The lake at Killykeen.

WordSmith: The column that turned a corner

It's a small world are columnist Gerard Smith found out on a visit to a Cavan Town café recently...

I arrived at a local café to write a column about the loss of Cavan Town’s corner-shops; when my eye caught sight of a lady I’d met briefly at a Christmas carol singing event. Coffee in hand, I said, “Hello.” She invited me to sit for a moment. We were strangers but, within minutes, we’d uncovered our Cavan-Connection. Subsequently, I turned a corner and my mind wandered down another lane, towards another column entirely.

But before I arrived there, I paused at a Halcyon-Summer. School was out, the sun blazed and, “Hey Micky you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind…” was lodged on a loop in our teenage heads. On one sunny Saturday, a friend and I decided to hitch to Killykeen Lake. Off we went with towels over our shoulders and hopeful thumbs.

Soon, a car stopped. My friend jumped in the front passenger seat, me in the back. I was happy to take the back seat; I was shy, my friend had the gift of the gab. In fact, he had many gifts: A cool confidence, naturally sporty, witty, great musical knowledge, and glossy hair. I was proud to have his friendship and be in the orbit of his popularity.

The lake shimmered like a gigantic mirror, framed in forty-shades of green. We ran to it, shattering its surface as we plunged in; the shock of cold stealing our breath. Others joined us, creating a whooping soundtrack to a magical moment in time. I swam away from the throng to where the distance dulled the sound of their frolics. Treading water I looked around and absorbed all aspects of the beauty that surrounded me. That day was full of youthful zest; and the energy with the greatest pull was my friends. He held his splashing court rapt and uproarious in his presence. Swimming back to the pool-party, I vividly recall thinking we’d stay, “Forever young…”

Afterwards we hitched back gleefully looking forward to a Summer Night Disco. We were lucky with the lifts. As per usual I took the back seat and daydreamed about what the night might bring. Until I became aware of the driver looking at me through his rear-view mirror. My friend bantered easily, while I became increasingly self-conscious of the man’s stare. Eventually the man spoke, “Would you look at the head-a-hair on yer-man; if he stood still, the crows would nest in it!”

My hair had dried: stiff, dull, and fuzzy; a crow would make a more attractive nest than the one on my head. My friend looked back, and seeing my embarrassment, he began chatting incessantly to the man, diverting him from any further suggestions for the use of my hair. He knew my hair was my Achilles-heel; and I appreciated him taking the man’s attention away from me – he had my back.

I hated my hair, especially on the dance floor. When the opening riffs of, “Rockin all over the world…” rocked out, my peer’s hair leapt and looped to the requisite headbanging rhythm. I tried, but my hair wouldn’t move, it remained stubbornly stiff; I nodded madly and looked like a tipsy toilet-brush. Thereafter, the Quo was my cue to vacate the dancefloor.

But of course, over time my hair did begin to move – away from me. I returned to Cavan with considerably less hair than when I’d left.

One afternoon, I saw my friend in the supermarket. Like me, he looked older, but he still had great hair. I was enroute to a family function and decided to chat to him next time. I looked forward to re-kindling our friendship and having a good laugh about those fuzzy hair banging days.

Sadly, there was no ‘next time.’ A mutual friend told me of his sudden passing. And so I arrived here, a column about life’s chances and the importance of taking them when they present themselves. Alan Bennett’s words sprang to mind, “Sometimes there is no next time, no second chances. Sometimes it’s now or never.”

The lady I met in the café: our connection was my friend – her uncle. It was lovely to talk to her about those halcyon days, for someone once said, “Those who have died live on the lips of the living.”