John's Story - Chapter 4
Mr. Ryan is our teacher. I like him. He rides a bicycle.
I have a new friend. His name is Larry.
The school is just around the corner. Daddy and Mama and me live in one room. Daddy writes a lot, and Mama sometimes goes out to work. One night she brought back a bag of goodies. There were little tiny sausages, and slices of cake.
Sometimes I have a bowl of poundies to eat every day.
Another time there was a flood of oranges in Moore Street. They were very, very cheap. I ate lots and lots of oranges.
Two big things grew on the inside of my knees. They were hard and full of puss. When they went away they left round marks.
Two girls live in the front room. They have a piano and they sing songs. Theyíre always singing "Itís a sin to tell a lie" and "The leaves of brown came tumbling down in September, in the rain." They laugh a lot.
The bathroom is down the hall where itís dark. I donít like going there alone.
Sometimes Mama brings me to see Aunt Eily. Aunt Eily and Jim move a lot. The first time was in a place called Rathmines. Then they went to live in Dominic Street. My cousins are Austin and Paddy, Una and young Eily. Austin is our leader. Heís the oldest. We play outside a lot when Mama goes to visit.
Thereís a railway station and a grassy slope, and sometimes we have sod fights. One time young Eily was hit with a sod and cried. Sheís younger than me. When her Mammy found out, the sod fights ended.
Aunt Eily writes for the radio, plays and stuff. Sometimes she has to make the sounds. One day she showed us how to make the sounds of horses running. She had to kneel on the floor to do it. Aunt Eily is always good at making do. Thatís what Mama says.
The best times are when me and Daddy go for walks. We walk everywhere. There are huge docks on either side of the Liffey. On one side you can walk along the dock for miles and miles. At the end thereís a gate, and sometimes the man letís Daddy and me through, and we can walk even longer. Out there the water is very, very deep and Daddy holds my hand.
On the other side the dock ends where thereís a canal. On that side we see the barrels being loaded on ships. The barrels come down the river in funny fat boats, and the stacks come off when they go under Butt Bridge.
Iím learning the names of lots of places. One of our favourite walks is out to Fairview Park. You can walk on the embankment and see out to sea a long, long way. One day me and Daddy were kicking a ball we brought, and the sole came off one of my shoes. Daddy had to tie it on with the shoelace until we got home.
My favouritest place of all is the museum with the seashells. They are all sorts and shapes. And colours. Some are very beautiful. I always want to go and see them.
Daddy sometimes brings me to the Municipal. People have to be quiet in the Municipal. There are guards and they donít like noise. Thereís a staircase. One day I mistook a statue for a real, live man. It was scary. Daddy likes to look at the pictures.
When Christmas came I was told I could have one present, and I could pick it myself. I wanted a book. Daddy and me went to pick it from the second-hand bookstalls. There was one stall beside OíConnell Bridge, and a whole bunch on the pavement outside shops on the quays. We went to them all and examined the books. Some were too dear, and after walking and walking my pick was down to two. Finally I decided on "Swiss Family Robinson". The other was "Robinson Crusoe". Mammy and Daddy helped me reading it.
Our teacher says we have to learn more catechism for Confirmation. I told him I didnít need to Ďcos I had learned my catechism two and a half times already. I didnít know one answer, and he said I had to learn it again. When the time came for Confirmation I was best in the class.
Confirmation was funny. All the schools were there in the Pro-Cathedral. There were hundreds and hundreds of children, and we filled all the seats. Because there were so many, the teachers wanted to have best boys sit at the end of the seats. The Bishop was supposed to ask each boy a question to see if he knew his catechism. There were always too many boys, so he would ask the boy at the end of each seat. The Bishop also had to slap each boy on the cheek. It was a sign that he was now confirmed a Soldier of Christ. Only the boy at the end of the seat was examined and got the slap. Mr. Ryan wanted me to sit at the end, but there was a big mix up, and some other boy sat there. Poor Mr. Ryan. He looked upset. I didnít get asked any question and the Bishop didnít slap my cheek. I was happy.
Somehow I had forgotten to tell Mammy and Daddy about confirmation until a couple of days before. They were upset. I had to get a new suit. Mammy bought it in Guineyís.
It was a really new suit, made in Japan. Somehow the cloth was made from paper but it was just like any other suit.
Then Daddy got a job and we moved to a two-roomed flat. It was at the top of the street, and the flat was at the top of the house, in the front. It was lovely.
Mammy and Daddy bought me two games. You threw rubber rings at a board with hooks on it, and other game was ping-pong, with real rubber bats, and three ping-pong balls. Daddy set the net in the middle of the table, and we played and we played.
One day the window top was open behind Daddy and one of the balls flew out. It was a long, long way down to the street, and when we went to look, it had fallen in the area, so we lost it.
It was a long walk down to school and back up the street again. All the poor people lived in the tenements and there was always people sitting or standing at the front doors. All the houses were the same. Daddy said only rich people lived there one time, but that was a long time ago. Our teacher rode his bicycle up and down the street on his way to school and back again. Our teacher was the most important man in the world to me.
"Our teacher says" began every sentence.
Instead of going to Mass in the Pro-Cathedral we now went to Mass across the street where the Jesuits were. I didnít know what a Jesuit was.
My Dad and me often went for walks along the banks of a canal. There was a long, long rubbish dump at one side. We always saw people bent over looking for stuff, sticks and bottles and all sorts of things. It was always nice to get past it on our walks. The canal water looked black and dirty. And it never moved.
One day at school we were all taken to the pictures. We were very excited. The picture was about Japanese martyrs. There were crucified in a place called Nagasaki. It was awful. When I grow up I donít want to be a martyr.
Charlie Chat nearly cut my throat.
Mama and me went to visit him where he had a new workplace. There were girls using sewing machines and Charlie Chat was cutting a whole bunch of cloth on a table. He was using a very sharp knife which cut through layers of cloth, just like they were butter. Suddenly he turned around and drew the knife against my throat. I nearly fainted. But it was all a joke. He had turned the flat edge of the knife against my neck. Iíll never forget it!
Mama later told me that Charlie Chat was his nickname, and that I should always call him Mr. McLaughlin. Mr. McLaughlin had a car, and one day he drove me and Mama to his home. Mama and Mrs. McLaughlin hadnít seen each other for a long, long time, so they chatted. Their house was close to a field with a stream. CharlieóMr. McLaughlinís children brought me there and we caught little fish and put them in a jam jar.
Another time me and Daddy built an aeroplane. It was a toy one, not a real one. It had a propeller and everything. You turned the propeller and it wound up a rubber band, and when you let go the rubber band made it fly.
We went up to the Phoenix Park to fly it there Ďcos there was plenty of room. It flew and flew and crashed into the stone steps in front of a big monument. It was all broken. I was sad. We couldnít "afford" another aeroplane, Daddy said.
I didnít know much about money, except we didnít have it.
Sometimes Mammy takes me shopping with her. She watches out for sales. Lots of things cost so many shillings and so many pennies and so many farthings. Farthings are wee tiny coins and thereís four of them in a penny. Loaves always have farthings in their price.
One Christmas I found a florin in Henry Street. It was just lying on the pavement. There were lots and lots of people walking and nobody saw it but me. Mammy said I could buy whatever I wanted with it. There was a man with a tray, and he was making a wooden man dance. I watched and watched, and wanted one. He said it was called a Dancing Dan. Mammy let me buy one, and I spent all the rest on decorations. I bought coloured paper chains for hanging from the ceiling in Woolworths, and other stuff. It was nice all hung up, but the Dancing Dan was a dud. I couldnít make it dance.
On Christmas Day we were invited for dinner at the Loobys. They were friends of Mammy and Daddy. They had two daughters. After dinner they played games. The two girls wanted to play post office. I didnít know how. They took turns taking me into a clothes cupboard and closing the door. I didnít know why, but I soon found out. I was supposed to kiss whichever one took me into the cupboard. I was shy. So they kissed me. Each time I came out I was blushing. After a while Mrs. Looby said that was enough.
I donít remember my brother Brian coming but I remember him leaving. It was the first time I had a ride in a taxi. We all went in the taxi to the railway station. It was a long way. Brian was wearing a black suit and a black raincoat and a black hat. The hat looked funny. It just sat on his head. He was going away for a long, long time. Mama and Daddy were proud of him, and when the train left they were sad. I was sad too. I thought we would be going home in a taxi but we had to go by tram.
I counted the number of times I had a ride in a car. There was the taxi, and CharóMr. McLaughlin, and Mr. Looby, and Mr. Taheny. Another day Mr. Looby had to go back to where he worked and he took me with him. He has a big car. Mr. Looby is a teacher. He teaches growing things at a big, big school. There was a lot of classrooms. There was nobody there. It was a lonely place. Mr. Looby had to pick up some work at his office. It felt funny walking through an empty school.
One day we went to the Botanical Gardens and saw the animals in the Zoo. They looked sad. I hated the snakes. They frightened me. Saint Patrick didnít like snakes too. There was a big parade on Saint Patrickís Day, with soldiers and people talking from a stand.
Another day my Dad took me to see cars racing in Phoenix Park. They were noisy. I liked seeing the men on horses with sticks hitting a ball. My Dad said it was called polo.
There were deer in the park, a long, long way in. They looked small.
One night, way past bedtime, Daddy took me to watch the election. There were electric letters running across a building. They were all white, and they spelled out words and numbers.
My Dad wrote stories for a newspaper. Down at the Post Office the newsboys were always shouting when a new paper came out. The biggest shouts were "Extra! Extra!"
My Dad also drew cartoons for the paper.
Mama got a job with the Sweeps. Every Sweepstakes hundreds and hundreds of people worked for the Sweeps. Then they got a holiday until the next Sweeps. One day we went to the Mansion House where Alfie Byrne lived. There was a big room full of people, and big drums full of tickets, and a nurse put in her hand and picked out the tickets. Then the horses were picked. One lady came from America to watch. She had bought ten thousand tickets and she knew she would win. She didnít.
Alfie Byrne was the Lord Mayor. He was always dressed up. He stood at corners and shook peopleís hands. He had a white moustache. He always said the same thing when he shook peoplesí hands. Everybody knew Alfie. Children loved him.
One time my brother Charlie came down from Belfast. I hadnít seen him in a long, long time. He was almost like a strange man. People said he looked like Ramon Novarro. I donít know anybody called Ramon or Novarro. He sang at the Loobyís one time. He really was all grown up. He put his arm on the mantelpiece and sang "On Ilkla Moor baht Ďat". I never heard that song before.
Aunt Marie died and Uncle John became the "proprietor". Uncle John wasnít tall but he wore the biggest hat I ever saw. He must have thought it made him look important when he came to Dublin.
Our teacher used to make us write essays for homework. I wrote about the time we stayed in a town with Aunt Marie and my uncle John, and how Uncle John had to get up early every morning to "switch on the metal". Our teacher, Mr. Ryan, didnít know what that meant, and I didnít either, but I told him that was what my uncle did, every morning.
Another time Mr. Ryan asked us to draw maps of our homes. Our parents werenít happy but we had to do it. I drew mine with a ruler. With the table in the middle of the kitchen, and the two beds in the bedroom. And I wrote an essay telling how I wished we all lived together again.
The coalman rang a bell when he came around with his horse and cart. He had to carry the bag of coal all the way to the top of the house on his back. He wore a sack on his back.
Moore Street was fun. Mama took me there every week. The stands were full of everything, vegetables, potatoes, flowers, and the sellers were always calling out. They were all women and they had loud, loud voices.
On Saturdays Mama and me always went to Haffners on Henry Street to buy sausages, and black and white pudding. Haffners always had the best sausages, everybody said. We always had them that night.
The ABC sold butter. The lady cut the butter from a big pile with wooden bats, and weighed it.
There were a lot of monuments in the street. The biggest was Nelsonís Pillar. You could climb to the top on inside stairs. It cost money and I never got to go. There was another statue of a man named Parnell, and one of a man named OíConnell. It had bullet holes in it.
I now knew the street names. Gardiner Street, Parnell Street, Talbot Street, OíConnell Street, Dominic Street where Aunt Eily lived and where there was a shrine to Matt Talbot and everybody said prayers there, and Grafton Street. That was where they had swank shops and rich people went. It was a very narrow street, and if you stepped off the pavement buses could hit you.
At the top of Grafton Street there was Stephenís Green. There was a lake there with lots of ducks, and people fed them crumbs. On hot days people sat on chairs. A man came and collected money for the chairs. We never sat on the chairs. There was a little bridge, and lovely trees. The park men were all old men. They went around with sharp sticks picking up bits of paper and cigarette butts. Sometimes the ducks climbed out of the water and waddled up to people with the bags of crumbs. Some of the ducks had lovely colours. It was a magic place. I always wanted to go there. There was statue of a man on a horse. My Dad said some people called it Steve Donahue, and laughed.
Then one day I was kept home from school. Mama took me out to stop Mr. Ryan as he rode on his bike and told him I wouldnít be back. She said we were moving to Belfast to live with my brother Charlie. Mr. Ryan said he remembered me writing that I wanted to be with my family again. It was a big hurt saying goodbye. He was the best teacher I ever had. And I wouldnít see Larry ever again.
Footnote: John and his parents lived in Dublin at 34 Lower Gardiner Street and later at 7 Upper Gardiner Street. He went to the Central Model School where his teacher was Mr. Ryan during all the time he spent there. The canal where the rubbish dump was, was the Grand Canal. His Dad wrote short stories, newspaper articles, radio plays, film scenarios, and drew cartoons during this time, sometimes under the nom-de-plume Elliott.
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