The other week I happened to be up on a visit to my mother’s house. There was no one else there at the time, my two brothers not having arrived as yet.
My mother and I were just sitting and talking of time past. I happened to mention to her about the Newry Journal and the story about the 1957 curfew. She remembered about my brother David and him having got himself caught on the wrong side of the Linenhall Square barricade.
‘You and your brothers were good children,’ she said, ‘though full of mischief – always getting yourselves into some bother or other.’
My mother then proceeded to tell once again about the old days when my brothers and I were children. I had heard it all so many times before but I let her recount her memories to me once again.
Mum, with tears in her eyes told me about my father and that terrible time in her life when the doctors told her that dad had only a few months to live.
‘Hodgkin’s Lymphoma,’ she said, ‘was a malignant cancer, a dreadful illness: though the doctors tried their best there was nothing anyone could do for him. Your daddy was still a young man, only thirty-one when he died and there I was with three young children to bring up on just the basic widow’s pension. Your brother Davy was just seven and John was only ten months old, and do you know that your Father died only a month after your sixth birthday? Your great aunt also lived with us but she was an old lady in her late eighties and was very ill herself.’
I sadly observed the tears filling my mother’s eyes and realised that it must still hurt even after all those years. Three mischievous children and an ailing old aunt to look after and all on your own: it must have been hard for mum! Yes hard times indeed.
I raised my eyes and looked over my mother’s shoulder and studied the picture hanging on the wall behind her. The subject of that picture was a beautiful young woman in her early twenties and a handsome young sailor in his Royal Navy uniform. My mum and dad in happier days, long before the news of dad’s terminal illness. The tears were beginning to mist over in my eyes now.
‘You know I remember my dad’s funeral,’ I said. ‘I was just turned six but I remember it well – that big black hearse moving off from the door with Davy and me walking directly behind: I remember the black armbands we wore and uncle Jim keeping us together as we moved along the street. Did you know that when the hearse moved off David and I tried to get a ride by kneeling on the hearse’s back bumper? Someone, I don’t remember who, pulled us off and said,
‘Show some respect! Don’t you realise it’s your father’s funeral?’
I remember Uncle Jim saying back to that person,
‘ Leave them be! After all they are only children! They have a hard world in front of them yet.’
My mother was smiling at me now almost as if I had said something funny; the tears had gone to be replaced by a look of pride. She clearly had something to tell me about that funeral.
‘ Wait and I’ll show you something!’ Mum said, and with that she ambled off into the kitchen, returning a few moments later with an old china teapot clutched in her hands. Mother rummaged around inside that old teapot until she found what she was looking for. From the depths of that container she extracted an aged piece of paper and showed it to me. It was an old receipt from the undertaker who arranged my dad’s funeral.
‘Look at that!’ said my Mother, ‘Look what that says!’ and with a trembling finger she pointed to the wording at the bottom of the receipt. It said, ‘ No cost. He was a gentleman and a friend. Good luck with your children’s upbringing.”