Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Irish Linen

Jesse Halsey
2726 Cleinview Av
Cincinnati, Ohio

Bowling along at fifty while the signs said forty, suddenly I sensed the staccato put-put of an accelerating motor-cycle coming up behind.

The Grand Boulevard that writhes its intricate way round successive suburbs to the north of The Metropolis was crowded with hustling morning traffic. Car after car with a New York license had passed me. When in Rome I am a Roman, but this time it hadn’t worked. For while all the cars perceptibly slowed down at the sound of that Cop’s barking exhaust, of all the dozen in sight he picked on me with the out-of state license.

He came along side; paralleled me for a mile (while I kept forty). Then he motioned me into a right hand intersection. I pulled up and he dismounted. Out of his pocket cam a little blue book. Then with some clumsiness he adjusted a carbon sheet and began to write.

“Ohio ais it? Yes thinks yes can get away with oinything cause ye have no driver’s license. I’ve got yer number, now what’s yer name?”

“Reverend,” I began meekly.

He looked up the word half written.

“Revener nothin’,” he exploded, “yer don’t bamboozle me. With yer red neckie and blue shirt . . . Revener.” He spat with vigor.

I produced an envelope. He spelled out the first word; REV-ER-END.

“Well, oil be domed . . . Now why wouldn’t youse guys dress like a priest oughter? If Oid a known I wouldn’t be givin’ ye a ticket now, maybe.”

Again he looked me over.

“Oid like to let ye go, bygor, but now Oi’ve wrote in me little book.” He fumbled with the carbon sheet. It wouldn’t erase—“REVER—”

“Oil have ter take yer name.”

I brought out the letter and he began laboriously to copy REVEREND J-O-H-N-B-A-Y-S-O-N. Then he spelled it over.

“John Bayson and Revener” he said slowly, half aloud, as he tilted back his trim white cap and scratched his head. “John Bayson, Oi used to know a fellow with that name in Soithampton.” He looked at me hard.

“Be gor, is youse the Jock Bayson whose father had a farm on the East Sea Road? Ye bald headed old cuss, ye can’t be. Excuse me me language, Revener.”

“Yes, I’m Jack Bayson alright, but who in the world are you?” I queried.

“Be gor, don’t yer know me?” He took off his stiff white cap with its resplendent traffic emblem, and stood straight. I hadn’t the dimmest recollection. This handsome military figure didn’t register in my memory.

“Youse oughter know me alright coming ter yer house fer milk fer me mother with narry a cent and yer old aunt a givin’ us all that first winter after we landed, and yer father keepin’ us in pertatoes when me father was sick, and all us kids. Yer ought ter know, me, Oi’m Michael Burke, be gor.”

It all came back, after forty years. Mike Burke! I was out of the car now. We were talking fast, while the traffic on the Grand Boulevard whizzed by unheeded. As boys we had played together. I was the older—and a great tease. But luckily he had forgotten that. Only the kindness of my people to his people was remembered. Over and over he told it. “Irish and Catholic,” he said, “green as grass” they found kindness and understanding in the New England village where fate had thrown them. And the Puritan Deacon, “be gor” had more than once loaned them a horse and buggy to drive the ten miles to the Harbor to Mass, “be gor.”

A raucous siren blatted into our conversation, coming nearer. ON went his cap and the officer came to quick attention, his official self again.

“That’s the patrol with a change of detail,” he said. And then as if in pain, he wailed, “Me gor, what shall Oi do?” I thought he had had a heart attack.

“Why, Mike, what’s the matter?” I gasped.

“Matter, me gor, ‘tis matter enough. ‘Tis this domed little book. Yer name’s in it and I can’t rub it out, be gor. It don’t rub out loike the old slates we used to use,” he smiled ruefully.

The patrol was coming close now, horn howling at intervals, while I volunteered, “Well never mind, Mike, I’ll pay the fine. Don’t worry.”

“Be domed if yer do,” says Mike. And with that he jerked open the hood of my car and smeared his cambric handkerchief with the grease and gas in the pan under the engine, struck a quick match, and as the patrol drew up, in answer to his whistle, was beating out a tiny but very smoky fire under my left running board with his white cap.

The sergeant came running from the patrol with a fire extinguisher (there was one unused one on Mike’s motor-cycle) and we both got spattered.

The officer Burke got down on his knees, reached under my car and came up swearing volubly.

“Me loittle book, be gory. This baldheaded, careless cuss, he gits his car ofire and Oi try to help him put it out and I drops me book, be gor.”

Mike handed the book to the sergeant. Sure enough some two pages were crisp and illegible, “clean gone,” in fact.

“This’ll cost you three days suspension, Burke,” snapped the sergeant.

The relief officer held the traffic while I pulled into the Grand Boulevard, headed toward home. The last I saw of my friend Burke, he was climbing in to the patrol wagon, one eye on me, unconsciously dusting his once-white cap on his chevroned sleeve.

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