School Days in Lislea in the 1940s (4)
It was difficult to 'ask out' of school, but Hugh A Murphy, managed it
One of the greatest occasions for any of us was the odd glorious day, when our services were required at home and we would be told to 'ask out', indicating clearly to the master that this was at our parents’ request.
There was never a question, at least in our case, of our parents keeping us at home on their own initiative, without this ritual being adhered to. This was at a time when the schoolmaster’s position was almost sacred, second only in importance to the Parish Priest.
I remember such a day, not long after I had been promoted to the senior room, when potatoes were being set in the field behind our house. After much persuasion during the course of the weekend, I had managed to convince my father that my services would be indispensable on the Monday morning to drop the seed, and I finally got the nod 'to ask out.'
I still remember the sense of trepidation as I got up from the seat shortly after the roll was called and began to walk up the floor towards the master’s table, something that was never done on a normal day unless you were summoned. His sense of surprise and slightly deprecating smile did not help my confidence as I choked out my request. 'Dropping seed? Sure you wouldn’t be fit to drop seed!' And then after an eternity those glorious words, 'Go ahead!'
I can still remember that feeling of total exhilaration as my feet landed on the road, still shaking with disbelief that I was actually free. The irony of it was missed on me then, just as it was missed on the large number of those I remember kicking their schoolbags up the road before them on their last day at school, and who the next day might well be seen out in the fields covered with muck, digging shores with the rain running down their neck.
Free, but free for a day’s drudgery, dropping seed, one of the most backbreaking jobs in the annual cycle of tasks. But that didn’t matter then. I was out!
The drills lined the field
The neat margin of side rigs
Blotted with heaps of seed,
Wet tongues licking the sun.
My legs gulped the road
Up the school-hill
Hands still shaking, his gruff consent
Unbelieved in my ears,
And my father’s ready smile,
“So he let you out! Here’s the knife.
Mind you make it tight.
Cut the neck wide.”
And he turned, graip in hand,
Shooting the dung with expert flick
Down the drill, my mother watching
From the gap, proud in his strength.
The apron stung my neck, gouged my legs
As I walked performing the ritual,
The full udder of seed milked slow
In the cable-drill, pulling me on,
Breaking my back, chained
To an instinct as inhuman as his
For the satisfaction to stand at the day’s end
Consumed by the wide expanse
Of a spud-field
Hatching his dream.