My father closed the Venetian blinds and told us to stay away from the window. We knew it was something bad that had just happened. It was a Saturday in spring.
Earlier that morning, my father and I were downtown.
We were looking for something to treat our dog for fleas.
From memory, I think it might have been a small taste of sheep dip that a local chemist made up for us. We were to call back for it and in the meantime my father went in for a bottle of stout to Phil McLaughlin’s pub on the Port Road (long since gone now where the Northern Bank would then have been built in later years.)
When we got home my father filled an old zinc oval-shaped basin with water and added the small taste of sheep dip. The dog didn’t like getting washed and was snapping at my father when he was trying to wash it. My father sent us into the house in case the dog might bite one of us. We weren’t right in the door when we heard Daddy letting a roar out of him. I don’t know if the dog bit him or he cut his hand on the sharp battered sides of the tin basin. Then the dog let a yelp out of it before daddy came into the house, blood coming from his hand as he washed it by running it under the cold tap in the scullery.
‘That dog will have to go’ he threatened as the bleeding stopped and he started drying his hands.
Suddenly outside at the front of the house I heard the squealing of a car tyre and then there was silence.
The front door of our house was opened, the four of us boys were in and out playing earlier before that morning then our interest was drawn to watching Daddy trying to dip the dog.
My father looked across the green at what happened and then made sure that we were all in our house and then closed out the front door.
A lot of people were standing at the end of the green over from our house. A car was stopped on the main road.
We were all looking out the window of the front room and people were all standing around in shock. Daddy slowly pulled the cord on the blinds on the window so the view across the green was blocked out. Over the next few days, much as my father tried to protect us from it, I overheard neighbours talking about that Saturday morning and how one of the many children who once played in the green in front of our house had died. He was just seven and a half years old.
Fifty three years on this week, and the passing of Noel Crossan, owner of the chemist that gave us that small taste of sheep dip all those years ago, triggered the memories of that Saturday morning in my journey through life. I was then just six years old.
I remember Noel talking with my father that morning and telling him how to mix the sheep dip to wash the dog. I don’t remember the funeral or that wake of my young friend and neighbour but I clearly remember everything I was doing and where I was that morning up to the point he suddenly passed away.
My mother passed away earlier that year before this so as children we were very focused on death.
A gravestone maker called Terry Ponsonby made a small gravestone for my mother’s grave with a cross on top of it. I can remember us collecting it from the Oldtown where Terry lived and we took it out in the back of our Renault 4L car to Conwal. My father mixed gravel, sand and cement on the footpath beside my mother’s grave for a base and erected the stone at my mother’s grave himself and we gave him a hand. We spend a good part of our childhood visiting our mothers grave as children. When my mother was alive she would take us to visit her late mother’s grave in the old cemetery up beside the ruins of the old church. Back then we had none of our family buried in the new graveyard.
As children we would go to my mother’s grave in the new graveyard a lot and say prayers there, then Daddy would let us head off to visit our granny’s grave in the old graveyard and he would spend a bit of time on his own at his wife’s grave. I remember going out one day and my father showed us the new headstone that was erected at our wee friend’s grave.
As in life he just lived a few doors over from us in Wolfe Tone Place and now in death he was laid to rest just a few graves over from my late mother.
We would always go up to our young neighbour’s grave and say a few prayers for him. His gravestone had a photo of him from his First Communion with hands together praying.
Growing up, time seems to travel so slowly and if I was asked I would have guessed that there was a few years between my mother passing and my young neighbour’s passing. There were only 100 days, or four months between their deaths.
All these years on in the most unexpected life links you remember people from years ago. I think there is something very special when something or an unrelated event reminds you of someone that passed away years ago. Something out of the blue and sometimes it turns out that it’s their anniversary or it would have been their birthday. Sadly there were three young people that lost their lives on the main road in front of our home in Wolfe Tone over the years of growing up there.
This is the memory of just one of them that comes to mind with the passing of someone else this week.
My neighbour and school friend’s anniversary of his passing falls on the 2nd of May on the 122nd day of every year, 100 days after my mother’s anniversary which falls on the 2nd of January.
May Dessie aged 7 and the other two boys Gabriel (3) and John (8) rest in eternal peace along with my mother Mary Ellen.