Episode 3. A Summer in New Jersey
We went riding very early this morning, Father and I, to escape the heat of the day — why did I ever complain about the rain and fog in England, where it was so blissfully cool? He suddenly asked me: "Do you know anything about the Olive Branch Petition?"
Do I ever! The Olive Branch Petition came close to turning into a fight at Aunt Sally's table not long before my departure for New Jersey. Grandfather had come home looking even more tired than usual. No wonder: day after day he attends a committee from 6 to 9 in the morning. From 9 to 4 in the afternoon he sits with Congress, taking part in an awesome number of projects and after supper, at home, he writes long letters to his friends in England.
He was particularly silent that evening. When Uncle Richard suddenly asked him if the Olive Branch Petition was about to be dispatched to England, Grandfather almost choked with fury.
"How dare you bring up a confidential matter as if it were your business?" he spurted. "You know that everything discussed in Congress is kept secret. Who told you about this?"
Aunt Sally turned pale and her hands were trembling. She knows that, deep down, her father has never accepted her choice of husband. She lives in dread of an impending storm. And now, even though Richard was stammering that not every congressional delegate was as discreet as Dr. Franklin and that rumors were flying all over Philadelphia, she felt, and I did too, that a storm was about to burst.
And who, of all people, defused the atmosphere? Benny, my quiet little cousin Benny.
— "I know about the Olive Bwanch," he lisped. (Benny has been losing his baby teeth.) We all looked at him in surprise. "People were bad and God was so angwy that he dwownded them all except Noah and his family who escaped in a boat. Noah sent out a pigeon to see if the water was going down and the pigeon came back with an olive bwanch in his beak, and all the animals in the boat clapped their hands. Is that wight, Gwanpapa?"
If anything can melt my grandfather, it is the sight and sound of a child. He beamed at his clever grandson, not quite six yet and already so knowledgeable.
— "You're so right, Benny, and ever since then, that pigeon with an olive branch means that the bad times are over and we can all be friends again."
After some giggling during which Willy, desperate for his turn in the limelight, tried to attract attention by pulling the tablecloth off the table, Grandfather, by now more affable, informed us that yes, a petition by that name would be sent to England, probably in the first days of July. Had he taken part in its writing? He hesitated.
— "Well, yes, I contributed a little, even though I personally believe that it does not have the shadow of a chance to be seriously considered, let alone accepted. I have seen so many of those petitions when I was in London, some humble, some very humble, some beautifully crafted legal gems, all treated with the same contempt. Still, a few moderates in Congress want to try once again, one last time, to give diplomacy a chance to express our loyalty, if not to Parliament, at least to King and country. It can do no harm."
— "Are we offering concessions in this petition?" asked Aunt Sally.
— "No concessions offered, no concessions asked. It is polite and vague."
Grandfather then dragged himself to bed, but not without giving me some letters to copy.
Now, in Perth Amboy, I repeated all this to Father who listened attentively. I was proud to show him that I was not just a child plucked from his London school but that I was privy to some Congressional information. So proud indeed, that I betrayed our collective promise to Grandfather not to reveal a word of what he had told us about the Olive Branch Petition. Worse yet, I quoted from memory passages from two of the letters I had recently copied: "We shall give you one opportunity more of recovering our affections and retaining the connections. It now requires great wisdom on your side of the water to prevent the total separation; I hope it will be found among you." And to another friend: "I can see clearly we are on the high road to mutual enmity, hatred and detestation..."
— "Don't you think, Father, that Grandfather has a real gift for mixing endearment with threats?"
— "Yes, indeed."