Drawing of the book cover Water Under the Railway Bridge by Bill Gerty

6 The Worst Day of My Life

CHAPTER 6

THE WORST DAY OF MY LIFE

Just before George was born Vera, Maisie, John and Muriel were all taken up to Killyran and they were all still up there about ten days later. I was sitting on a tree stump just across from our little house when the Doctor arrived and he left shortly afterwards. At that time I had a very strange feeling come over me, I went cold, it's hard to explain but I felt that someone was trying to tell me something. Just then my father came out of the house and walked towards me, all he said was "We are going up to Killyran" but the moment he left the house I knew that my Mother was dead, a voice in my head said so. I did not cry I was just numb, I looked back at our little house which I was never to see again, my world had fallen apart, why my mother, and not someone else? We walked down to Bawnboy in silence, he never told me, perhaps he thought it might be better if I did not know, little did he know that I knew already. We borrowed a bicycle, he lifted me on the crossbar and we set off for Killyran.
When we arrived at Killyran my father left me there along with my other brothers and sisters. This was the very first time that I recall seeing any of my aunts or uncles. When my father left me it was then that I broke down for the first time, I was sobbing uncontrollably and I shall always remember the very first words Auntie Louie said to me "why are you crying, is it because your mother is dead"?
Shortly afterwards uncle John, my dads brother, walked into the house and on seeing how upset I was said come with me and we walked up the little lane to his cottage. In there I met auntie Sarah, his wife, and their daughter Edna. They were all very friendly and when we had a cup of tea uncle John took me outside and showed me his beehive. I had to stand well out of the way while he collected some honey from the hive. Later that evening we had some more tea and I was given some bread and honey, it was my very first taste of honey which I liked very much. When it was nearly dark uncle John took me back down to Killyran Station, uncle Eddie and Ernest were there, they both lived there along with Auntie Louie and Grannie. Now there was going to be another six people added to that at least temporarily. Grannie had not arrived back yet she was still down in Bawnboy I felt it would be nice to see her back up here as I felt more at ease with her than anyone else. Vera, Maisie, John and Muriel had already settled in as they came up some days before me, George was probably taken up a couple of days before our mother passed away. I do not know how they were all bedded down at night, all I remember is that John and me slept in the corner of a bedroom on the floor.
The next day Ernest said to me we have a job to do today, so we set off up the lane a couple of hundred yards to a little thatched farm house. The house and farm
belonged to an old lady but she was not living there at this time, she was not very well and had gone to live with her son at his farm until she got better. Her name was Lisa Fee and I shall be writing a bit more about her later in the book. Outside the house there were many hens, chickens and geese. Ernest who was three years older than me explained that we would have to go down the fields dig some potatoes bring them back to the farmhouse and then cook them for the hens and geese. This sounded very exciting so we set off down the fields with a sack and dug some potatoes which we carried back to the house. Then we gathered some wood and started a fire on the big open hearth above which hung some hooks for hanging cooking pots on. This fireplace was just a bigger version of the one we had in our little house in Bawnboy. When the wood was well alight we put some turf on it and very soon we had ourselves a nice warm fire. We washed the potatoes and put them in a large three legged pot, it took the two of us to lift it onto the hook above the fire. When the potatoes were cooked we took them off the fire and drained the water off them. This was quite a hazardous job as the big pot had to be carried outside and tipped sideways to do this. We then had to add some oat­meal to the pot and mash it with a wooden tool called a beetle. When it had all cooled down we put some of the mixture in a bucket and fed all the hens and geese. Although I had a great time with Ernest my thoughts were never far away from my mother. Every morning we had to go and let the hens and geese out and each night we had to make sure that they were all safely shut up for the night. We had to do the cooking about three times each week. When Grannie got back from Bawnboy she used to come and look in on us to make sure that we were all right.
At that time Uncle Eddie had one cow which he grazed on Fee's land and Auntie Louie used to go and milk her outdoors every morning and evening. Ernest and me used to go with her and if the cow was some distance away we would go and bring her nearer to be milked. I have very little recall on what Vera, Maisie, John and Muriel got up to during this time, but I do remember George lying in his pram, he seemed to be the centre of attraction. There were two goats which grazed on the land adjacent to the railway, they were on a long rope with a swivel allowing them to eat in a half moon area without being in any danger of the trains which passed by. Grannie used to go and milk these usually with a large saucepan, while Ernest and me went into fits of laughter if one of the goats managed to put its foot into the pan and tip it over.
It was school holiday time when we were in Killyran and when the holidays ended we went to Killyran school along with Ernest and Edna who were in a higher class then I was. I had not seen our father since the day he took me up to Killyran.
A few weeks later when we were all asleep in bed one night there was a loud knocking on our door downstairs. It was our Dad and he was very drunk. He said that he wanted to take all of us back down to Bawnboy, of course he was in no fit state to do so and Auntie Louie told him so in no uncertain manner. She told him to go and sign the
pledge, to do this you have to report to the Parish Rector and pledge that you will abstain from drinking, whether he did so or not we shall never know.
About a month later he arrived one night on a borrowed bicycle. He said that he wanted to take me back with him to start with, and although I had been having a good time with Ernest I was glad to see him and I wanted to go back with him. We set off with me sitting on the crossbar of his bike. The only clothes that I possessed were the ones that I was wearing. I was very worried about going back to the house that my mother had passed away in a couple of months earlier, but on the way down to Bawnboy he told me that we were going to a different house. When we arrived at our new home I was glad to see that it was a place that I already knew, it was the Gate lodge at the end of the avenue leading to Johnstone's property. I used to pass it on my way to school. It was quite bare inside just a couple of chairs, in one room a stool. In the room next to that there was one table with a couple of bits of food on top, there were no cupboards to be seen anywhere. There was one large bedroom with my mothers bed in it.
Next morning when we got up we had something to eat and my father went off to work, I then had a chance to look around. There was an open fire to cook on, we had plenty of wood to burn and I made sure that I kept it well alight. There was a long passage way which led from the front door to the back of the house and opening this I found that it led straight into the fields, there was no fence to stop cattle, bulls etc. from coming straight up to the backdoor. What was worrying to me was the fact that the Johnstone's burial vault was just a stones throw across the field. My father came home midday with some milk and eggs so we put an oven on the fire and fried some potatoes and eggs. I also found where to get our water, there was a little well just across the road by the main gate pillar. It was quite shallow but there was enough water in it for us. In the evenings I used to walk into the village just to get tea, sugar and bread. I sometimes got a penny to spend for myself and with this I would go into Mrs McPartland's shop and buy a cake. She must have felt that the state of my clothes were a lot to be desired because when I went in there once she gave me a suit. It would appear that it had got too small for her boy, the only trouble was that it had no buttons on it. In my joy I had to put it on for school the next day and the only thing that I could find to attach it to my braces were straight pins. I can tell you now that I had more holes in my skin after that day than a pin cushion.

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