Life

Nuala McCann: New beginnings, new horizons but we keep the past in the attic

It was in the days prior to marriage and he had lovingly gifted me his towel to wash my hair, then screeched when he found evidence of bug life on it. We were rapidly social distancing when it wasn't a thing

On we go on our September walk, the acer in the garden is crimson

THE acer in the garden is crimson. Its leaves tremble in the breeze. September sunshine offers a soft kiss.

So we take our traditional route along the street past the house where I saw white smoke pouring out at 5am one cold winter morning as I was on my way to the early shift in work.

I t billowed out of the side of the house, like the message from the Vatican chimney, announcing a new pope. I had to stop and knock hard on the door. There could have been a fire.

A bleary-eyed man answered in his pyjamas.

“Don’t worry love, it’s just our tumble dryer,” he said and I, mortified, slunk off to my warm work and a large slug of coffee.

On we walk in September sunshine, past the little black cat who stares at us from the safety of under the car. She is sleek black – like someone buffed her in Kiwi Parade Gloss.

On past the big, red brick, double bayed house and its pathway laid out in black and white tiles; the high sash windows; the stout oak door.

It was a labour of love – we watched on our walks as the man restored it slowly, brick by brick. We said hello on our way past and admired the fresh painted doors and sills; the pathway tiles taken back to their long ago state. The house flourished before our eyes – and with all the time and energy invested, it’s beautiful.

On we go, past the spot where the old-fashioned sweet shop used to stand.

Giant glass bottles of sweets lined the shelves – you could buy a quarter of glace fruit drops or lemon bonbons and watch the man weigh them on old metal scales, drop them into a paper bag and hand them over along with your newspaper.

It was a Friday night treat when our boy was small – his father took him by the hand to choose a comic and enjoy a sherbet dab.

Once, father and son invested in a children’s magazine that promised to build you a full plastic skeleton a bone at a time, week by week. Miss a week and you were a not-too funny bone down. So a special copy was saved for the Friday visit.

In the end, it might have been cheaper to buy a real skeleton or turn grave robber. The ugly plastic one – Old Bony – currently resides in our attic alongside the Christmas tinsel – with all that effort, we couldn’t bear to throw him out.

And I think about the joy of the Friday evening ritual – the trip to the shop; the man behind the counter who headed off for a new life in sunshine.

On we go on our September walk, past the Chinese takeaway – the Mecca of our Saturday evenings. Once, at the counter, having ordered, father looked down at small son’s short haircut and swore he saw something jump.

“We have company,” he announced as he put down the chicken curry on the kitchen counter.

“My children never had nits,” my sister told me.

But I had them in Paris when I was 32 – I may have picked them up in a cheap hotel in Romania – it was short on luxury. We went to the chemist and I started to explain in halting French that I needed something for “les poux”.

The shop assistant raised a haughty Parisian eyebrow and judged me politely.

“You don’t need to scratch your head, she gets what you’re telling her,” said my then boyfriend.

It was in the days prior to marriage and he had lovingly gifted me his towel to wash my hair, then screeched when he found evidence of bug life on it. We were rapidly social distancing when it wasn’t a thing.

And now, on this walk, we pass the petrol station where I once treated my small nephew to a turn holding the petrol pump as I filled up my car.

“Move that child away from the petrol pump,” guldered a voice from the Tannoy.

At the corner, by the big church, we pause to remember the bird bush – whenever you passed, you’d surely hear a bird singing there. But the bush fell victim to an iron fence – and the birds flitted to fresh nests.

New beginnings, new horizons... it’s the circle of life – I’m sure I have that old Disney video in our attic too.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Life