My dear ones make yourselves comfortable and hear my story. My name is Stephen Bauer, and I will now tell my story, in my own voice, with my Dublin accent and modes of expression that may not be around for very long more. So bear with me. I promise you laughter and amusement, but most of all engagement with the truth of how it was for us not so very long ago. So switch off your phones and social networks and hear my tale about Dublin in the Rare Auld Times. Picture the following scene and stay with me to hear what followed.
The boy that my two Aunties had reared, my Dad, since he was seven years of age, and unnoticed by either of them, had become a man. He was now to tell them, that his girl friend Christina, my Mammy, was in the family way. It seems; Christina was going to have the baby by hook or by crook. To make matters worse, my Dad had to tell them, that Christina was a neighbour’s daughter, who lived in one of the blocks of flats at the back of the complex.
The Aunts themselves walked around the corner, and on to the main road on the way to the church in Rathmines, rather than take the short cut up the side lane and out through the middle of those flats, as Auntie Kathleen was to be heard saying many a time-
‘The Corporation put the scum of the earth, all together back there, riff raff the whole lot of them.’
They spent many a night, running backwards and forwards to Father O’ Connor, to talk about the impending scandal, which was to descend upon them: and asking his advice on how best to keep this a secret and away from the prying eyes, looking out from behind closed curtains. The good Father had suggested that Christina could be accommodated in a convent in the west of Ireland, and that he would take care of everything with the Mother Superior. He had done this sort of thing many times before and that not a soul was any the wiser. He drove girls there himself, straight from the presbytery, and had blinds fitted to the back windows of his little Ford Prefect for that purpose. These blinds were kept down, until he escorted the mothers-to-be, through the convent gates. He was heard to say in his broad country accent-
‘Shur-ra! ’tis no problem to me, I have been on this mission many times before.
He had told them, that Christina herself would work in the Magdalene Laundry, until the baby is born, and that if their nephew was not prepared to do the honourable thing and marry the girl, he’d see that she was kept on, and that it would be a home-from-home for her.
‘I know that this problem is scalding both of your hearts, and that both of you deserve it and might I add! I know that your nephew was not the instigator of this immoral deed; he’s a fine upstanding man.’
He went on to say; that the benefits to the child, when it came along, were greater by far, than if it was to be born into a life of dirt and squalor. He told them that the nuns have a list of rich Americn couples, who were prepared to pay any price to adopt a child from a land of saints and scholars.
‘They’re very proud to be associated with the Irish over there; shur-ra, Boston is full of them. There’s the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and not to mention the numerous Irish Clubs and of course, the chief of the police, Patrick McGillicuddy; Surr-ra! He’s from me own neck of the woods in County Kerry, Scartaglen, it’s just outside Castleisland. I’ll leave you both now to ponder for awhile on the matter in hand; remember, God is merciful, and full of compassion.’
He told them that this was a matter for their conscience, and if they weren’t happy with that idea and because they were both upstanding Catholics, he could make arrangements for a marriage to take place. But it would have to be at least three months before the baby was born, and to keep the whist of the scandalmongers quiet, they would have to be married in a church in the inner city.
He had made it know in his sermons at mass on Sundays, how he was fed up to his teeth with the amount of shotgun weddings he had to contend with and didn’t want them in his church anymore. Annie had suggested that perhaps his mother, Molly should be told, but Kathleen wouldn’t hear of it. In her mind she felt that she had abandoned the child. He went on to say that because of the circumstances, the ceremony would have to take place on the side altar, with only the immediate family present and that Christina would have to wear a dark colour frock, because she was a virgin no longer.
‘They have both dirtied their bib you know; it’s shocking the carry on some of these young people get up to; there’s just no restraint, but then most of those families around there have twelve or thirteen kids, and there’s always one to let the side down.’
‘Saints and Scholars how are you! I tell you Father, there’s none of them around the back of this place, heathens and illiterates would be more like it,’ muttered Kathleen under her breath.
To all accounts and purposes a great day was had by all; the ceremony itself in Saint Kevin’s church was over and done with in twenty minutes. They got the number twelve bus from outside the church door back to the Auntie’s flat where they had roast beef, cabbage and potatoes, with a glass of wine to celebrate the occasion. The happy couple walked down to the railway station in Ranelagh, to get the train to Bray, where they spent their honeymoon night in Saint Mary’s guest house on the seafront. When they came back Christina was pampered and waited on hand and foot as she counted down the days to the big maternal moment.
Chapter 1 - BABY; the Crux of the Problem
Mammy told me the story about everything, from when I was a baby. She said that the stork flew all the way down from the clouds, and dropped me in a basket into the bed beside her, so that she could give me loads of hugs an’ kisses. This is what she said …
‘I wanted you to be born in the ‘Liberties’. That’s why I came to the The Coombe Hospital instead of the Rotunda in the middle of Dublin. I was so glad to have you. I wanted a boy to talk to, instead of a girl. Little girls grow up to be very cheeky; boys are quiet, and they don’t answer back as much. So God sent me my wish.
I hardly had time to get to know you before Matron took you away from me. She sent you with the other new babies to be baptized. I was worried, because the church of Saint Nicholas of Myra is just down the road in Francis Street, but you were gone nearly a full day, before they put you back into my arms again. I was terrified, that some sort of an accident had happened to you in the horse and cart, God forbid,’ she said.
Matron told her, that even though I was a bonny little boy, it was better to get things done her way, because there was always the danger that something might happen to me, and that I could end up in ‘Limbo’ for the rest of my life.
‘Where’s Limbo?’ I asked.
‘It’s up there in the clouds, with the fairies and the storks. It’s a baby’s nursery in the sky.’
‘How did the stork know where to find you?’
‘That’s easy; you see the stork is under the guidance of heavenly intervention and Holy God has told him the name of the Mammy that the baby is for, and where to go. I’ll tell you more about that when you’re a big boy; you’ll understand about things better then.’
‘Well then, how did he fly inta yer room in the hospital?’
‘He didn’t, I told you a fib. He left you on the grass outside the front door; your name was on a band around your wrist. When Bridie the nurse saw your name she brought you to me. She loved your dimple. She’s from around here, salt of the earth she is, and one of our own; you can trust people like that. Others might have passed you on to the nuns for a few bob; they sell babies for adoption to America.’
And she had more to tell; like when Daddy brought us home from the hospital on the back of his motor bike, and how we were lucky to be alive. She said that there were cows walking along Patrick Street on the way to the slaughter house, and one of them ran amok, and tried to jump up onto the bike as we were passing by. The noise and the smoke from the exhaust upset the poor thing, because when one runs wild the others take fright as well. If Daddy hadn’t swerved to avoid the poor beast, we could have been kicked by his hooves, and maybe trampled to death by the others.
She told me that every time we went out on the bike after that, she held me tight in her arms, especially when she saw cows coming along, because she knew that the noise from Daddy’s banger would drive them mad as it did before.
‘It’s like waving a red flag to a bull,’ she said.
‘Please don’t wave the flag anymore when we’re on his banger,’ I said.
She said that we had gone to live with me Daddy’s Aunties in Mount Pleasant Buildings. These were my Auntie Kathleen, and Auntie Annie. Mammy said we stayed there until they got tired of listening to me crying every night. She said how difficult it was, when four grown up people were getting in the way of each other all the time. And how there wasn’t room to swing a cat in the scullery. She said the two aunts had to sit with their legs crossed before they went to bed every night, while they waited their turn to go to their own toilet. All because I had to have me warm bath and nappies changed. She said I howled and screamed my head off when I was in the galvanized bathtub.
‘You were a handful.’
‘Was I hard to hold?’
‘No. You were a very cross little baby and the cause of many a row while we were staying with them.’
She told me how Auntie Kathleen lived on her nerves, and said that I had caused her many a sleepless night, and how, each morning when she went to work in the laundry, she almost fell asleep standing up, she was so exhausted.
Kathleen came home one night and told us that this couldn’t go on any longer, and that she would have to find somewhere else to live, or she wouldn’t be responsible for her actions. And then she told her sister, that’s your Auntie Annie, that she was feeling suicidal. Sure your Poor Annie was mortified, and pleaded with her to calm down, and asked her to offer up a novena to Saint Anthony.
‘If only for the Child’s sake, or God’s sake, just fight the good fight, for patience is a virtue,’ she told her.
‘What’s virtue?’ I asked.
‘Someone who can put on a bold face but has a heart of grace, they forgive and let bygones be bygones.’
‘I don’t like Auntie Kathleen’s face’, I said.
Mammy said that they were lucky, that she herself didn’t have twins or triplets: ‘God only knows what Kathleen might have done if that was the case, she would lose the run of herself altogether. There’s one thing for sure, we won’t be welcome up there again when I have my next baby.’
As I grew older and and sitting around the fire, she told me some more of the story. She said that things came to boiling point when Auntie Kathleen, who had been getting grumpier every day since the new baby came to the flat, failed to come home from work one night. And more so, when a letter arrived in the post, to say that she would only come back, if and when, my Mammy Christina, and me the baby Stephen, had found a home of our their own to live in. She said that Auntie Annie saw this as a sign, that the novena to Saint Anthony she had offered up, had now come to fruition. She told Mammy that although it was breaking her heart to say so, it would be better that we leave. She went out to the church on her own, on nine consecutive nights to offer up a novena to the Sacred Heart that we would be provided for in all our necessities.
On another dark night, Mammy told her sister Maggie and pal Fiona, more about how her earlier life had unfolded. They had come in from out of the lashing rain, as the breeze came whistling in behind them and drenched to the skin they were. I was ear-wig-in as I pretended to read my ‘Biggles’ library book. As they sat all cosy like, around the blazing fire that night.
I heard her saying- ‘Listen! Only for for the grace of God, I could have spent my childhood in a convent……………..’
There was dead silence when the story was over. When I looked up from me book, poor; Maggie was crying her heart out and Fiona had her arm around her shoulder.
'How lucky you are to be here, Christina, you could still be there instead of here, and working your nails to the bones in their laundry, and for what? My God, them nuns have hearts of stone. It's an unnatural life they live’ Fiona said, as they got up to say nighty nightie, and went out.
‘Your Daddy searched for ages until he found us a room, that’s the one we’re in now; Because there is only space for one bed, he thought it would be better for him, to stay on with his Aunties. Sure they doted on him! Mammy said, as she walked to the window and looked out, with only a blank wall to look back at her.
‘Perhaps it’s better that the canal separates us; we live on the poor side, and they live on the rich side, even though it’s only a Corporation flat that they live in’ She said.
‘Did Daddy not like me?’
‘Don’t be silly! Of course he did; it’s just that he likes a good night’s rest and he didn’t want you to come between us! He’s having a charmed life up there in his bed of roses and wanting for nothing’; I suppose he’s spoiled rotten and he doesn’t know it; it’s not his fault really. You are as you’re reared; leave it to him to find us a dump like this, but I suppose anything is better than living out on the Street,’ and then with a sigh.
‘If only he could have got us the room upstairs beside your Grand-dads, it would have brought a little ray of sunshine into our lives and here we are stuck with that blank wall outside the window; it’s a wonder we see any daylight at all.’
‘I like it here, ’cos the people in the windas wave down to me when I’m out in the lane,’ I said.
‘They do, but we have no privacy; sure the whole world and its mother can see every move we make. That’s why I have to wait until it gets dark, before I can empty the slop bucket in the lav at the end of the lane.’
‘Who is tha’ woman who sits in the upstairs winda next door? She doesn’t wave at me like the others do; she just keeps gawkin’ down at me through her specky four eyes?’
‘Don’t be so rude; you heard your Auntie Kathleen making remarks about people like that, it’s not nice; you should thank Holy God that you don’t have to wear glasses.’
‘I’m afraid of her, is she a witch?’
‘No! There’s no such thing, just don’t take any notice of her; sure poor Mrs. Staunton is as harmless as the day is long. She’s living on her own and she’s lonely, that’s why she sits in the window all the time.’
Anyways, I liked all the things we had in the room, even if my Mammy didn’t like living in it. It was big as well. It took me six giant steps to get from one wall to the other.
Me favourite thin’ in the room, was the Holy Mary picture tha’ was hangin’ on the wall, over the bed, ’cos no matter what corner of the room I was in, I could see her smilin’ at me. When I stood up on the chair to look inta the mirror over the fireplace, I could see her eyes lookin’ at me, an’ when I pulled out the two corner mirrors, I could see her three times at the same time.
Mammy’s sister Maggie lived next door in a room alongside Fiona Cummiskey was. They both liked to drop in for the cuppa and have a chat with Mammy. The next time they came in, she brought them over to the china cabinet to show them all her favourite things. I held on to me Mammy’s skirt as she told the story-
‘They’re all my wedding presents. I got the silver teapot and the china cups from his side, and Grand-dad gave me the Toby jug. That’s where I hide the few bob I have. Oh! I nearly forgot, the two porcelain statues on top there, I got them from my own family. Just look at the delicate white faces, and the gold shoes, wouldn’t you think that they’re ready to go to the ball together and waltz the night away. Aren’t they nice?’ All the furniture we got in the pawnbrokers. That paraffin lamp on the table is a good one. It’s so bright I can read books with it, before I go to bed.’
‘I think you’ve done a lovely job with the room. We’re still living on the boards. My fellow drinks away the few bob, he gets on his army disability from the Brits,’ Mrs. Cummiskey said.
<< I didn’t really like the picture of Holy God hangin’ on the wall over the cabinet, ’cos he had a long face on him an’ he’s sort of sad lookin’, he never smiled at me the way Holy Mary did. His heart was in front of his body, with burnin’ flames all around it, other times when I looked up at him the flames weren’t as bright!.>>
When I asked Mammy, how God could make things visible or invisible. She said-
‘You’re thinking about the Sacred Heart, that your aunties have on the wall up in their place; with the little red light that looks like a flame. Sure that’s an electric light. What you see is just a figment of your imagination love. What’s in that head of yours?’
<<We were saying our prayers one night and had nearly finished the rosary, when suddenly there was a flash, and a bright light came in through the window. It covered me whole body from head to toe’, then a voice said:
‘Don’t be afraid; only you can see and hear me, I’m your special angel, my name is ‘Nimberley Nobody!’ an’ I live in the land of make believe’. Then there was another flash an’ the light went zoomin’ back out the window. Appearin’ te me an’ only me, every time I asked for the light te come back; an ’tellin’ me I was a good boy an’ I would grow up to be a better one, if I gave me Mammy a helping hand around the room. Me first job was to start by killing all the flies and the other insects that crawled about. I just nodded me head an’ said, ‘Yes, Nimberley’. Tremblin’ an’ shakin’ with the frights I was>>
The only other thing I didn’t like were those two statues on the china cabinet, ’cos when I threw a pillow at a fly on the wall, it hit one of the statues an’ broke his head off. When me Mammy came home from the cleanin’ job an’ saw the head on the floor, she went mad an’ took the cane off the nail on the door. She beat me on the back of me legs until I crawled under the bed to hide. I didn’t like lying under there ‘cos the wires stickin’ out from under it made me face bleed, an’ the stuffin’ from the mattress got inta me eyes an’ made them sting, as well as tha,’ the cobwebs got stuck in me hair.
‘Can I come out again, please?’ I’d ask as I looked through the legs of the table at the fire as it blazed up the chimney.
‘You can if you promise not to be bold when I’m out at work the next time.’
‘Yes I promise, but please don’t beat me with the cane again, before I go to bed.’
‘Oh! Come on out and don’t be silly, I’ll give you a big hug and we’ll make it up.’
Daddy smacked me with the cane as well when he came to see us.
‘What’s the matter with him? Stop that stupid stuttering and speak properly,’ he’d say, as he beat me on the back of my legs until they got real red. To escape from him, I’d run out the door and down the lane to hide in the lavatory, until he went home again. He only came down during the day time for awhile before he went home again to sleep in his Aunties.
There was a photo of me in a picture on the mantelpiece, when I was a baby. Mammy told me, that I won the baby of the year award in the papers and that I won her five shillings.
It showed me sitting on a cushion on a table with me legs crossed. I don’t know how I didn’t fall off it, because there was nobody’s hand holdind me up. When Mammy showed it to Mrs.Cumminsky, she took it in her hands and with a smile said-
‘Wasn’t he a little dote. Maybe it’s time for me, to forget about the safe period, I’ll give my own better-half the come on smile when I get back inside.’
The lane was always full of horses, standing in a line and waiting to have their shoes mended by Mr. Stynes. He stood beside his furnace, banging them with his hammer until they were red hot, to straighten them out again. Mr. Mulcahy, the horse doctor around the corner, gave these horses a bed in his yard if they were sick, until he made them better again.
Our hall-door was always left open, it had no lock or bolt on it, and everyone else’s door was open as well, except the Johnston’s in the first house into the lane, because they were posh an’ didn’t want to know anyone else.
I was in and out of our room, loads of times to play in the lane, but sometimes I had to run in again when O’Neill’s horse an’ cart came charging into the lane on the way to the stables in the yard.
The black smoke twirled an’ swirled from the sausage making machine in the yard. It always seemed to find its way over the wall in front of our window, and making a pea-soup blanket of dirty grey fog in the lane. The smuts stuck hard to the washing, hanging on the clothes-lines, which ran from wall to wall down to the lav at the end.
‘I hope you haven’ put your dirty hands on the clean clothes, again, have you?’
‘I only ducked under them with me head to get into the hall quick,’cos O’Neill’s horse nearly killed me, and tha’ woman is starin’ down at me again’
‘Don’t be silly, I told you not to take any notice of her, but! If I find your hand marks on the clothes, I’ll ring your head through the mangle!