Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Making memories

While rummaging through the rubbish bins at the rear of the Tyrellstown Plaza Hotel, (as I am wont to do on fine Summer evenings,) I came across a crumpled sheet of paper which I proceeded to unfold. It had evidently been an entry for the recent Fingal County Council “Memory Makers 2007” competition (essay section) but had not made the grade. This may have had something to do with the words “factually incorrect” being emblazoned across the text in red biro.
However, after reading through the essay, I have decided to reproduce it here, as I feel it will be of interest to people of a certain age (over 115)
“I was born in a little cottage in Blanchardstown near the Tolka River. The cottage has since been pulled down to make way for a fire hydrant. That’s progress, I suppose.
“My father was one of the first astronauts in the country but it was not an easy occupation in those days. He was often out of work for long periods of time, when he used to sit by the hearth and yearn for the birth of space travel. He had been arrested by the Black and Emeralds (a more fashion-conscious offshoot of the Black and Tans) during the Civil War and only avoided summary execution by lying about his sex.
“My mother hailed from county Roscommon. She had walked to Dublin barefoot for the Eucharist Conference in 1932 and ended up squatting in a house in Brunswick Street with two Mesopatamian dope-fiends. My father had rescued her from this den of iniquity when his lunar module crashed through the roof in 1934.
“I had 32 brothers and sisters, most of whom had rickets. The others used to pretend they had rickets because they thought that was the norm. We all used to attend St. Whoopi’s National School (now The Mace) in Blanchardstown. I remember one of my teachers was called Mr. Goering. He had a cane and used to administer six on the rump whenever anyone spoke in class, even when he asked them a direct question.
“Mother used to work at Comerford’s Little Bits of Plastic that you find on the Back of Sticking Plasters Factory in Chapelizod (now the River Liffey) The company employed 20,000 people in its heyday until it inexplicably went bankrupt one week later. Mother used to work from 4am to 3am the next morning, seven days a week with Christmas morning off. Oftentimes she’d be held up on her way home by comely maidens dancing at the crossroads and have to turn around and go back into work before she arrived home. It was a hard life but I think she was happy
“Of course we had no television to entertain us in those days. Every evening the whole family would huddle together and stare at the corner of the room, waiting for it to be invented. I remember the first television set that appeared in the village. It was in the window of Lionel Richie’s Hardware Emporium on Main Street (now a tree) and it attracted a huge crowd until Maxie “Mad Fecker” Murphy took an axe to it to see if there really was a little man inside of it or not.
“When I was sixteen, I was sweet on a boy called Notcher Farragher, son of the village’s computer analyst. When he found out I was with child, he ran away to join the Navy until he discovered that it entailed a lot of travelling on water and joined the Army instead. I heard later that he had fallen in the Korean War but escaped with a badly stubbed toe.
“When I told my father that I was pregnant, he became acutely distressed, as he had always assumed I was a boy. “James,” he said. “The priest won’t like this.” Sure enough Father Away de Betta (a visiting Dutch cleric) came to the door with a roaring red face, threatening damnation and the workhouse. I hid in the scullery as Father confronted him on the doorstep. At first I thought it was going to come to blows but the whole incident was settled amicably by a game of kerb football. However, when the time came for the baby to be born, the midwife discovered that I, and I quote, was “just plain fat.” Oh we were na├»ve in those days.
“Because times were hard, most of my brothers and sisters emigrated to England and America, where people with rickets were much in demand. My father contemplated emigrating to Cape Canaveral when the space programme started but a letter from John Glenn advised him that his wooden leg would likely put a hole in his spacesuit. This seemed to crush him completely and he spent the rest of his life sitting on a stool in the back garden staring up at the sky, while my mother entreated him to come in out of the rain.
“I got a job in Jacob’s writing the word “NICE” in capital letters on the biscuits. Later I was promoted to drawing cows on the malted milks. “You draw great cows,” my supervisor used to say. “You have a great future ahead of you.” Sadly it was not to be and I was made redundant by the influx of a large group of Hungarian bovine-artists after the failed uprising of 1956.
“In the meantime, I had married a man named Denzel O’Loughlin who was apprenticed to a shepherd out in Luttrellstown. “Jobs may come and jobs may go,” he used to say with great insight, “but there’ll always be shepherds in Dublin 15.” After a year, I had triplets (one of each) and the following Spring I had twins. Three months later another set of triplets and by the end of the year another set of twins. It was a hard life but we managed. The older children, once they learned to walk, used to mind the younger children until my husband came home from a hard day shepherding.
“I remember the first car we bought. It was a little Morris Minor and the twelve of us used to go for trips to Skerries which to us seemed like the end of the world. Myself and Denzel used to paddle in the sea while the kids buried each other in the sand. One time the tide came in and they were all drowned. But we were happy.”
I think I may appeal to the Memory Makers committee about the reasons for excluding this exceedingly moving piece on the grounds that its relationship with the truth might be somewhat strained. Just because it all may be a pack of lies does not mean that the facts may not exist in somebody’s head.

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