I had a chat with mam the other night and she told me this little story. I hadn’t heard this tale in its entirety and I am not too sure that any of us have, least of all Brendan, but I could be wrong.
It was June 1963 and it was Brendan’s birthday, he was four years old and Mam was taking him into town to buy him a new pair of shoes. He needed them. Mam didn’t really like to go into town. In all the years I lived at home the only time she took the trip to the city was for communion or confirmation stuff. She was not one to wander around Grafton Street window shopping although when she got there she enjoyed it. She was usually much too busy for that anyway.
She always came back from a trip to the city refreshed and smiling. Like a little hurricane of fresh air. I think it was because she was glad to be home. I can still hear the squeal of the gate and see her coming up the pathway, usually preceded by delighted children. We wanted to know what was in the bags and if she bought anything for us.
There were very few cars in those days so if we wanted to into town it was either by 'bus or by bike. The 'bus stop was a few steps from P. J. Kilmartins the turf accountant in Crumlin Village. This was a dark- windowed place with bold letters in gold. The interior was full of cast off betting tickets and smelled of stale porter and workman’s sweat. If you were waiting for a 'bus you would lean against this shop window with one eye fixed in the distance for the approaching 'bus while you savored the essence of porter every time the door opened.
The 'bus had to be spotted in time because to leave the window and arrive at the stop took a few seconds and you didn’t want to be late.
Across the street from P. J. Kilmartins was Boland’s Bakery. While they waited brendan’s eagle eye rested on the goodies. Even from a distance he could make out the different cakes on sale in the window. Brendan: “Ma, can I have a cake for me birthday?” Mam: “What! Aren’t you going into town to get a new pair of shoes? Are you never satisfied? “
End of conversation. Even at this tender age Brendan knew how far he could go when the face was on.
Mam and Brendan arrived in town with Mam still in a sour mood. After reaching their destination and having bought the shoes they were whipped up by the crowds and Mam was not one bit pleased; she wanted to get home.
Then, slowly, in the distance, a big limousine wound its way along the crowded street and appeared with President Kennedy waving to the people, Mam being one of those people. Magic was in the air. The charisma and charm and god like presence of this man from far off lands as he drove by was mesmerizing. Not only that, he was tanned! The only tanned people we ever saw in Dublin were Rock Hudson , Kirk Douglas or John Wayne on the big screen. Here, approaching the Mother was a real live tan.
In spite of herself she was swept up by the magic of the motorcade and caught up in the adulation and good will that this young President brought to the city of Dublin and it's good people in those dreary days. She was transformed. Gone was the bad mood, replaced by the euphoria of seeing President Kennedy up close. She was taken out of herself and she joined in the awe struck throng. She was won over. She was elated.
When it was all over and the crowds thinned they took the journey home and got off the 'bus at the stop near Boland’s Bakery. Brendan decided to chance his arm again and asked if he could have a cake for his birthday.
He chose his moment well.
”Of course you can son” she said in this new spirit of goodwill. “Will a chocolate one do?”
That is how Brendan got his birthday cake. All it took was a visit from the President of the United States.
I had often heard the story about mam seeing President Kennedy but did not get all the details until the other night when we had a chat.
Five months later President Kennedy would be gone and the world changed forever.
In a few weeks’ time Brendan will be 53 and he now has children of his own.
To be continued....
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