By Annie May Harte
A grandfather reflects on his past and gets a wonderful surprise letter in the post
The dusk of evening was slowly dropping down. The mist gathered over the big black mountain behind the house. It would soon be dark. The winter was setting in earlier this year, he mused.
‘How long have I been sitting here in this chair?’ John asked himself. ‘What an idle man I have become,’ he chuckled. ‘I remember when I hadn’t time to bless myself, always working all the daylight hours God sent. Shep the black and white collie lay at his master’s feet.
John stroked him gently as he rose to put more turf on the fire. Soon the fire was aglow and the flames blazing up the chimney. He lowered the oil lamp from the shelf. Taking his time to trim the wick, he lit the lamp and replaced the smoked stained globe.
Smiling, he recalled that the globe was always shining bright when herself was here, yes the house had lost its shine since she died.
John did not like the long winter nights, they brought a gloom. Memories of what used to be kept going around in his head. He brought the pipe from his pocket and tapped it on his shoe, then filled and lit it.
The haze of smoke marred his gaze as it swept around the kitchen.
His eyes then rested on the oil lamp. It was over forty years since it had come into the house, although it was much older than that. It came from his parent’s house, a present to them on their marriage.
The old house where he was born was just a couple of fields away. John was the youngest of eight. The others had emigrated all over the world. There were three in America and four in England. His father had left the farm to him, although it was a small holding one could make a living out of it.
It seemed only like yesterday that Jane and he had crossed the fields to clear out his home place. He remembered that morning as they madetheir way across the fields; Jane told him that they were expecting their first child.
He would have liked to gather her into his arms and kiss her but he couldn’t be seen doing that. No displays of affection could be shown to the outside world. The neighbours would have thought big John had gone soft in the head.
Later that day when they had returned to the house, their precious lamp which had always sat on the shelf had been polished to perfection. Jane mashed the tea and he saw the lovely glow about her.
They talked into the night about their plans for the future. He could say without contradiction that this was the second happiest day of his life; the first being the day Jane became his bride. The modest wedding was held at Jane’s parent’s home, her sister was bridesmaid and Pat Kelly was best man.
Brid was born that August. The following year Francie arrived, he was called after Jane’s father and he was her pride and joy. Then Alice came along, followed by Danny.
Brid took up nursing and was above in Dublin. She was married now and had young children of her own. Both John and Jane had travelled up to help with the new born. They spent a few days sightseeing and then travelled back home by train. Jane laughingly told John it was like the honeymoon they never had.
Francie got a job in the Civil Service in England. He was there for a year in the earlier part of the twentieth century. War was looming in Britain.
Francie joined up with the Irish Fusiliers; it came as a great shock to the family back home. Jane had shed many a tear over his choice of army. She was from a staunch Republican family and it did not sit well with her.
He was sent to France in 1916 and in the thick of the fighting he lost his life in the trenches. He was buried in an unknown grave far away from home and family.
The cable arrived one morning with the dreadful news. Two officers called to his parents with the medals which he was awarded for bravery along with some of his personal possessions. Among them were a few worn pictures. One was of Jane and himself in the garden on the Sunday he left home and a picture of a girl that he had met in London. He was always remembered during the family rosary each night. Jane had never got over his death.
Alice was nursing in England and was married with two children. She visited every year for a couple of weeks. Danny the youngest had just sat his exams and had not made up his mind what he wanted to do with his life.
His uncle Joseph and his wife Maria came home on a visit from America. It was their first trip home since they emigrated twenty years previously.
The visit held many happy memories for Joseph; their parents had passed away many years ago. Joseph spent many hours reminiscing about the wonderful memories he had of growing up in the old homestead. It had now seen better days and some slates were missing from the roof.
One day as he wandered around his birthplace, he recounted to his brother John his memories of sleeping in the old bedroom. The four boys used to sleep in the one bed. Every night there were gales of laughter as they lay head and heels.
During their visit Joseph and Maria became very close to Danny and they indicated to John and Jane that they would like to invite him over for a visit.
‘Well I suppose it would be no harm to see how he likes it and maybe he’ll find work there,’ John replied, anxious that his son would do well for himself as there were great opportunities in America.
‘I’ll pay his passage and sure if he doesn’t settle he can always come home,’ Joseph generously offered.
Danny found work in America and settled there. He came home to visit his parents whenever he could.
Brid’s family had grown to four; they journeyed down every couple of months. On one of her visits, she noticed her mother’s failing health. She finally agreed to go the doctor and she was diagnosed with a kidney complaint. Poor Jane died that Spring. They all came home for the funeral. Danny had grown older and looked like Francie. They recalled the old days over the wake and funeral but all too soon everyone was ready to get back to the routine of their lives again.
John sat counting the days since Jane had died, the days turned to years, he counted ten, the decade had passed last Spring. He still thought of her every day.
One day a letter addressed to Mr and Mrs Browne arrived by post. On opening the letter, he got a big surprise it read;
I’m sure you will not know me, and I have been wanting to write to you for so long but my mum did not want me to bother you after all these years. I know my dad died at the front and was honoured with medals for bravery. We wrote to the war office some years ago and they gave us this information. We are very proud of dad. I thought of going into the army, I would like to visit you if that would be possible. If you would rather that we did not get in touch, we will understand.
Your grandson Francie.
John reread the letter many times that day and finally he got the pen and notepad down and began to write his reply. Before nightfall he went to the post office and posted the letter. He wrote and asked them both to come and see him.
The reply came back within the week; they would both be delighted to accept the invitation. They were due to arrive in Dublin at ten o’clock on Wednesday morning.
John sent his daughter in Dublin the news of his long lost grandson. Brid made her way to the airport and was standing near the baggage arrivals holding the name ‘Francie from London,’ on a cardboard sign. She didn’t have to wait long, until she saw the tall lean lad coming towards her. He was so like his dad, she ran to meet him. She held him and wept, feeling the love that only comes when someone has been gone for so long.
She turned to the lad’s mother and asked; ‘Why did you not contact us before?’
The tears welled up in the other woman’s eyes as she said; ‘I was afraid that you might have rejected us.’
They drove down by car and were home with John by five o’clock. As the car pulled up, John was outside to greet his grandson and his mother.
When the lad lifted his head to greet his grandfather, they wrapped their arms around each other and remained speechless for some time.
They all went indoors, John was murmuring ‘we have a lot of catching up to do,’ as he gently closed the door to the outside world.