Chapter 2 - The Capital City
Kathleen's first view of Dublin did not impress her, probably because she viewed it from a go-chair, not unlike an invalid chair, and from what she felt to be a precarious height. The pavements seemed to slant towards the busy streets below and she could almost feel herself rolling down the slope right into the centre of the traffic. The air was full of sound alien to her. Green buses and red trams rolled by, taxis flashed past and milk drays ambled along. The roar of the trains passing overhead was quite frightening to a country girl.
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The streets had an early morning dampness about them but the air was surprisingly and wholesomely sweet, with the smell of freshly baked bread. Church bells chimed and all Dublin seemed to be rushing by in an endless stream of bustle and haste. Sure it was all madness!.
That morning she had been taken to the Specialist and now she was compelled to sit instead of walk. Mind you, he was a kind man who peered over his spectacles at her and promised her spell in the go-car would be a short one.
"I promise you child, we'll work as hard as we can to get you mobile again but in the meantime just do as I say".
The surgery was elaborate by Kathleen's standards. All white paint, highly polished and smelling of disinfectant. Young ladies passed by with frilly caps, starched aprons and a great air of efficiency.
The visit to the Specialist became a daily routine, along with the red medicine and many labelled bottles of pills. Rheumatic fever was a very tiring experience and on her sleepless nights she had plenty of time to think about her journey by train. There was no doubt about it - steam trains were a wonderful invention. They puffed along with whistles blowing, stopping at all sorts of Stations she had never heard of in her young life, not forgetting crossing the River Boyne. There were glorious sights of sea and sand too that were already thrilling her. Right now Kathleen's ambition was to drive a train back home.
Her daily exercise included a walk along the Coolock Road in the company of her Aunt, a cuddly wee woman, and some said saintly as she spent a lot of time visiting all the churches.
"On life's pilgrimages", she said, but that was a bit of a laugh. She was tough with Kathleen and insisted that she helped herself to walk again. "How do you think you'll ever walk again if you don't make an effort now?"
"Well I'm doing my best",
"Sometimes I think your best is just not good enough".
What a joke and her not even able to lift a leg into bed. However, she found herself always being propelled in the go-chair in the one direction, towards the sea. She couldn't see it but she knew it was there. The air had a pleasant tank of salt and the smell of seaweed. Noisy seagulls passed close by in flight.
Suddenly the road made headlines in all the papers with the caption "Coolock ghost seen by many",
That was enough to frighten any young girl and Kathleen didn't feel particularly brave at the moment so she asked,
"Couldn't we take another route today?"
"Don't tell me you're afraid of ghosts?"
"Well I've never seen one and I'm sure it wouldn't help me illness".
What a relief when the ghost turned out to be a large white owl, but while the scare lasted the road became a deserted paradise. Here, she took her first tentative steps again, to he Aunt's resounding refrain,
"Toes out and straighten your back".
"You know Auntie you're turning out to be like a real drill teacher".
"Well the least you can do is try Kathleen".
This was easier said than done and her Aunt was one to talk. She walked with a slightly hunched gait while she expected her niece to walk like a ballet dancer!
"The next thing you'll be doing with me is putting me on a stage".
"Well, that should be right up your street my girl".
The walks lengthened and then one day they came to a stone wall that seemed to stretch for miles and miles and here she got her first glimpse of the sea.
"Thank God for that wonderful sight".
It took her breath away.
"Look Auntie Bea, have you ever seen anything so beautiful?"
"Wll Kathleen, if you lived around here as long as I have you'd be taking it all for granted".
It looked like a large sparkling sapphire as it flashed and scintillated in the sun. Waves shimmered silver as they rippled and kissed the sands and the tank of salt was on her lips. From then on, until her return home, she made it her daily pilgrimage. The breezes tumbled her soft brown hair, brought back a rosy glow to her cheeks, and gave her an everlasting love of the sea in all its moods.
By now her appetite began to improve, induced no doubt be a very warm and understanding Uncle who was prepared to share all his food with her. He was a tall slender man with with dark, greying hair and an asthmatic cough. Indeed many a night as she lay awake his bouts of coughing were so persistent, harsh and debilitating, she cried for him. One one occasion the paroxysm of coughing was so charged with danger, she slipped from her bed and quietly opened the bedroom door. Her Aunt was rushing around in her nightdress, looking for some special powder hiding on some shelf and she sensed fear in her movements. So she pushed open the bedroom door. The poor man was sitting up in bed, surrounded by a sea of pillows, coughing his lungs up. His dark eyes followed her movements
As she opened the window to the night and he found the air he needed.
Spent, but accustomed to his condition, he lay back amongst the pillows watching her with his eyes willing her to stay. When finally he could speak, the glint was back in his dark eyes and he gave her his endearing crooked smile.
"Ah you're a fine girl indeed. 'Twill be a sad day when you leave us. Who will I have to share my steak and onions with then?"
"And your lovely potatoes too Uncle Barney. Sure you're making a glutton out of me. If you keep me any longer I'll be eatin' you out of house and home".
This same Uncle never sat down to his dinner at night without Kathleen safely on his knee. All he had, he shared and she had a sneaking suspicion that sometimes he wouldn't have bothered eating his meal if she had not been around. He had told her many times that his complaint was a legacy from the World War when he had been gassed.
"We went out to the Front, young, strong and willing and look at us now - burnt out auld men".
He bore his condition bravely and without complaint. Surely here was a message of hope for young Kathleen who wasn't always so patient and understanding.
As she began to feel better, she became homesick and longed for home, her parents, brothers and sisters. Still it came as a surprise when shortly afterwards the Specialist said,
"Kathleen dear, I think its time now you went home. You're starting to recuperate. I shall be writing to your Doctor so that he can prescribe this medicine for you", holding up a bottle of that precious red liquid. He gave her a fatherly peck on the cheek, enough to make her blush and close the door quickly behind her. Then she realised she hadn't thanked the Doctor and rushed back in.
"Thank you Doctor for saving my life. I'll never forget you".
And she meant it!
Finally her parents arrived and stayed the week end. On the day they arrived, she found it a very long time from 7 p.m., when she was put to bed, until they entered the bedroom many hours later. She was still wide awake but they didn't know about her sleepless nights and she remained quiet. She liked to look through the window and watch the lights of Dublin flicker until gradually all was in darkness. The sounds of the traffic finally became muted and appeared to stop and then she had the moon to keep her company.
The coming of the new day sent a rosy glow into her bedroom. A cock crowed somewhere along the way. Lights came on, traffic moved again and the murmurs became more noisy as milk drays went by and people stirred abroad. She had spent her usual restless night, still in some pain, counting the hours from the chiming of the kitchen clock.
Her parents packed her clothes, not forgetting her red medicine and pills.
"For God's sake mammy, don't let me leave without me red bottle". She felt very excited, particularly when they pressed a large white box in her arms.
"Kathleen, a little present to make up for all the suffering you had to endure"
"Sure it was nothing".
Oh the joy and pleasure of untying the string and paper wrapping, for there, looking at her was a lovely doll with rosy cheeks, sparkling blue eyes that opened and shut and a mop of golden curls. Kathleen flushed with excitement and exclaimed,
"She's the loveliest thing I've ever seen. She even has white shoes with buckles and tied with blue ribbons. Oh wait 'till I see the looks on the faces of Mary Ann and Brigie Flynn. They'll be mad jealous. They couldn't buy such a doll in Crossmaglen".
The O'Haras made their way home. After the long train journey they had to walk all the way from the Station to the Border Post. They had just left the Custom's Shed in the Free State and were walking over the bridge to the waiting car in the North, when Kathleen discovered one of the doll's shoes was missing. In tears she cried,
"I won't move from here. My dolly can't walk with only one shoe".
There was a scramble as Customs Officer, Taxi Driver, her parents and passers-by all joined in the search until the shoe was finally recovered and placed on the doll's foot with Kathleen still expostulating.
At last a tired but contented Kathleen was home again and united with her family. With the doll safe in her arms she was taken to bed. If the rest of the children had missed her company, they certainly didn't show it. It was nice to be home again, back in her own room. The Blessed Virgin's picture smiled serenely down upon her and her doll, both of whom were already asleep.