There has been some wild speculation in social media since I wrote Part 1 as to what happened next in this tale, but I suspect some of the guesses come from those who have no idea of life in a country township in the 1950s. They may feel let down. Oh well, let's see.... The story continues.
It was rapidly drawing to the end of the night for Miss Mahony's farewell. Miss Mahony knew that for the children there would be a little period of dancing ahead – La Raspa (or Mexican Hat Dance), and a Hokey-Pokey (Hokey-Cokey to some readers).
Just at the point where the Raspa was to be announced, Miss Mahony walked to the centre of the dance floor and announced loudly:
"There's one thing I must insist on before the Raspa."
The hall fell silent.
There was some indrawing of breath amongst the adults. What would she insist upon? There wasn't a person in Calliope who hadn't heard of That Other Thing, about which ye shall know presently. That had nothing to do with announcements.
"I request... no, I demand..."
I should state at this point that what Miss Mahony demanded was going to cause a problem, because Old Jim, as we called him, was a strict Methodist. "Old Jim" was not an entirely affectionate title, but nor did it carry malice, because bad boys like me feared him a bit, although every time we'd been caned, we figured we deserved it. He was old and we knew his name was Jim, so the two just went together.
"...I demand... that Mr Curtis has one last waltz – with me!"
Now I can see you're as shocked as we kids were, as was everyone else in the hall. As a Methodist, he frowned upon dancing – even with his own wife, as dancing was a frivolous thing. Fine for children; good exercise for young bodies, in fact – but never for him. Dancing could lead to... never mind. And now this chit of a girl was putting him in an impossible position. To take any woman other than his dear wife in his arms... it didn't bear thinking about.
He started to protest volubly.
"No... it's not possible.... I can't...."
Along with the other men, "Rocket" Armour was hanging half sloshed over the waist-high partition between the side verandah and the canvas seats along that side of the dance floor. He probably had felt the sting of Old Jim's cane many times twenty years before this night and now saw his chance for revenge. He shouted loudly in his usual slurred voice,
"Come on SIR – give 'er a go!"
Every other bloke in the hall chimed in. "Go for it, SIR!" "Last chance, Sir!" and some other things I didn't understand and displeased some of the mothers greatly, but it was a unique opportunity for us kids. "Yes, Sir – pleeease Sir!"
Never had we had a chance to be that cheeky to the one we held in awe. We forgot that we had to face him on Monday, and many more Mondays. But there was strength in unity.
Old Jim was genuinely distressed. He was being asked to do something that took him to the very gates of Dante's Inferno, with rapidly retreating hopes for Paridiso even after a blameless life. Desperately, he looked across at Mrs Curtis.
She glanced back. She had the wickedest glint in her eyes. And a tiny grin on her lips.
That sealed his fate. Old Jim would have to risk a date with Cerberus (yes, I know, I've mixed Christian and primal Hells) should he drop dead or be struck down on the spot the moment he took her hand.
Don't laugh. It was possible. Messing round with Fate is always a chancy business and don't I know it. Being older makes you all too aware of these things.
"But I can't...."
Miss Mahony knew exactly what it was that he couldn't and wouldn't do, so she said:
"Let's do it this way."
She knew he was rejecting outright the notion of putting his right hand on her waist. That was perdition. One last desperate glance towards Mrs Curtis showed that she was still smiling, even more widely.
Sardie Brown struck up on the piano what was meant to be a waltz. He got quite a few notes wrong but in fairness, he kept reasonably good time, so the omnishambles that followed wasn't entirely his fault.
Miss Mahony gracefully, and with the hugest of smiles as if she were dancing with Fred Astaire himself, gently and effortlessly bypassed the worst of the dangers of Old Jim's No 12s.
Meanwhile, he was sweating like camp-draft nag a bit long in the tooth that was trying to corral a wily vealer. This was, I am certain, the first and last time Mr Curtis graced the dance floor. He shuffled round and round with mincing steps but none of the grace of a geisha.
It was a kind of jitterbug without the bug; just the jitter. No, that's a bad analogy, but because I just thought of it and liked it, it's staying in. It was after all a jittery, shuddery sort of progression round the hall, keeping Miss Mahony at full arm's length.
Finally, in what must have been the longest two minutes of his life, they made it around the hall once, not really to rapturous applause if it were Astaire and Miss Mahony, but a good deal of mirth, enthusiastic clapping in three-four time from the kids and a lot of wolf-whistles from the peanut gallery.
I doubt if Old Jim had heard any of it. He was concentrating fully on staying upright. In that sense his rubber-soled shoes were a blessing, but also a curse in that he had no chance of sliding on the dance floor in the way every dancer wearing leather-soled shoes or boots did.
Miss Mahony bowed elegantly to him as he plonked himself down with an ungraceful thud on the canvas chair next to Mrs Curtis, who, it must be said, felt his distress and patted his hand. That was as close to a display of public affection as he would have allowed.
The Raspa followed, and then the Hokey-Pokey, in which Miss Mahony played a prominent part. When it came to the bit where, after putting our front side in, we all sang lustily:
You put yer 'mmpp-mmpp' in...the 'mmpp-mmpp' signifying your back side, but what we melded into "backside", a word too improper to be used by good children in the Diggers Arms Hall. Do you know what Miss Mahony did at the 'mmpp-mmpp' point? She didn't say it aloud, but she mouthed the word (avert your eyes if you must):
You put yer 'mmpp-mmpp' out
You put yer 'mmpp-mmpp' in
And you shake it all about....
She did. I'm telling we all saw it, and we all saw it the second time, and by the third we didn't say 'mmpp-mmpp' but we also mouthed the word... that one up there... and we shook our mmpp-mmpps all about like our bums were on fire.
Old Jim just looked down. I have no idea what the parents thought, except that teachers always were expected to convey the impression that they'd never heard the word "bum" in their lives, let alone say it.
I wasn't even going to tell that bum part of the story because I only just remembered it, and I have to say that I haven't even got to the other shock of the night that was meant to go here. Shall I post this bit and add the other part next time? because I've gotta tell you, truly, I'm knackered. I could have put it more indelicately à la twenty-first century standard idiom, but children may be reading this you know.
Dammit, you can wait for it. And That Other Thing. You can wait for that too. My blog.
I am relieved that Joan and I were cyber practicing our dancing for a great deal of yesterday otherwise I could not have coped with the salacious picture you have conjured up in my mind. Despite some concerns for her after Part 1, it is clear that Ms Mahony does not need our sympathy. Obviously she was a very good teacher and a fine example of a great Teacher's College graduate and realized that you innocent country boys and girls needed a little introduction to the big, wide and wild world.ReplyDelete
However I feel very sorry for poor Mr Curtis. I do hope he recovered his equanimity, but I have few expectations that in Part 3 he will be a different liberated character. I empathize with his embarrassment and think your slow handclap was a little bit mean! (I myself remember an awful moment when my soon to be brother-in-law and I brought down, with our inadequate but enthusiastic dancing, a considerable number on the dance floor. This was at the engagement party my step father-in- law had put on. It made a lifetime of a shared, only semi amused, memory for the three us.)
You have painted Mrs Curtis beautifully. I look forward to Part 3. Anne P.
Just to correct one little thing in your comment, Anne – that wasn't slow-hand-clapping by the kids; it was simply clapping in time with the waltz music. It really wasn't jeering.Delete
I may have overdone the poetic [or dramatic?] licence a bit re Mr Curtis. In the whole thing I didn't detect any malice. Discomfort, yes, and sheer mischief on Miss Mahony's part – and I admit I have no idea what might have been said previously at school in exchanges between them. Yes, there was a little impishness in Mrs C., and I figure she thought it would do him no irreparable harm!
Old Jim was a fine man. I paid tribute to him in these stories:
here and here
You're not the first to do the domino effect thing, and even these days, if you've seen country weddings, you're far from the last….
Let's see what Pt 3 brings. I know what I want to say, but it may go off at one of my usual Tristram Shandyish tangents.
Good one, Denis. I can't wait for the next episode. Sixty years ago - dancing lessons at college - one agricultural type of chap did the unforgivable. He firmly watched his feet, rather than his partner during the shouted instructions. This was because he had an 'L' and an 'R' chalked on his highly polished dancing shoes. Quick-quick and quick- quick-slow"ReplyDelete
...which reminds me of what quite a few unaware bridegrooms had painted [by their mates] on the soles of their shoes. When told to kneel at the church wedding and with his back to the congregation, the letters HE on the left sole and LP on the right made a combination setting off a titter down the ranks.Delete
I'd forgotten the expression "half sloshed"! How very in keeping with that era it is ,too. You were an observant little boy, weren't you? Not only does the past flash before my eyes with these stories, but with so few words you do draw all characters so that it seems I knew them myself.ReplyDelete
How I disliked those small town dances. Oh to have the spirit and elan of Miss Mahony!