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John's Story - Chapter 2

Hello John. Remember me? It’s been a long time. My, how you have grown! And this photograph shows it! A coloured photo! Somebody took a lot of trouble to tint it. You are wearing a jacket, and a green tie and shirt. Do you always wear a tie?

‘Course. Everybody does. Mister, I thought you went away, just like Jimmy, and Brian, and Barry. I miss Jimmy!

Oh! Did Jimmy go away?

No, silly. We moved. Can’t you see? We live here now.

You’re a big boy now, John. And you’ve got a scooter!

Want to see me go? I stand on it with one foot, and push with the other. It’s really fast. I use it every day. Mammy says I’m always wearing out one shoe all the time.

What else does Mammy say, John?

Mammy says I must stay on the footpath, and never, never, go out on the street. She’ll confiscate my scooter if she ever catches me using it on the street.

You have grown. John! "Confiscate." That’s a big word. Do you know what it means?

‘Course. Old Diarrhea confiscates things all the time.

He does, does he? I had forgotten all about Old Diarrhea. Is he a customs man?

‘Course he is. If he catches you with batteries he confiscates them.

Do you still see him every day, John?


Do you miss him?

No! I told you. He’s a customs man!

Do you have any new friends in your new town, John?

There’s lots of them. Timmy is my best friend. He lives across the street. Me and Timmy play together every day. His Mammy brings him across, and we take turns on my scooter. We go way, way up there until the footpath stops. At the big house with the garden. It’s sort of scary there.

Why is it scary, John?

It’s a lonely house.

Where do you go to school now, John?

With the nuns.

And where is that, John?

It’s an awfully long way. You go along, and go along, and then there’s a big hill to walk up.

Do you like the nuns, John?

Don’t know. They make us learn our tables. Want to hear me say them? A h-aon is a h-aon sin a do; a h-aon is a do sin a tri--

And what else, John?

Catechism. We’ve got to learn our catechism. If we don’t learn our catechism we won’t be able to get First Communion!

What class are you in, John?

First class, and one day—

There’s your Mammy calling for you, John. We’ll talk again.

Did you bring me any sweets, Mister?

Here. Did you think I’d forget?

Wow! A whole Peggy’s Leg! I’ll keep some for Timmy.

Better go, John. It must be teatime.

‘Bye, Mister.

‘Bye, John.


Hello John. Did you like the Peggy’s Leg?

Did you bring me another? Show me! Show me!

All in good time, John. Tell me more about school, John.

We’re going to have a concert, and everyone’s coming.

May I come, John?

It’s only Mammys and Daddys. You’re not my Daddy. I’m going to be a sailor! I’m learning the Sailor’s Hornpipe. It’s a dance, and we pretend to pull ropes, and everything. Sister says I’m good.

I’m sure you are, John. Tell me more about your school.

I’m not supposed to tell. Mammy says!

Tell what, John?

It’s a secret.

A big secret?

The biggest secret in the whole world! Mammy says people will laugh if I tell. All the Mammies say that.

If I promise not to laugh, John, will you tell me?

Did you bring me any more Peggy’s Leg?

Now, John, wait and see.

Won’t tell you.

But you don’t know what I have for you, John. Tell me the secret first.

You promise you won’t tell Mammy?

I promise.

And you won’t laugh?

I promise.

Cross your heart and hope to die.

Cross my heart and hope to die. See!


Go on, John…Tell me.

We saw Hell. Everybody saw Hell. Kevin and--

John, you’re pulling my leg!

Am not. Ask Kevin. Ask Neil. We all saw it.

Where, John? Where?

Told you. At school. There was a hole and we saw the flames, and everything! I don’t want to go to Hell! It was burny. The flames were white and—

John! Stop that. You’re making it all up.

Am not. That’s what Mammy said, and Kevin’s mammy, and Neil’s mammy.

Nobody believed us. And they all went up to the school, and came back laughing.

They said it wasn’t Hell at all we saw. Do Mammies tell fibs? We all saw it. We all saw Hell. And it was real. And it was scary, and I don’t want to go there. And Kevin doesn’t want to go, and Neil, and everybody—

All right, John. Calm down. Calm down. I’ll keep your secret. I’ll not tell a soul.

Maybe you should go now.

What about—

What do you say to this, John? See what I got you. A stick of Black Jack! And you don’t have to share it with anybody.

All for me? Thank you, Mister. I’ve got Black Jack! I’ve got Black Jack! ‘Bye, Mister.

‘Bye, John.


Tell me more about school, John.

I got hurt. I got a big bump on my head. It hurt all day.

I’m so sorry, John. How did it happen?

It was lunch time and we were out playing and I was standing, and people were playing, and one of the big girls was running and I didn’t see her and she crashed into me and knocked me down and I fell and the ground was hard and it hit my head, see, right there, and a big. big bump swelled up, and there was a commotion and Sister put water on it on it and she told the big Sister—

The girl had a big sister?

No, silly, Sister had a big Sister, and we had to go and see her, and she was upset and cross with the girl, and when I went home—

Hold your horses, John. You are going too fast. Did anybody go home with you?

No, I was all alone, and it was a long, long walk, and I covered my forehead with my hand so nobody could see, but people looked at me, and I was so happy when Mammy put a ‘press on it, and somebody gave me a cold penny to hold against the bump.

You don’t have the bump now, John.

No. But I’ve still got the penny! See.

That was quite an experience, John. Look, here’s another photograph, and you are wearing a white bandage on your knee. Bumps on your head, bandages on your knee.

You’re a walking disaster, John!

Am not. That’s Brian beside me. And he’s holding Daddy’s hat.

It looks like you’re both sitting on a big rock—

It’s a giant’s rock. You can see the sea, and everything. The giant had a whole pile of rocks and he built a great big path right out into the sea—

A giant, John? You’re pulling my leg again.

Daddy says, and Brian says, and Mammy says, and Barry says, and we all went there.

Go and see yourself!

Maybe one day.

And don’t let the giant catch you. He’ll spifflicate you!

Spifflicate! What’s that, John?

It’s what somebody will do if you’re really, really bad.

Oh. And have you been really, really bad, John?

Once, a long, long time ago. But nobody spifflicated me! It’s the baddest thing anybody can do to you!

Let’s leave it at that for now, John. I’ve got to go. We’ll talk more next time.

What about my treat, Mister? Where’s my treat? I want my treat!

Here you are, John. Keep on being a good boy, John, and you’ll never get spifflicated!

I love sherbet. Thank you, Mister! It tastes fuzzy, and makes your tongue feel funny, and makes you splutter if you take too much, and it’s scrumpdelicious! Thank you, Mister.


Here’s another photograph, John.

That’s me.

And you are all dressed up.

‘Course. It was me after First Communion. I told you about catechism, and prayers, and stuff.

Tell me more, John.

The nuns gave us First Communion breakfast.

What was that? What do you remember about the breakfast?

Egg sandwiches. The made us egg sandwiches! I never had egg sandwiches before.

They smelled sort of funny!

And what else, John?

Don’t remember. We went visiting, and people gave me money! Then we went to a real photographers to get my picture took. It was—

Taken, John, not took. To get your picture taken.

He took my picture! I was there! I had to stand still for the longest time, and he put his head under a hood, a black hood, and I had to smile and—

And a very nice smile it is, John. My, my, but you are all nice and your hair is parted and combed—

Mammy did that. She fussed and she fussed and—

And what a lovely new suit, and a hankie in your breast pocket. What’s that in your hand?

A prayer book, silly. Everyone gets a prayer book for their First Communion! Look at the shiny cover. And rosary beads. I think Aunt Marie gave me those.

I think you’re forgetting something, John. What did you do before your First Communion?

Sister made us all line up, and be quiet, and—

Before that, John. What did you have to do before?

I forget.

What about your first Confession? Did you make your first Confession?


Tell me about it.

Don’t want to. I forget.

John! Everybody remembers their first Confession. What was the biggest sin you told the priest?

I stole.

Stole what?

A bite out of a tomato. Mammy was keeping it for Daddy’s tea, and when she wasn’t looking I took a bite out of it. She found out, and she was angry.

And what did the priest say to you when you told him about the tomato?

He coughed a lot, and he said I shouldn’t steal again, and he gave me penance. And solution.

Absolution, John.

I had to say three Hail Marys.

There’s another First Communion photograph, John. Who is that?


Does she have another name?

O’Shea. My Mammy and her Mammy are friends.

She looks very pretty in her white dress, and white stockings, and white shoes. Is she your girl friend?

Boys don’t have girl friends! That’s sissy.

But what about your Mammy?

That’s different. Joan can be my girl friend when I grow up and marry her.

Oh! I see.

Why are you choking, Mister? Do you have a zube? There’s some at home and I’ll get you one.

No, John. It’s a frog in my throat, but it’ll soon go away.

You’re silly. It’s not a frog. It’s a plucher. You’ve got a plucher. I know. I had one and the zubes made it better.

Is that what you call a cough, John?

It’s what everyone calls a cough. Don’t you know that?

No, John, I did not know that. Tell you what. I’m all talked out. What if I see you tomorrow and we can talk some more. Here, this is to celebrate your First Communion!

Spend it wisely. Don’t forget

Thanks, Mister. I won’t. And you buy some zubes for your plucher.


Hello, John. There are some other seaside photographs here.

That one is of me and Daddy at Bundoran. He’s standing, holding me up in his arms.

Bundoran! That’s a long way away. Is that where the giant is?

No, it’s where you can see tiny wee fish in pools.

Did you like that, John?

I tried to catch them in my hands, but they swam away.

What else did you do at Bundoran, John?

Rode on a donkey. There’s a man there has donkeys and you can ride on them on the sand.

What else is there?

Bundoran Rock. It’s nice and sticky, but too much can make you sick. It made me throw up!

Did you go anywhere else, John?

Mammy took me in the train to see Aunt Marie.

Where was that, John?

Same place as Daddy took me to see the football game.

Do you like your Aunt Marie, John?

She scares me.

Scares you! How?

She always telling me to sit straight, and how to eat properly, and she tells people off when she’s cross. Everybody has to do what Aunt Marie tells them. So Mammy says.

She always tells me to behave, and I don’t like going there. She always has squishy things to eat, and she always watches to see you don’t drop them, and you have to hold your cup with your little finger out, and she has lots and lots of rules, and it’s no fun.

I’m sure she means well, John.

I don’t like going there. It’s cold, and there’s parcels and parcels of papers, and—

All right, John. Let’s talk about something else.

Don’t want to.

What about school? Cat got your tongue? What’s the matter, John? You can tell me.

I was to be the toy drum major, and now I’m not.

Why, John?

Don’t know. Don’t go any more.

You don’t go to school, John!

But Mammy spends all day with me. I like that. She plays the piano and teaches me songs.

What sort of songs, John?

Cowboy songs. Do you want to hear me sing? "There’s a cow out howling to the moon above"—Mister, you’re coughing again.

What other songs did Mammy teach you?

She taught me "The Castle of Dromore", but it’s a sad song.

Are you sad, John?

Charlie Chat brought his whole family to stay with us. That was fun!

Who is Charlie Chat, John?

He’s Daddy’s and Mammy’s friend. He lives across the Border. What’s the Border, Mister?

The Border, John, is a sort of a line between one place and another.

I never saw a line when we went to visit them.

It’s not a real line, John. I know. Maybe this will help. Remember Old Diarrhea, the customs man?

Mammy doesn’t like him.

That’s because Old Diarrhea stops people when they cross the line—

There’s no line. I know!

What I meant was when they cross the Border.

But you can’t see any line!! There’s no line there.

When you grow up, John, you will know what people mean.

People are silly if they say there’s a line there when there’s no line there. That’s—

It’s not a real line, John. It’s an imaginary one. Tell me about Charlie Chat.

He went to another place to find a house and all his family went with him. It’s lonely without them.

And is that why you’re sad? Tell me, what did you buy with the money last time?

Lucky bags! You get a puzzle or a whistle or something, a surprise, in every bag. And there’s always a jelly baby or a sweet of some sort. ‘Course some of them are no good. Mammy always looks to make sure they’re all right. Are you going now, Mister?

Yes, John, and I’ll be away for a long, long time. But I will see you again, I promise.

And I’ve got a wee surprise for you too. Look!

A top! A spinning top! Wait till I show Timmy. Thank you, Mister.

Be a good boy, John. Learn more songs, and tell me about them. ‘Bye.

‘Bye, Mister.

Footnote: The new town where John now lives is Strabane. The imaginary line is the Border partitioning the Six from the Twenty-Six Counties of Ireland. Charlie Chat is a clothing manufacturer. The big rocks are the Giant’s Causeway at Portrush. Aunt Marie is his mother’s sister. She "manned" the office of the Derry Weekly News, which she inherited along with The Donegal Vindicator from their father, Pa McAdam.

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