Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Cow and the Velvet Suit

(c) 2003, Connell J. Maguire

My brothers had little difficulty persuading me to do daring and incongruous deeds. As young and old everywhere, we delighted in stories of American cowboys and Indians of the Wild West. One day Barney and I, pedestrian cowboys, were herding one cow along the road. Sod was piled up at roadside to serve as a dirt wall. A "shuhh" is a drainage ditch in Donegal. So the digging operation served two purposes and, on this day, a third. Grass grew profusely on the dirt wall and the cow paused to graze. Barney said, "This is your chance to be a cowboy. You can climb up beside the cow and ride on her back." I can still see the backbone of the cow, her silky, tan hair, as I climbed up and stretched my right leg across her midsection. No horse ever dashed from a gate faster than that uncooperative cow darted from underneath me, leaving a prospective cowboy rolling flat in the mud. I don't understand cows.

That was a closed case. No harm was done for which I would be held accountable. It was a different matter in the case of the velvet suit.

My mother was a dressmaker, and when I was between four and five, she made me a velvet suit with short pants. Out playing one day while I was wearing my new apparel, my brothers convinced me that it could double as a bathing suit. It was one of those days when the Irish say the "sun is splitting the rocks," all the while they are wearing sweaters and probably long underwear. I entered the river where it flowed over a shallow, stony bed. A surprising number of details of that misadventure are vivid in memory. I noted with interest that water rose higher on either side of me and that the stones were all rounded like eggs. Centuries of flowing water had given them this oval shape. I was delighted by how they felt.

Suddenly, shouting from the house intruded on my new found pleasure. My brothers hauled me ashore and dragged me to my judicial hearing. How could being wet in the river feel so good, and now walking in wet clothes feel so miserable? No one had an interest in answering that question. And why was my mother making such a big deal out of such a simple and happy matter? Probably the suit, fruit of much loving effort, was ruined. What happened to it after that is not recorded in family history.

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