During those ‘washday’ trips to the local river, which we turned into a picnic/day-out, the baby was placed in the care of my sister Mary-Ann. She tended him on the grassy bank while Sally and I helped our mother.
The river was our water source, but we used a bar of hard soap and a galvanised corrugated washboard.
Apart from this hard work, these were pleasant little expeditions. The clear, cool water made a tinkling sound as it trickled over and around the stones that formed the footing of the adjacent bridge. Only our childish voices, raised in excitement by our novel surroundings broke the peaceful silence of that little glade.
One fine summer’s morning while we were engaged in this enterprise, my mother looked up and saw two large ‘rats’ swimming directly towards her. In Tyrone she had learned that rats had been known to attack young children and were especially fond of the tender flesh of sleeping babies!
She remembered too what she had learned of the size and ferocity of Canadian rats and other native species of that ‘barbarous country’. Spurred to action by the immediacy of the threat, she abandoned the laundry, grabbed the baby and alerted the whole family of the danger. All made a hasty retreat from the river bank.
‘Michil!’ she roared, reverting to the Irish form of my name in her distress,
‘Get a big stick and kill them quick!’
So armed, I watched from the river bank. But the ‘rats’ never ventured on shore. I watched as the sleek creatures swam under the bridge and further downstream.
When my mother later told Mrs Jeffrey the story, the lady laughed and explained that they were harmless muskrats, often hunted for their pelts. My mother was less than convinced and ever afterwards referred to them as ‘those bad mushrats!’.
… Shaggy Dog story …