Friday, May 22, 2009

Bold* Girls On Bikes

* "Bold," as used in 1958, in that place and that time, did not mean "brave" but rather "naughty" or "troublesome."

Walking recently along the Shannon banks, enjoying the sparkle of sunshine on the water, my mind slipped back to 1958. The summer I was ten.

Mary Grant had led me astray----again.

Against all parental taboos about riding our bikes through town and across the river to a certain forbidden swimming hole,

we were trundling said bikes down these steps:

Then jumping on again and peddling like the wind along this narrow riverbank path

so as to have as much swimming time as possible before going home for our tea.

"They'll never know!" she had said, tossing her silky mane.

"Come on 'fraidy cat!! Don't be such a baby!"

I was the timid one, the goody-goody. Mary Grant was bold and brave and a year and a half older than me. She was also blessed with a big brother. I felt that having a big brother gave one advantages, made one more courageous, more daring. I thought it a terrible oversight on God's part not to have given me one.

For my part, if my parents said I was not allowed to go somewhere, it didn't occur to me to argue or disobey. I just didn't go. Mary Grant, on the other hand, saw rules as parents' attempts to keep us from enjoying life to the fullest. Her thirst for adventure far outweighed her fear of consequences. The day was lovely. The sun was shining. The river was calling. If I didn't manage to summon a little courage, there were plenty of others who'd be delighted to join Mary Grant and leave me at home, sucking my thumb, wishing I had some guts.

So off we went.

We had a delightful time, jumping and splashing about. We didn't drown, though I was not much of a swimmer, while Mary Grant swam like a fish. We were not attacked by marauding bands of hooligan boys. And we negotiated our bikes expertly through the busy part of town. But time is always on the wing when you're having fun, and it was soon time to gather ourselves up and start peddling homeward in time for tea.

After parting company with Mary Grant, I let myself quietly into our garage and put my bike away, then summoned my courage for the unavoidable dash through the kitchen, hoping the Sacred Heart of Jesus, whose picture hung on the kitchen wall, would show some mercy, and not let my mother's eagle eyes detect the towel-and-swimsuit shaped bulge under my shirt. Everyone was already seated at the table, and my mother was serving up the food.

Not being an experienced strategist, my plan was to simply hurry through, doubled over, mumbling about a desperate need to "go!" Then fly upstairs and shove the evidence under my bed. It didn't occur to me that when I had left the house several hours earlier, ostensibly to go play with Mary Grant, I'd looked like a skinny string bean. Now, barely three hours later, I looked like Billy Bunter.....

I almost made it. But the Sacred Heart let me down.

"Where have you been all afternoon?" mum asked sharply, her eyes sweeping over me, taking in every detail.

"Just out playing," I mumbled, trying unsuccessfully not to turn beet red.

Moving out of the way of a man on a bike, wobbling towards me on the narrow path along the river bank, brought me back to the present. The gleeful thrill of forbidden fruit, the joyous shouts, the splashing and the laughter from that far-off day faded away, and I was once again enveloped in the quiet sights and sounds of a sunny May day on the river. The water slapped gently in the rushes;

birds sang in the trees;

buttercups the size of saucers poked their sunny faces out of the ditch;

a pair of ducks led their tremulous ducklings out from the shelter of the bank;

a domestic dispute broke out between a couple of swans;

an airplane droned overhead.

I turned contentedly towards Rise's house. I was glad I'd broken the rules that day. Living safely can get awfully boring. Sometimes you have to fly in the face of well meaning authority, stretch your wings, take a leap and a splash into unknown waters.....and damn the consequences.