by Aidan O'Shea
Dateline: Calpe in the Spanish Province of Alicante, July 2010.
It's a challenge being a grandad on holiday. The Ford S-Max diesel growls its way down Avenida de Los Exercitos Espanoles, turns into Calle Gran Bretana, and parks on sandy waste ground. Operation Beach is under my daughter’s command. "You take the towels and togs (swimsuits), you the parasol, buckets and spades, and, Dad, get rid of the recycling. Monika (the au pair), catch the girls’ hands while I take Róisín in the buggy." This highly-trained commando unit is about to establish its beach-head on Playa Arenal.
The Childhood Home
© Máirtin Ó Connallan
It must have seemed stupendous
This great big rambling mass
Of dark red limestone
Hewn from lowland Scotland border country
Beautiful rectangular cut stone chunks
Then mortared into place
To the wee Glaswegian school pal
Whose wondrous comment after the obligatory
Tea and buns treat
Having just completed his ﬁrst courtesy visit
Crikey Mrs Conlon
I used to think Martin was an orphan
But his house is as big as an orphanage
Everything seemed so tall there
© Seija Kerttula
I hopped happily on the long quay, towards the water. I had a pair of shiny new shoes on and the water looked black. It was not a lake but a deep natural pond, surrounded by marshy land. On the edge I stopped, but kept hopping. Suddenly one of my shoes flung to the water. I watched after it, shocked. Without thinking I jumped.
I sank deep down in the cold pond, not feeling the bottom. The unexpected change of element was baffling and left no time for fear. Still while falling I knew I might die. I could see the sun rays above the green water covering me become more and more distant. I remembered being told that ponds have no bottoms; they just go on and on. Unexpectedly, a recollection of what my father had once said entered my mind: ”If you are under water and curl yourself into a ball, you’ll move up to the surface.” I did so and it worked, I started rising towards the surface. I was relieved but not surprised; the successful application of the theory merely verified it to be a law of nature. I could see the brownish roots of the grass coming out of the edge soil and with some effort managed to grasp them. Finally I got my head through the surface. Between the wet hair plastered at my face I could see and hear my little brother run away crying that I was drowning. I had already struggled myself to the ground when my mother came hurrying. I said, choking: ”I did not drown, after all.”
We walked a couple of kilometres to our home. The sun was shining. My hair and clothes were dripping and I only had one shoe on. Butterflies flew around us playfully, grasshoppers made hot-summer noise. We passed a pile of rusted old bars of iron near one of our strawberry places. It was one of the exotic spots in our kingdom, which was nearly isolated from the rest of the world. We reached our small house on the top of the hill, in the middle of woods.
This was the year of my first disillusions. Facing a potential death was not one of them. It belonged to the drowsy childhood fairytale in which you never question anything, not one thing in life. A child’s life is intact, whole and perfect, without wants and desires others than those for basic needs: food, sleep and warmth. If there is the minimum of love, you never notice anything is lacking.
© E. Alana James, Ed.D.
When I think about my childhood home I think about snow.
Sometimes lovely amounts of it, over a metre of it, never perhaps higher than my head, but the snowmen could be, the snow forts could be. Crouched behind a wall of packed snow, ready aim and fire! Our pyramid shaped pile of potential missiles at hand waiting for the next unsuspecting kid (you got in trouble if you hit an adult). This is how I remember growing up in Colorado.
Snapshots fly past my consciousness: all decked out in a snowsuit, mittens with yarn pinned to my coat so I would not lose them. Trudging in red rubber boots the two blocks to school, all the world white. A few trees would have cracked under the weight, the parents in THAT house hadn't come out in the middle of the night with a broom to knock off the heavy wet powdery flakes.
This is the first in our series of non-fiction pieces focused on childhood homes.
# 34: Summer on the Main Line
© 2010, Evin O'Keeffe
Chirping from birds outside the window and the faint smell of toasting bread stirred my head. I climbed down from the hand-carved double bed, hearing the bedsprings sing as they gave up the burden of holding me. This was the bed that held my Dad when he had chicken pox and the house where Grandma and Aunt Margaret grew up as sisters. It was summer on the Main Line outside Philadelphia. My feet landed softly on the worn wood floorboards with the faintest of creaks. I listened to voices floating through the bedroom door, slightly ajar from when my Grandma crept out earlier. I hadn't heard her, but she was much quieter now that she wore a hearing aid. I followed the voices into the hall and felt the wool runner rug under my still bare feet. For a split second, I considered putting on the rainbow-colored slippers Aunt Margaret had crocheted for me, but it was too hot and they were too slidey on the wood floors anyway.
It was a late summer’s day in 1970. Deirdre and I, our toddler strapped in the back seat of the Renault 4, were house hunting around Cork City’s north side. With a second baby on the way, the pressure was on to move from our small but picturesque flat on the river’s edge at Sunday’s Well. We had already been savagely outbid on a few crumbling and damp bungalows off the Sunday’s Well Road. We drove more in hope than expectation along the narrow artery from St Luke’s towards Montenotte in the parish of Mayfield. Montenotte (Mountain of the Night) was named after a small hill town in Italy and scene of a fierce battle in the Napoleonic Wars.
The road was bounded by the sandstone walls of grand merchants’ estates. Many of these estates had been converted to nursing homes, convents or outposts of COPE. COPE is a foundation dedicated to the care of physically and mentally handicapped patients. Then the road broadened, and so did our destiny.
To our left was a fine green lawn, dressed with old trees, behind which we saw the skeletal beginnings of a housing estate. This was no show-house, just a few bare walls and gables. The houses (Tracton Avenue and Place) were being built in the grounds of Tracton House, leaving wide lawns in between. The young foreman on site was Pat Hegarty, instantly recognised as a Cork hurling star of the time. He showed us around and gave us a small black and white brochure. We stood together in the frame of an unfinished doorway, baby clutched on one arm, looking lordly over the Lee valley and eastwards as far as Aghada. Without saying a word, we knew that we had arrived at our destination!
Hold on! What about the mortgage? In the weeks that followed, I trekked around the banks and building societies of Cork, seeking the daunting amount of £5000. This represented 250 times my weekly gross salary of £20. We had not impressed the lenders, although we had cobbled together the balance of £1500. Most of this came from the gratuity Deirdre received when she was obliged to leave her civil service job on marriage in 1968.
Despite our deposit, I was rejected even by my late father’s bank manager! As a final throw of the dice, I made an appointment with the manager of Irish Permanent Building Society on Winthrop Street. Never mind that we did not have a single penny on deposit there. Dressed in my best (actually my only) suit and tie, I clenched my clammy palms as I was ushered into his office. He seemed incredibly old to my eyes, seated at a large mahogany desk. He must have been fifty at least! Behind him stood a massive brass safe, the door of which was open. I could see nothing inside; it looked like an empty tabernacle. This was a bad omen indeed. However, previous rejections had strengthened my resolve and sharpened my technique. I managed to steer the discussion away from my current salary, to describing my ambitions, my prospects and my future solvency. Was it a trick of the light, or did I see a slight gleam of hope behind the manager’s half-frame gold-rimmed spectacles?
Weeks of waiting followed, and our hopes receded towards resignation. Finally, the postman brought not another overdue gas bill, but The Letter. Yes! The mortgage had been approved, and we counted every block, batten and slate of that house still in construction. We haunted the site. The baby crawled up the open staircase. We marvelled at two toilets, two showers AND a bath! No more body scrubs at the sink for us. In March 1971, the house, still reeking of fresh paint and uncarpeted, was ready for occupation. I was dissuaded from moving our things in the Renault 4, and sent to work while the removal men got on with the job. To their credit, they did not break a cup (we had only four), or scratch an armchair (we had two of those).
It was a rough and ready start, despite all the extra space. The roadway in front was still an earthen track, the floorboards remained bare for many months to come, but we were happy here. The communal green lawn beckoned invitingly to the first steps of toddlers. The trees burst into glorious pink and white blossom in May. To the rear, COPE provided a well-groomed vista of gardens and flowers. If you looked over the builder’s rubble, you could claim it as your own domain.
So we joined the informal Tracton commune of shared tea bags, nappies, baby medications and self-help. Maybe it is just another housing estate, satirised in Malvina Reynolds’ song with these lines:
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made out of ticky-tacky
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes all the same.
But as proof of our content, I am still here, thirty eight years later, proud to claim it as Gort Álainn (The Beautiful Field), our May Field.
"Don't Pick Those Blackberries!"
© Victor Sullivan 4 May, 2010
The long Summer holidays were drawing to a close. In a few
days I would be leaving my Grandmother's farm near Castletown Bere in West Cork, to return to school. It must have been 1946 or 1947— which ever was the great year for blackberries.
Blackberries were rampant on every wall, fence and hedge, great big, juicy, fat ones and my face was permanently purple from ear to ear from eating them.
"Here boy!" called my Grandmother from the kitchen door.
"How about filling this with blackberries instead of yourself? That way we'll all have another blackberry and apple pie on the table."
"Yes Granny!" (My Granny's blackberry and apple pie was an experience not to be missed, even if we had only just finished the previous one).
The essay below is an adapted excerpt from the book “Friends and Friendibility” (2009, Bad Kitty). Text and illustration by Marie Guillot. © Marie Guillot
Working on farms to assist local vets, I decide to treat myself with a professional pair of rubber boots, otherwise called wellies. These wellies are to be used under adverse conditions: water, mud, muck, rocks, nails, animal kicks, or any combination of those.
At the local Coop Super Stores, I choose a box saying: PRESTIGE / Quality Wellingtons / Resistant to animal and mineral oils and fats, to acid and petrol. I try a pair, they fit perfectly. Back home, at the bottom of the box, I discover a little booklet called User’s Manual, in thirteen European languages.
© Greg Butler
BROTHER Vincent was feeling weary and discouraged. The monastery parlour was quiet, but inside his head the noisy voices were there again… voices of doubt and regret.
He thought about the last class that day. Maybe he’d over reacted. But Horgan was a stubborn boy, like his brother. His mother said there were problems with him at home. “Don’t spare the rod,” she sanctioned.
Brother Vincent was a big man with a formidable reputation. He got results. No one questioned his methods, least of all the parents.
He was a handsome fair-haired man, broad shouldered, and stood over six-foot tall. He moved quickly and elegantly round the classroom… with the leather strap tucked into the waistband of his black soutan- like a gunslinger- with the ever present threat that it might used to deadly effect.
His quiet voice and shy smile contrasted with his reputation. The boys knew him as Vincy. He called everybody John, sometimes with menace. When he said, in a low voice, “Out to the line- John,” the boys knew trouble was brewing.
On a clear September day, a young Cork woman and her child left Logan airport in Massachusetts, and what happened 25 minutes later, embedded itself in the minds of the civilised world, and East and West minds tried to entangle the reason for such callous slaughter, some understanding exactly, others utterly incredulous.
It was 9/11 as we now know it, and for the family of that Cork woman an incredible series of events were to follow, only typifying what each family involved of the 2,973 people who died that day, must have gone through.
I knew that girl young and vibrant, I knew her brothers, I do not know their pain, all I can ask are questions about all of us, and the following are some of these.
© Máirtin Ó Connallan
I am Ruth
I am Ruth
From a suburb
I am Ruth
From an enclave
I am Ruth of Afghanistan
I am Ruth of France