Cozy Was His Name
Cozy was his name and women were his game and the pelts of many ladies hung from rafters of his mind. He loved them all for the hour or so he’d spend with them and many ladies never tired of this country boy who could talk beautifully while their husbands were away hunting or fishing.
Cozy never came a-calling while a husband was around although husbands in the rural countryside and town had heard of Cozy's reputation but they never thought of him consorting with their wives. Not their wives. And there were many women thereabouts who would never look or talk to Cozy. But other ladies kept him busy talking which Cozy loved to do before it was time to get down to business.
The odd thing is, Cozy was a religious man, went to church every Sunday, met some lovely ladies there, prime prospects for later in the week. He was "born again,” in a spiritual sense, in his late teens and believed that when he died he was going to Heaven. His wife married him right out of high school, had no idea he was the philanderer he had turned out to be and loved him dearly. She was proud that Cozy, like everyone else in their church, was "born again."
“Once saved, always saved,” Cozy would often say at the local diner without any prompting. And many in the town and countryside agreed with him. But not everyone.
There was another church in town where congregants were also "born again" but the belief at that church was one could lose one’s soul if one lived in sin despite one’s faith and failed to repent before one died. Cozy and his wife never went to that church. When they died, they were going to Heaven. They were “born again” and that settled it for them.
One husband of a lady Cozy used to call on regularly became suspicious when he had come home earlier than expected from a hunting trip and found his wife singing “Amazing Grace" and dressed the way she had never dressed for him. She wasn’t expecting him until deer season ended the following day. But in the ashtray was a dead cigarillo, or small cigar, and no one the husband knew smoked cigarillos except Cozy, who always seemed to have one in his hand or jutting from his mouth. A small liquor store just outside of town stocked this particular brand just for Cozy. No one else bought them.
The husband didn’t say anything about the cigarillo, just went about his business farming and tending to the family garden as time went by as it does when one makes one’s living from the land. He loved to garden, was always weeding, and used to tell his wife that a garden was like a soul.
“You have to keep a garden free of weeds just as you have to keep a soul free of sin,” the husband would say at times when his wife was sitting around drinking coffee and working crossword puzzles. “Weeds come up every day,” he’d say. “And sins are just as plentiful. They can kill you.”
The husband was "born again" as was Cozy but he and his wife attended the other church, the one that didn’t hold to the belief that “once saved, always saved.” Their pastor taught that a believer steeped in sin without repentance would go to Hell, no questions asked. Christ died for everyone, the pastor preached, but He didn’t suffer hypocrites gladly.
“Break the commandments and die without repenting and you will wake up in Hell,” the preacher often said, pounding the pulpit, especially if some congregant in the pews had been rumored to be up to no good recently. This pastor's congregation was not as large as the one at Cozy’s church. “Once saved, always saved,” without restriction, had greater appeal for many of the families who farmed the area.
Not too long after finding the cigarillo in the ash tray, the suspicious husband arranged another hunting trip out of state, this time for pheasant, and told his wife he would be gone a week and hoped to come home with a mess of good meat for the freezer. She wished him good luck, but shortly after he left the house with all his hunting gear, she gave Cozy a call.
“I’ll be over in an hour,” Cozy said. "Can’t wait to see you.”
Cozy arrived on time, swathed in Mennen After-Shave lotion, but was unaware the husband, instead of going on his hunting trip, was hiding behind one of the outbuildings, rifle in hand. He let Cozy go in the house, then went up on the front porch and waited for the lights to go out, quietly entered the house and put two bullets in Cozy’s buttocks, the first thing he saw. Then he stood over Cozy and called the sheriff. No one can remember what the charges were but Cozy got two years. He served them quietly and was paroled early for good behavior, albeit once again during deer season.
Cozy really liked the wife of the man who had shot him, perhaps even loved her, so as soon as he had packed away a big breakfast of biscuits and gravy at the local diner he gave her a call. She was glad to hear from him and said her husband would be gone for another three days and he was welcome to come over.
“Can’t wait to see you, Cozy. I bet you have a lot to say,” she said.
The problem is, her husband had heard about Cozy’s early parole in town two weeks earlier. Once again he was hiding behind the same outbuilding, rifle in hand, when Cozy, swathed in Mennen After-Shave lotion, arrived. This time he shot Cozy between the eyes and Cozy never took another breath.
The funeral at Cozy’s church was not that well attended. A few older women who always prepared food for post-funeral services were there with their fried chicken and apple pies as were their husbands if they were still alive. But nowhere in the pews were any of the ladies who had been regular consorts of the dead man.
The pastor explained that Cozy, "born again" long ago, was in Heaven now. He said nothing about the man who had shot him. The shooter had not been charged with murder since Cozy had been caught violating another man’s property, namely the man’s wife. No one disagreed with that principle in this farm area. Property there, especially a man’s wife, was not to be violated.
The big argument in town, however, was whether Cozy, "born again" but a lifelong adulterer, was in Heaven or in Hell. It’s an argument that still goes on today between congregants at the same two churches who gather at the diner in town after services on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. But they are not alone. Essentially the same argument—“once saved, always saved”--resounds among millions of believers throughout the United States and perhaps the world at other churches, large and small, as well.
It may have been the devil himself who prompted the kids in my schoolyard back in 1947 to chant "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli."
At first, no one could remember who started the chant. Patsy, a sweet and ample child, was in the third grade. As happenstance would have it, I was in that same third grade, infamous already as the only boy wearing spectacles in our class. After I got the glasses, I had three schoolyard fights in three days to prove to Larry Moore, Billy Gallagher and Fred Ham that I hadn't changed a bit. You would think I would have forgotten their names by now. Not a chance. I didn't like being messed with in third grade.
Since the chant would often begin and gather volume during recess, the nuns who ran the school eventually heard it and did their best to put a stop to it. This was a time when nuns, God bless them, were empowered by parents to swat the butts of little miscreants if any of them interrupted the educational process. Despite their voluminous habits, the nuns were adept at administering discipline, let me tell you, as my butt, on more than one occasion, could attest.
Now, 65 years later, when the chant pops into my mind, I begin to wonder what prompted me to say it. Early on, I certainly loved to hear the sound of words bouncing off each other--as if words were pool balls scattered by a cue. Later on I would use words to earn a living. They were the only tools I was any good with.
As I remember it now, the chant started one day after a school practice in church involving Gregorian chant. Some of the other kids later alleged that they had heard me, of all people, on the way back to class, chanting "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli."
I probably had some idea of the problem my chant might cause. But I loved the sound of it too much to stop.
If Dick Clark had been on American Bandstand back in 1947, he might have said the chant had "a nice beat" to it, but kids weren't dancing much in 1947. World War II had just ended and school was a serious matter. Even kids who didn't like books usually tried their best.
Since I was only in third grade, one might think that I might have had some emotional or mental problem that caused me to chant that phrase over and over. That could be. If a child did something like that today, he or she might be examined for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Maybe I had something like that. But in my mind the reason I chanted about Patsy Foley is that I liked the sound. It didn't hurt that my father was always saying things at home that had a bit of a turn to them. I remember how I used to enjoy the cadence of what he said and repeating it when he wasn't around. He used words differently than other fathers in the neighborhood and he delivered them in a melodic Irish brogue.
My mother, who was bereft of verbal rhythm, would sometimes ask my father a serious question when he was fresh home from a hard day's work, climbing alley poles as an electrician. Usually her question would pertain to some family matter that she had been fretting about all day. And my father, sitting on a chair in our little kitchen while stripping off his gear, might say in response, "And what would Mary Supple say to that?"
It's a shame that over the years my mother, sister and I never found out who Mary Supple was because her name was frequently invoked. Nor did we ever find out who John Godley was, either, even though my father would sometimes substitute John Godley for Mary Supple in that same response. He never said these things in anger, although he did have a terrific temper. He could erupt at any time and you didn't want to get in the way of the lava.
At other times, when my father was asked a question by my mother at an inconvenient time, he might look her in the eye and say, "Ten thousand Swedes ran through the weeds chased by one Norwegian," a line that did not originate with him but was one that he repeated with a special flair. The words certainly sounded good to me, whatever they meant. We didn't know any Swedes or Norwegians and had no idea if there might be some conflict going on between them. True, World War II had just ended but we didn't think the Swedes and Norwegians had been actively involved.
Sometimes my mother on a Sunday morning would ask my father if he was going to get dressed for church. He might have been taking a sip of his fifth cup of tea at the time. He wouldn't get angry but he sometimes would lean back and sonorously intone one of the many Burma Shave billboard slogans that dotted highways in that era: "Whiskers tough old Adam had 'em. Does your husband have whiskers like Adam, Madam?" I liked the sound of that slogan as well. Today, it still pops into my mind during arid moments. And as my wife will attest, she has heard it frequently over the years.
I think it's pretty easy to see, then, why I, as a third-grader, instead of concentrating on multiplication and division, preferred to chant "Patsy Foley's roly-poly from eating too much ravioli." I am glad, however, that the nuns took it upon themselves to discipline me and did not call my parents instead. After all, my father was paying tuition to send me to that fine school to get a good education. He did not send me there to engage in tom-foolery, a pursuit that he, of course, would have known nothing about even if his legacy among relatives said otherwise.
Besides, in my mind, no nun, no matter how mountainous she may have been, was a match for my father. He had been a boxer after he had emigrated to America from Ireland, a relocation occasioned by the British army after they had imprisoned him as a young man for activities in the Irish Republican Army. My mother said he loved boxing and had won eight straight matches before "some big black guy" broke his nose. After that, he never boxed again, she said, because he "didn't want to lose his good looks." He was a handsome man indeed, despite a nose that looked as though at any moment it might call geese to fly lower.
Years later, some neighbor ladies at a block party made some nice comments to my mother about my father's appearance. When she came home, she told my sister what they had said and forewarned her that "handsome is as handsome does." In many ways, that's quite true, even though that line didn't originate with my mother. Come to think of it, though, I like the sound of that line as well and might have chanted it more than once had I heard it in third grade.