I remember, I remember, the house where I was born…
Well, to be truthful, I don’t. I left it when I was about eighteen months old. All I know about our family’s time in Church Street is hearsay and conjecture. I feel that I should have some notion of the house but I have nothing except fragments of anecdotes, told by older siblings in that patronising way…’but you wouldn’t remember that. Ha! you were too young.’ Now the house with its familiar street-scape, is passing into history.
Everything is in a state of flux. They speak about future-shock, the shock we experience when familiar sights and practices are supplanted by new things. That which obtained in our childhood is normal. Everything after that stage is interesting, exciting, a change for the better, unsettling, sad, perturbing, crazy, a disgrace , even an outrage. Select the category that suits your mood at the time. The young will think it’s ‘deadly’. Older people will grow to accept innovation, may even say…’about bloody well time..’ We move on…but inevitably, we look back.
My parents rented that house from Mrs. Behan, a good neighbour, in the red house next door, a handy woman to have around. She helped Dr. Heffernan to bring me into the world, into the light as the Spanish say. I understand that it had indoor plumbing, a big consideration in the cold nineteen forties. It had a long garden leading down to Tennis Court Lane, where many adventures took place…’you couldn’t remember that… Yeah, yeah. ‘The Pony Daly riding his horse into Kitty Kingston’s shop…but you couldn’t…..’ I know. I know. A neighbour’s child had a devastating answer to that: ‘Yes I can. I was still up in Heaven and I could see everything.’ His sister replied archly: ‘That’s a big lie. You were in Mammy’s tummy and you couldn’t see a thing.’ When you come into the light, you have a lot of catching up to do.
My father died thirty six years ago today, more than half of my lifetime ago, yet he remains as vivid as when I was a child. I went to Mass to remember him. I went in by the lane on the South side, because he had taken a scunner against a woman who was in the habit of antagonising Mass-goers passing her house on the other side. Apparently she was good at it. We always went in on the South side. I don’t even know her name but am prepared to take it on trust that she was an old hairpin, a battleaxe, a right shrew, a bit of an old bags.’ (Hearsay, M’lud). The choir sang ‘Morning has broken, like the first morning. Blackbird has spoken…etc.’ I like to think that there were blackbirds in the garden I never knew, when I came into the light. It was June. They have returned in force to our current garden. Anois teacht an Earraigh… There was a war on. Everything was scarce. There were no lights at night.
My father bought a new hat. It probably cost him a lot of ration coupons. I don’t suppose you remember coupons. I rarely saw him out of doors without his hat, except, one time when he came to call us in from a game of football in Duffs’ field. He went up for a high ball, whipping off his hat and executing a perfect header. We laughed and cheered to think that one so old could be so nonchalant. I took a go on a trampoline in my daughter’s garden. I wasn’t Olympic standard but I wasn’t a disgrace. My grandchildren laughed. One little fellow remarked: ‘He’s just trying to prove that old people aren’t rubbish at doing stuff.’ I did stuff when he was still up in Heaven or in his Mammy’s tummy and couldn’t see a thing..couldn’t possibly remember me doing stuff… Anyway my father’s new hat blew off. He chased it down Church Street, across The Square and on towards Quay Street. I don’t need anyone to tell me that his language was colourful. The hat blew through a gap onto the North Strand. By the dim light of a gibbous moon (writers love gibbous moons) he saw it sailing out to sea, with a fair following wind. When a sharp wind blows down Church Street I doubt if even Jesse Owens could catch it. But it’s an ill wind, as they say and a long road that has no turning. He probably dropped into Glennons to assuage his disappointment, wet his whistle and curse his bad luck.
New Street, once known as Barter Street, runs at right angles to Church Street. Few of the houses had indoor plumbing. A lad who lived in one of the cottages, used to sing, whenever he was in the W.C. in the garden. He sang not for joy, but because there was no catch on the door. Like the blackbird singing to defend his territory he sang to ward off intruders…Are you going to be in there all day?… ‘Oh Danny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling….’ A cry from the heart for indoor plumbing. He had a very good voice…or so I have been told. I couldn’t possibly remember him. They’ve made a right haimes of the house where I was born and Mrs. Behan’s house and Tommy Dunne’s clay-built cottage, although I couldn’t possibly remember him.
The priest blessed candles and spoke about light. The choir sang and I listened for his familiar cough. I came out into a biting wind and looked down Church Street, half expecting to see him striding along, whistling, flicking his right foot out slightly, the legacy of an old wound, or perhaps raising his hat to a passing lady, (not the old Biddy on the North side). He even raised his hat to his daughters when he met them in the street. I didn’t see him. Maybe he had nipped into Glennons to have a word with Frank. I hope so.
When the low sun shines after rain, Church Street is paved with gold. It is. It is. I’ve seen it. ‘You couldn’t possibly have seen that. It’s silver.’
Silver will do.