The propping of one foot on the desktop surprised us the first time. After, we expected it. He was certainly tall enough to cock that knee easily. Jacket off, tie slack. Except for the day the principal came in. The foot, the tie, the jacket, flopped, slid, swept into place.
Mr. O'Mara could drift from time to time into stories of his college days. Speeding around campus in the sidecar of a World War II motorcycle in Nazi uniform and shouting "Heil!" to the driver's "Sieg!" Getting annoyed with the clinging girlfriend of a roommate calling and calling. Answering the next call by saying "He's not here, he's in bed with some girl." Finding the parents at his door one half-hour later. Burning incense and chanting "Hare Krishna" when the Christians on the next floor up came down to complain about the noise the night before. Mr. O'Mara mentioned that the incense was there to hide the smell of the pot. He stopped telling the story there and brought us back to Hamlet with slightly wider eyes.
I never understood why he had me read Sandburg's "Fog" out loud, why he had me reproduce Eliza's cockney. The class actress was in that room. (But she got Major Barbara.) He liked my quotation from the Moody Blues in response to a question.
I was old enough for Soph English, which meant I was old enough to begin to baby-sit. I was a neighbor. His children were my first. My best.
Because of that I was invited to a family picnic. Swarms of O'Maras, big voices, big gestures, big drinks. Slaps, hugs, shouts. The newness of hearing my teacher called "Patrick" or "Paddy". Then the nomen "Little Paddy", and my confusion. Soon "Big Paddy" arrived, a stouter, salt-and-pepper version of "Little Paddy" to whom my baby-sittees ran to check his pockets.
I no longer remember what need prompted me to ask what question. I remember that I began, "Mr. O'Mara?" The sudden silence. The sudden laughs.