The farewell for Miss Mahony was coming to a close. For the second time that evening, Miss Mahony strode to the centre of the grand old dance hall.
Again she had the undivided attention of the multitude.
"I want all the children of Calliope State School to come here to me."
We came, wondering what was in store. It wasn't like she had anything in her hands, like lollies or... anything.
"Now, hold hands and make a circle."
"Step back two paces."
She was now in the centre of a neat ring of about forty curious children.
Miss Mahony strolled round the circle, smiling at every child.
"I... am going to... give every one of you..."
What we thought, could she give us?
"...a great, big..."
Now, folks, let's be clear on something. Two things. One, that it was unheard of for a teacher to kiss school pupils, and two, that it's not for the reasons it wouldn't happen today. I mean, imagine a teacher today, especially a man teacher, announcing that he was going to kiss every child in the room. Just as likely he'd be up for assault, and strong questions would be asked about his motives.
At the very least, passing germs round an entire school would have aborted that idea before it got off the ground, even if his reputation were not shattered forever.
That simply wasn't the case in those days, in a little country school, particularly with a woman teacher. These were country kids, bursting with good health, apart from the occasional epidemics of childhood disease like chicken-pox and measles, and they wrestled and hugged daily enough to pass on anything if it were around. If anyone were taking a chance on catching something, it was Miss Mahony herself, but she didn't give tuppence for that.
It was just that a teacher wouldn't. Not that that was a barrier to Miss Mahony, who in a day or two would never again see these kids she'd taught and played with at lunch time as if she were just another kid. And it wouldn't have occurred to any parent that there was anything wrong with the kiss part of it. It was just unexpected – like nearly everything Miss Mahony did.
On announcing this with such a flourish, Miss Mahony went in a clockwise direction from child to child, giving each a resounding smackeroo kiss on the right cheek. Little girls waited for theirs with that shy wringing-of-the-hands thing little girls do, but smiling broadly, while the boys put on faces of mock dismay. Secretly, they were longing for The Kiss, and then they rubbed it off with even greater affected distaste when it was over. The horror and the rubbing were hugely exaggerated but could not mask the grins.
Talk about Protesting Too Much. If truth be told, they would have been delighted with a second round.
Well, I would have, but you know me....
Miss Mahony had reached the end. She knew she had started with Bimbo Brown nearest the door, and she was back to him. No chance of getting in a second one, but if anyone would have been that lucky, it was Bimbo.
It was just at that point that Mickey Marr walked in the door. Mickey, as some of you may recall, was of the family which had seen movies for the first time in that same hall, with antics vastly amusing to everyone else. (Oh, you have to read that story if you missed it before. You must.)
Mickey, it turned out, had missed the whole kissing thing. It was after his bedtime and the rumour afterwards was that he got lost in the thirty or so metres between a place of urination down behind the hall and the front door, at which he now appeared. It had been dark out there and he entered looking like the proverbial whiptail caught in the headlights.
Miss Mahony's headlights, that is, and how splendid they were. Her eyes I mean, of course. She was quick to respond.
Instinct told him to stand still as she bore down upon him, just like it does to that unfortunate wallaby obeying a hundred thousand years of evolution in the path of a gigantic semi-trailer and then has second thoughts – sadly, its last ones – much too late. What was going on? Why was everyone standing in this circle? Why were they looking at him? What did he do wrong? What was Miss Mahony ....
He had no further time to reflect upon these matters. Miss Mahony was upon him.
"Michael!" she cried.
She picked him up in this bear-hug-type hold so that he was six inches off the floor, and whirled him round and round the floor, in a waltz where her feet were in no danger, unlike when dancing with Mr Curtis. She danced as if Mickey were her true love, thought lost in the wilds of Kokoda since the war and now returned to her loving arms.
Then she gently put him down, and planted the mother of all kisses on the sun-browned cheek of Mickey, eldest son of Johnny, chief of the clan of Marr.
Mickey, whose eyes hadn't yet adjusted to the light, and the canals of his inner ears equally unadjusted to the whirling around, and brain totally cornswoggled by being kissed at all by Miss Mahony let alone with such enthusiasm, the last thing on earth he expected to happen in his life and certainly the most unusual that had done so far apart from his new hand-me-down shorts ending up round his knees in the foot-races last picnic day, and still unused to being called Michael instead of Mickey – he was confused; even more than you are by the ungrammatical construction of this sentence.
He just sat down on the floor, right there where Miss Mahony had deposited him. It was, as I said, way past his bedtime, which was usually when the last gleam of light fell on their little bush dwelling amongst the gum trees and stars a mile or two off the Taragoola road.
It was one of those gentle moments where parents smile, hearts are softened and sins forgiven.
Some of those sins. But the one last part of this saga will definitely have to wait till next time. Truly the last. Cross my heart and ... hope to die. For Miss Mahony nursed a dark secret, and forget about guessing what it was, because you don't have a bleedin' clue.