Horse racing, naked swimming, and Elvis

My mother and father became good friends with a couple named the Maguire’s when I was little. Cecil Maguire was a large, imposing man who commanded any room he walked into. He was also rich as hell and had more than a little stake in the horse racing that went on at Hastings Race Track in Vancouver. The Maguire’s lived in Point Grey, overlooking English Bay, on a beautiful corner lot with towering Cypress’ encircling the property complete with a swimming pool.

Caroline was the youngest child and was a wild thing, an untamed, unfettered girl who had more derring-do than any boy I knew. And that was saying a lot. (It was no surprise to me to hear she had gone on in life to be a bush pilot, than one of the first female Air Canada pilots in history). I adored her. And when I began to sleep over at her house, I was aware for the first time in my life, of another world, one where silver was used at dinner, sandwiches served poolside, and rules were meant to be broken.

There was no better place to be in summer than lying on the searing hot slate deck that surrounded the Maguire’s pool. All you saw were the mile high Cypress trees, the blinding blue of the pool, summer cumulus floating by and Caroline’s blonde hair bobbing up after another risky dive to the deep end. One day, as it was nearing dinner, Mrs. Maguire came out and motioned to me. I leapt up and ran over, thinking somehow I was in trouble. Instead, she asked me to get dressed and meet her in the dining room. She seemed in a pleasant mood so I wondered what on earth was going to happen? Why wasn’t Caroline along?

In the dining room, I sat down at the long, grand, cherry wood table that you could nearly see your reflection in. As ever, it was impeccably set for dinner. Mrs. Maguire then began my first etiquette lesson. I was only eight but smart enough to be embarrassed for myself but also smart enough to realize that what she was giving me was something I would never receive in my own home. She gently took my hands and showed me what each fork was for, how to cut quietly, how to hold a glass, how to use the soft, white linen napkin gracefully. I thought I had been doing things right all along but no, no I hadn’t and I looked up at her beautiful bobbed blonde head with tears in my eyes and she gave me a hug and said, “Now you know, and when we know better, we do better Margaret”. Advice I have often given to others in my life and still apply to myself.

The next day, Caroline and I were alone in the house. In those days, parents weren’t so hung up about leaving their kids alone and we relished the freedom. Speakers were dragged out onto the veranda and we gyrated with delicious abandon to Elton John, dropping the needle on the Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album over and over again until some older sister threatened to beat us if we didn’t stop.

On this particular day, however, Caroline had other ideas. She thought we should skinny-dip. I wasn’t so sure, thinking absently about the random possibility of some relative dropping in on me to see what we were up to. As ever, she convinced me to follow along, and we dove in, our eight year old skin relishing the feel of the cool water and then lying down on the hot slate to get warm again. We both had long hair so we would get our hair wet, then flip it over into giant shapes on top of our heads and prance around like Marie Antoinette on the deck. Naked, laughing hysterically at one another, we were utterly absorbed in our make-believe world. What we didn’t know was that Mrs. Maguire was filming us the whole time! In fact, I only found out a few years ago that Mrs. Maguire had come home and seen this scene from some crazed child-gone-wrong story and thought to capture it on super 8. I still haven’t seen it but hopefully it won’t go up on YouTube any time soon.

That afternoon, as we sat wrapped in giant beach towels on the soft, deep pile of her living room floor, sharing a snack and watching TV, a news announcer came on to say Elvis had died. We looked at each other and instinctively knew to remember the moment.

And I have.

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