Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A summer in the country - part one.

Post 552 - Some of you wanted to hear more about my experiences growing up in the 1940s so here you go. This will probably teach you to be more careful about what you ask for.....

When I was four years old, I lived with my mother and father in the city of Kilkenny in Ireland. I had started attending school at the Presentation Convent when I was three so my mother could go back to teaching. As a result, I was very independent for my age and was getting quite used to managing for myself, walking to and from school, sometimes with my father but more often than not on my own. I also looked after myself when I came home until my mother returned from teaching in the evening. In 1941, it was agreed that I would spend the summer with my grandparents on my mother’s side who were farmers in county Wexford. Starting in the beginning of June, I would go down to Campile by train and return with my parents when they came to visit some months later in September. Since it was 1941, petrol was rationed. Although we were one of the few people who operated a car during the war, as my father was a member of the national police force (the Garda Síochána), the car was used sparingly because petrol coupons were hard to come by.

The train trip from Kilkenny involved a stop in the town of Waterford, with a five-hour wait before a change of trains to get to the village of Campile. My parents knew the city of Waterford very well and had many friends there, including the station master. On many previous visits there, we’d always eaten at the Savoy cinema which had a restaurant on the second floor and was much frequented by people from the country who were in town for the day. So the plan was that I would board the train in Kilkenny in the morning, travel to Waterford and leave my luggage with the stationmaster, walk across the bridge and along the quay to the Savoy, have lunch there and return to the railway station in time to board the Campile train. My mother said that this trip would encourage me to be independent and confident and “would help to make a man out of me.” Much of my parent’s actions as I was growing up were intended to encourage this independent streak and the results were very successful. However, my mother never quite adjusted later on to just how independent I actually became.

Arriving at the station in Kilkenny, I was very excited as I hadn’t traveled by train very often prior to this, although I had made this particular trip once before with my parents. I remember being very impressed by the size of the engine and all the hisses and groans and clouds of steam that emanated from it. My father took me along the platform so I could inspect it first hand. I remember we had a conversation with the driver who, although he was busy with last-minute adjustments prior to departure, still explained briefly how a steam engine worked. Meanwhile, my mother had picked out a compartment that had some travelers she thought could look after me on the trip to Waterford, even though she’d never met them before in her life. It was a trusting time when the prospect of dishonesty or violence never crossed anyone’s mind. My luggage was loaded on board in the luggage carriage, tearful goodbyes were said, and off I went happily ensconced in a window seat facing the front of the train. My traveling companions were very impressed by the fact that I could travel on my own - I think they thought I did it every week - and I answered many questions about what I planned to do for a whole summer on the Sutton farm when I finally arrived. I remember being excited about the trip but not particularly scared or uncomfortable about traveling alone since my mother seemed so comfortable with the idea. My father was a very quiet and even-tempered man who always seemed comfortable with just about about everything.

The trip to Waterford was generally uneventful. The countryside was green and pastoral and the train seemed to go very fast. We stopped at stations along the way and people got off and got on amid a general bustle of noise and excitement. When we finally arrived in Waterford sometime about noon, I was met by the stationmaster who was waiting for me on the platform. Having retrieved my luggage, I bid goodbye to my traveling companions. We then went to the stationmaster's office, and left my luggage there where I could pick it up later in the day. Then off I went across the city to lunch at the Savoy. This was the most adventurous part of the trip as far as I was concerned and I have to admit I was a little nervous as I set out to walk all the way across the city of Waterford. To cover my nervousness, I sang out loud as I went along my way, a habit which stayed with me for years afterward. Looking back, I must have been a funny sight, a well dressed little boy, on his own, singing as he marched along, apparently very happy and obviously with a clear sense of purpose about where he was going.

The streets of Waterford were busy as always but I had no trouble finding the restaurant. So I marched in and presented myself to one of the waitresses, told her who I was and that that “I was expected.” And so I was, as my mother had made arrangements the week before and all the waitresses were on the lookout for the little boy from Kilkenny who was coming for lunch. After being shown to a reserved table and seated just like a regular customer, I ordered my lunch. The waitresses all thought I was very cute so I got a lot of service and attention. A couple of hours (and two desserts) later, I was ready to bid farewell to my new-found friends at the Savoy and retrace my steps back to the train station to resume my journey.

More to follow....


Jonathan said...

love it

john cotter said...

Thank you - I'm glad you like it.