As the great Irish seanchaí (story teller), Eamon Kelly, would say, “I take you back now to the days of the parish carnival dances in the west of Ireland.” By this time the local parish priest felt that the devil himself would not dare show up in cloven hoofs at the dances in those great tents. Anyway, it so happened that Pat showed up at the dance on the last night of the parish carnival knowing that his pal, Mike, would be there to give him courage and support. As it turned out, Pat could see that this girl that he was secretly sweet on was putting on quite a show on the dance floor. So he asked Mike, “How can I get Mary to dance with me?” Mike replied, “Pat, just say to her the most romantic thing you can think of.” Pat picked up his courage and made it across the busy floor to the girls’ sideline. Some time later, he crossed that busy floor back to where Mike was sitting on the boys’ sideline. Pat was now sporting a black eye and Mike said to him, “What in God’s name happened to you, Pat?” and Pat replied, “I said the most romantic thing I could think of. I said ‘Mary, You don’t sweat too much for such a fat girl.’” Suffice it to say that Pat didn’t seek any more advice from Mike.
Now this brings me to my own fateful night at the Newbridge carnival dance. I was all spiffed up for the night and was sitting on the boys’ sideline with a few of my school pals. I wondered out loud whom I might ask for a dance and one of my pals suggested a certain young lady who was a great dancer. “Matilda (not her real name) will surely dance with you,” he said. So I strode across to the girls’ side and said, “Will you dance with me, Matilda?” She said, “No, thank you, Paddy.” I was stunned for the moment, but I couldn’t blame her. After all, here I was, a skinny teen-ager and she was already a young woman. Besides that, I could hardly put one foot in front of the other in dance mode. I headed back to the boys’ side with my tail between my legs. Luckily, one of my sister Kathleen’s classmates, Katie Murray, was at the dance and she took me for a few twirls around the floor. She had saved me from eternal humiliation, and we still keep in touch across the oceans via the modern miracle of email — but don’t tell that to the Roman Catholic Bishop of Honolulu! LOL.
One could say that life is like a great waltz, ebbing and flowing with the music. I remember when I came here to Kalaupapa 10 years ago, we had a group of ladies who would come together in Damien Hall to practice the hula, which had its birth on Topside Molokai. They were preparing for the first celebration of St. Marianne Cope’s feast day. I watched them on a number of occasions. The dance was so graceful. I was so enthralled that I had a friend make a colorful skirt for me and I showed up in it as a gag one day. It created a few hilarious moments, but I didn’t make the squad. My hips did not co-operate. I was created for the waltz.
Anchor columnist Father Killilea is pastor of St. Francis Church in Kalaupapa, Hawaii.