Chapter 4 - Induction of a New Member
One day as she entered the house, Kathleen was very disturbed to hear their good neighbour remark,
"Let's hope it's a boy this time".
She knew what that meant! Another baby and her not ready for another one! She marched into the kitchen and upbraided her mother for wanting another child.
"Holy Mary, isn't there enough of us as it is? You know we can't afford another baby. The house is too small - and a boy! You know they're not even clean like little girls. Look at Patsy Flynn up the road. He always wears a dirty ganzy, has a runny nose and grubby hands and his pants are always falling off. Why he even wets them! We just couldn't have one like that".
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She knew what it meant. As the eldest girl she would have to wheel yet another crying baby around The Square. If her Mammy wanted one so badly why didn't she tell Nurse Morris they would take another girl - but a boy. Ugh! Kathleen remonstrated while her gentle mother listened attentively and waited patiently for the outburst to be over. She promised to discuss the subject with their father and look into the matter of cancelling the baby. No more was said and Autumn turned into Winter.
One crisp December morning, Kathleen awakened to the sound of strange voices in the next room. She tip-toed to the bedroom door and was surprised to see Dr O'Brien in conversation with her father and even more surprised to see her mother still in bed. She pushed open the door, remarking,
"What's the matter with Mammy?"
but a gruff response from her father sent her scurrying back to bed. She spent her morning there, sitting up in bed, seemingly forgotten by those around her, listening to the incessant comings and goings.
She was peering out of her door again when she saw Nurse Morris. That same Nurse had brought all the babies into their house. There she was, calmly walking up the stairs carrying that black bag. She wanted so badly to snatch it from her but reasoned that if she got the wrong side of the Nurse, they could end up with the wrong baby. Until now, she had been very satisfied with the choice of babies and found it very easy to love them. She thought, "I hope she doesn't leave us a black one for when it starts to talk we won't understand a word it says!" She had seen pictures of black babies on begging tins outside the Church with most of the congregation donating generously.
"They must want their heads seen to", she had thought.
Time dragged by slowly, the silence of the house broken only by the ticking of the clock. Then she heard it! A baby's cry. Her own sister or brother had arrived in the world and she thanked God now that the long morning's wait was over. A short time later she was invited in to meet her new brother. She loved him as soon as she saw him and had the good manners to thank the Nurse, remarking,
"I'm sure he'll be cleaner than Patsy Flynn".
The only answer she received was a raised eyebrow.
Already she was excitedly discussing with her Daddy, a name for the baby.
"We're not going to call him Patsy that's for sure - why don't we call him Seamus - it's Irish for James and a Saint's name at that".
So Seamus he was called.
Two days later Kathleen walked proudly into the Church carrying the baby, wrapped in his Christening robes and shawl. She was so pleased when Father Pat said,
"Another little soul for God".
She held him during the baptismal ceremony and thought she had lost him as she could hardly see his little face beneath the frills and wrappings. Then her Daddy and the God Parents were invited into the Sacristy while she was told to sit quietly in her seat.
"Why can't I go? I was the one that dressed him and held him over the Holy Water font".
On getting a forbidding look from her father, she decided to kneel in this beautiful church and show God her appreciation in prayer. She didn't know many prayers apart from the "Our Father" and the "Hail Mary" so she decided to light some candles so that God could see her in the shadowed church. The candles flickered, the gold of the alter plate blinked and enriched the scene. She gazed at the Stations of the Cross. The figures, cool and marble white, stood out from their niches gazing with far-seeing eyes, beauty and dignity enshrined in their robes. Behind and above the altar a beautiful stained glass window depicted what she thought must be "The Resurrection". Her gaze wandered in the direction of the Ladies Gallery. Here "Our Lady", gowned in blue and with arms outstretched, smiled down on her children. The Church had atmosphere and smelled of incense and old polished wood.
When they arrived home all headed for the stairs and the bedroom where their mother lay and the baby was disrobed and handed back to its mother's arms.
"It was a lovely baptism Mammy. What a pity you couldn't be there. Come to think of it you never are. I got the job of carrying the baby like I was a nursemaid. Why are you always in bed when your child is being baptised in Church?"
"You ask too many questions".
Her mother lay quietly surveying all of them, with the baby cradled in her arms and tears filling her eyes. It was Daddy who comforted her.
"Next time we'll hire her a car to get her to Church. Will you ask auld McCloskey for his?"
She noticed a distinctly cool look from her father, while the other occupants of the room started surveying the walls and the ceiling. The silence was unbearable and Kathleen beat a hasty retreat. She didn't know what she had said but once again she had put her foot in it.
Mrs O'Hara found it necessary to engage a new maid and on the occasion of Seamus' christening, Mary arrived with a brown case and a bundle neatly rolled and tied with string. The O'Hara children immediately took her to their hearts. She in turn lavished all her love and affection on them. Life became more orderly and Kathleen found, to her dismay, she no longer ruled the roost. She yielded quite happily in the end to Mary's persuasion. Life went on smoothly and as she felt herself growing stronger, she took an active part in caring for the youngest.
The crying baby was handed to her when her mother could not placate the child.
"For God's sake Kathleen, will you take that child out and walk him around The Square before we're all driven out of our minds".
These walks became very frequent as her little brother sure knew how to exercise his lungs. She always started her walk with a stop at her Great Aunt's shop. She just hoped that one of the family there would just look after the child for a while. She loved this shop. It was large and spacious with a floor where she could practice her waltz with a broom. Fridays here were great fun as all the farmers made their way into the bar at the back of the shop to enjoy their hot coffee and whiskey.
The atmosphere and the crack fascinated Kathleen. Here there were large stools close to the bar and she always managed to find herself among the farmers, watching her cousin mixing this delicious drink. They used long tulip glasses as for stout, with a long slender spoon of Cafe' au lait taken from a tin on the shelf behind, mixed with sugar and a good measure of whiskey and finally topped up with hot water. The drink was very popular and went down like velvet, warming the cockles of the heart. If there was a vacant stool near the counter she found it and hoped some big-hearted customer might share his hot Irish Coffee with her, It was delicious.
Her next stop with the baby was normally at the Post Office. This was situated at the corner of The Square, hanging on to the steep incline which marked the beginning of the Newry Road. She liked to chat with Mrs Duffy who was a very motherly lady who always enquired about the new baby, looking over the counter and down into the pram, with her gold pince-nez hanging from the end of her slim nose even though they had a spring to clip them on. Kathleen would take the baby out of the pram and watch lovingly as he was passed from one customer to another.
Today was quite different. She couldn't quieten Seamus. She gave him a spoon of gripe water and fairly thumped the wind out of him but still he cried. She put him back in the pram in disgust, left him outside and went into the shop to speak to Mrs Duffy and wee Mrs Kelly who was always out of puff. Five minutes later she emerged back into the sunlight. Baby and pram were gone. She looked down the hill just in time to see the big black pram gathering speed before finally coming to a halt inside Kernaghan's fruit shop, knocking down boxes of oranges, apples and tomatoes.
Mrs Kernaghan was disinclined to treat the matter as a joke. Kathleen picked her way through the boxes, apologising as she went in.
"Now then Kathleen, if you didn't spend so much time visiting and gossiping, you wouldn't find your baby brother in this predicament nor me having to pick all me fruit again. Half me profit is gone too."
She offered to help but this was declined sharply.
"Ah will you get the blazes out of here before I lose me temper" .
A very red faced Kathleen took her exit, pushing the pram in front of her. Although unheeding, young Seamus received a tongue lashing.
"You little divil. Why do you always disgrace me?"
He didn't seem to care and just cried on. Her final stop before returning home was at McEntee's Bakery, where she always enjoyed a hot scone or a slice of potato bread.
"Can't you stop that child whingin?", exclaimed Mrs McEntee.
"Have you given him his gripe water?"
"He's had all that and now even I have had enough of him".
Mrs McEntee put sugar and warm water in his bottle,
"I think you have the child starved Kathleen".
Seamus gulped this down and resumed his crying.
"Poor little fella, sure its starved you are".
"That's what you think Mrs McEntee. He's turning out to be a spoiled wee brat and you'll never fill him up".
By now Kathleen's temper, on the short side at the best of times, was fully aroused. Sheer frustration drove her on and she finally wheeled the baby right out into the center of the very large square and left him there, returning home not caring what happened.
"Where's the child?"
"Where he should be, left right in the middle of The Square".
Mrs O'Hara rushed out and pushed the pram home. There was Seamus fast asleep and looking like a little angel. And she was the one in trouble. Again!