I'm not much when it comes to April Fool's Day.
It's not that I have anything against a holiday centered around nothing but pranks and foolishness. It's just that I tend to think that life and its special days should be sort of like a box of Cracker Jacks, where there's always a prize inside. So when it comes to tricks, I prefer the trusty Halloween scenario, where they combine with a hearty bagful of Snickers, miniature Hershey bars and other good treats, rather than a day that's nothing but practical jokes, like "kick me" signs and other sophisticated bits of humor.
Plus, I'm just not very good at it.
Despite all my good (bad) intentions, I am not, nor have I ever been, exactly the king of subtlety. Or cleverness, even. And a really, really good AFD joke requires both those attributes, I think.
So my young grandsons were most definitely barking up the wrong limb of the family tree when they asked me to help them skillfully celebrate a holiday that was pretty much new news to them.
But I tried.
"Tell Uncle Matt there's a chicken on his head," I suggested, steering them towards my wife's brother, who spends time with us here in North Carolina.
"Tell grandma she dropped a twenty dollar bill," I said.
Both U-M and grandma obligingly cooperated with the trickery, though I realized we were about at the end of the line as they both began to show some wear and tear as a result of the constant need to swat away invisible barnyard fowl and bend over for nonexistent cash. So, wishing to promote a few moments of peace and sanity among the older set, I aimed the boys at their dad, my son Patrick, who had just returned from a post-church trip to the grocery store.
They swarmed over him like a pair of young prankish piranas, gleefully pointing out birds on the roof, bugs on his head and various valuables lying underfoot.
He, too, complied with full good humor, while casting a cool eye towards me, the proud founder of all the holiday hubbub.
"Hmmm," I thought. "I'd better watch it."
But I discovered there was nothing to fear. There were no chickens on MY head, no fake fish or five-dollar fins underfoot. No nothing. Not even a flying pig to liven my day.
"I guess they think I'm too old for it," I thought. "They don't think I can take a little joke anymore."
I suppose I was kinda relieved. Maybe a little sad, too, because nobody had tried to trick me all day long.
We went home to the beach and took a walk, admiring the rushing waves, the rolling clouds and the gold-red hues of the setting sun.
When we got back to the house, there was a text message waiting on my phone.
It was from Paddy.
"I just heard on the news that there's a pod of whales beached around mile marker 16."
He knows we don't have a television, and that my news intake is mostly limited to what's on the internet, the local public radio station, the Star Courier online and the Topsail Voice, an island weekly that mostly specializes in hot news concerning bake sales, church socials and fishing conditions.
He knew I would want to know, because this was, most definitely, big.
While we've seen sea creatures like turtles, dolphins, sharks, jellyfish and rays, plus just about every sea bird imaginable, we've never managed to spot a whale. Now there was an entire pod, in need of our assistance, just three miles down our beachfront road.
"Quick, get in the car," I exclaimed to my equally excitable spouse. "Whales!"
Imagine the Marines going over the top in a far-off land. Imagine smoke jumpers rushing to their plane in the face of a raging maelstrom. Imagine, even, the Galva Fire Department racing to a grass fire in the middle of the night.
They all pale in comparison to the sense of urgency we felt as we rushed towards our mission of mercy.
I imagined her fearlessly wading through the surf to assist a sand-trapped cetacean. I wondered if we'd be able to lift their massive bodies from the shallow waters.
I even thought of the great story I'd have to tell in this column.
"Maybe we'll get our pictures in the Topsail Voice," I dreamed.
We had just passed the 17-mile mark, just a mile away from the beach access we sought, when my phone rang.
It was Paddy.
"Where are you guys?" he asked.
"We're just about to mile marker 16," I said in my best, most heroic voice.
"Really?" he asked. "Why?"
Suddenly, I knew.
It was subtle. It was clever.
"Oh wow," he laughed, "I didn't think you'd really fall for it."
I heard my daughter-in-law and grandkids laughing in the background.
"I'm sorry," he added.
But not me.
It was just about the best April Fool's hoax ever.
Played on me.
No, I wasn't sorry at all.
I was mostly just glad I was still worth the effort.