kitchen.  Liz would make breakfast scones on Wednesday morning from Bernie’s family recipe, and Marta would start simmering the corned beef with spices on Wednesday afternoon for dinner that night.  Liz would make Irish coffees for her and Brian to sip while munching on their shamrock cookies.

 And after dinner this evening, they had planned their annual screening of Darby O’Gill and the Little People, a movie that the O’Connell kids had been watching since they were very little people.

Brian and Anna had gone to pick up the Martin twins—Audrey and Andy, who had been joining them weekly for Sunday dinner.  They invited their mother, but she had not yet accepted their invitation. Abbey had been released after a 72-hour hold, and life had settled back to the old normal in their household. 

For their part, the younger O’Connell kids loved having two more teenagers to look up to and to learn from.  All of the O’Connells attended the home baseball games of the St. Michael’s Charter School Knights to root for Andy and his team.  

Liz took the bread out of the oven, removed it from the pan, and set it out on a rack to cool. Noticing that the table was not yet set for dinner, Liz checked the chores chart on the refrigerator and texted Liam, “Your turn to set the table.”  Texting your kids at home was the 21st century equivalent to a home intercom system from the 1960’s. 

“Ok mom.  Be down in a minute. Working on my report.” 

Five minutes later Liam joined her in the kitchen and started to clear the morning newspaper and other things that had accumulated on the kitchen table during the day.

“The Martin twins are coming over, so we need to eat at the dining room table, Liam.  You can use the shamrock placemats.” 

“Okay mom.”  

“You’re working on the Carnegie Library report, yes?” she asked.

“Yep.”  Like most teenage boys, Liam communicated monosyllabically, unless prodded. 

Liz had sliced the bread and was carefully placing the still warm bread into a silver bread basket lined with a green napkin.  Keller had been in the kitchen shadowing her all afternoon, hoping that she would accidentally drop some food on the floor.  His patient waiting paid off when a crumb from a slice of the bread fell to the floor while Liz was transferring it to the basket. Keller pounced on it enthusiastically.  The O’Connells called him their “Floor Monitor.”  

She looked at the clock and realized that it was his dinner time. Pulling the bag of kibble out from “Keller’s Cabinet” in the kitchen, Liz asked, “How did the library come to be built in St. Michael’s Cove?  Who got it started?” 

“Mrs. Robinson’s grandmother.”

“Where did you get the information for your report?”

“The library.”

“And . . . ?” Liz prompted. 

“Actually, I got lucky. The new library has a whole section dedicated to the history of St. Michael’s Cove and the various historical sites in town, including the Carnegie Library. They had the information about Mrs. Robinson’s grandmother, Mary, who was the one who got it started.”

Liam set eight placemats on the table, pulled their everyday white Ironstone dinner plates from the cabinet and put them on the mats. 

“This is so interesting.  I’d like to hear more at dinner.  Don’t forget to put the water glasses on the table,” she said, glancing at the table.


Ten minutes later the six O’Connells and the Martin twins found their places around the table and sat down.  

Let’s pray, Liz said. The family prayed in unison, “Come Lord Jesus, be our guest, and may these gifts to us be blest. Amen.” The twins had learned the family’s simple table prayer over a period of the last few weeks, and quietly joined in.

Liz had placed the uncovered roasting pot on hot pads in front of Brian’s place at the table.  

“Boy, does this look delicious!” he said looking at roast chicken and vegetables.  He began carving the chicken and serving the family. The skin on the whole chicken was golden brown and crispy. The potatoes were roasted brown, and the carrots looked delicious. 

“Drumstick, please,” said Anna.

“Who wants more potatoes and carrots?”

Liz started passing the bread and butter while Brian carved.

Finished with his serving duties, Brian opened his napkin, put it on his lap and turned to Liam. 

 “So, Liam, I overheard you telling mom about the Carnegie Library in town. Tell us more about what you learned.  You said that Mrs. Robinson’s grandmother, Mary Robinson got it started? How did she do that?” 

“Well, she wrote to the Carnegie Foundation and asked them for money to build a library in the village.  They wrote back with a list of questions for her to answer, and also said that there were five requirements to receiving the funds.” 

“What were the requirements?” Brian asked.

“I don’t know if I can remember them all—but I’ll try.”  

He held up his fingers to keep track of them. 

He touched his thumb. “First, the town had to show a need for a public library;

“Second, the town had to donate the land for the library;

“Third, the town had to pay the staff to run and take care of the library;

“Fourth, the town had to use some public money to run the library;

He thought for a moment.  “There was one more.”

“Oh yeah! They had to agree to keep it open to the public.” 

Continuing, he said, “So Mary Robinson got the city council to agree to all of the terms, including donating three acres on the edge of the park to build the library and a small garden.”  

“Where did you get this information?” Brian asked.

“As I was telling mom, there is a section in the new library building about the history of the town and books about the Carnegie libraries.  Also, Rosemary Robinson donated all of her grandmother’s letters to and from the Carnegie Foundation about the library.  They put the letters on display in a glass case.”  

He added, “Mr. Carnegie built something like 2500 libraries in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and around the world.  He had his own architects draw up the plans for the libraries, to his specifications.”  

“I’ve always wondered about that those old lampposts near the entrance to the stairs,” Brian said.  “Did you learn anything about the design elements of the library?” 

“That’s actually part of my report.  Like our Carnegie library, almost all of the libraries had a cement or stone staircase going up to the main entrance—supposedly to symbolize that you were taking steps toward learning.” 

“And most of them had those lampposts near the entrance as a symbol of light—of being enlightened by the knowledge contained in the books in the library.”

“How much did the Carnegie Foundation donate to build the library?” asked Anna.

“I think it was like about $25,000 in 1924.  But I found out that Mrs. Robinson also went around asking for money from wealthy people in Los Angeles and Pasadena who had week-end beach homes and cottages in St. Michael’s Cove.  Apparently, several of those families also donated to the building of the library.”

“Well, that was before the 1929 stock crash, so the Great Depression was still several years away,” said Brian.

“When did they open the library?” asked Liz.

“It was in 1925.  They argued that they needed a local library because the downtown Los Angeles library was too far away.” 

“Yes, and UCLA, my alma mater, was opened in 1919, but UCLA was more than 10 miles away—too far for village folks to travel in 1925 to borrow a book. Hardly anyone had a car and there was no public transportation to St. Michael Cove in those days. Besides, I doubt that the UCLA library was open to the public, or that it even offered the kind of popular novels that people wanted to read.” 

“Did you find anything out about Mr. Carnegie?  How did he accumulate so much wealth?” asked Brian.

“Well, Mr. Carnegie was born in Scotland and came to the United States with his parents when he was 12.  He started working for a telegraph company sending telegraphs, and began investing in railroads and many other things. He built a big empire, and decided to give away a lot of his money to help people.” 

“When is your report due, Liam?” asked Liz. “Do you have time to interview Rosemary Robinson?  I wonder if her grandmother talked to her about her work to get the library built.  Also, I think that Rosemary was born in the 1940’s—so she may have some interesting stories to tell about going to the library during her growing up years in the village.” 

“It’s due Friday, Mom, and she’s like 70—she is really an old lady.”  Liam replied.   I doubt that she would even talk to me.  I don’t know her.”  

Liz looked thoughtful.  “Wait a minute!”  she exclaimed.  “I think the Messenger published an article about the library and Mary Robinson’s involvement with it about 10 or so years ago.  You should check their archives, and maybe follow up with an interview with Mrs. Robinson.”

“I don’t know, mom. I’m almost finished with the report . .  .  can you read it and let me know what you think?” 

“Sure.  Just leave it at my place on the kitchen table and I’ll take a look at it tomorrow morning before I leave for work.  But Liam, I think that you should at least look up the Messenger article.  Rosemary Robinson is about your grandmother’s age and if you have any questions, I’m sure that she would be happy to talk to you. She is always generous with her time, especially if it involves the Robinson family legacy. At least think about it.”

Liam responded with a slight nod. 

Liz brought the plate of shamrock cookies in from the kitchen and passed them around.  

Trying to eat less sugar, Anna passed on the cookies, and started clearing the dishes from the table.  “I’m dishes. Kevin is kitchen clean-up,” she announced.  

Audrey stood up and started clearing the table with Anna. 

Munching on the stem of a shamrock cookie, Brian asked, with a twinkle in his eye, “Speaking of shamrocks, does anyone know why people wear shamrocks on St. Patrick’s Day?”

Liam, Andy, and Sean shook their heads. 

Laughing, Brian said, “Because real rocks are too heavy!” 

They all laughed, except for Sean, who looked puzzled. “I don’t get it.” 

Sean’s admission brought another round of laughter.  After the laughter died down, Brian said, “But the real reason folks wear shamrocks on St. Paddy’s Day is because it is said that St. Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Trinity—one shamrock, three parts.

Getting up from the table, Brian explained the joke to Sean as he turned on the television to set up the screening of Darby O’Gill and The Little People.


Karl and Ginny had settled into their Sunday after-dinner routine and were half an hour into an episode of Mark Ames, Marine, when the phone rang.  Karl picked it up on the second ring.

“Collect call for Karl Thompson from Derek Thomas at Lancaster State Prison. Will you accept the charges?” the operator asked.