Tall, slender, with grey eyes and hair that coiled heavily on the nape of her neck and, loosened, fell to her waist; dark hair with an agreeable odor to it; hair that made a crackling sound when she combed it. This daily haircombing function I rarely missed. It was something in the nature of a ritual and, for the time being, diverted my attention from those cronies of my first three years, a stuffed wall-eyed cat whose chief defect was that it never purred, and a camel with an intestinal malady that caused sawdust to drop from under its tail when I squeezed its belly to hear the crackling of the skin. These two sounds had become associated in my mind: the crackling of my mother's hair under the comb, and the crackling of the stiff hide that encased the camel.
When her hair was combed, brushed and coiled on her neck or on the top of her head, my mother would take me on her knee and, rocking me gently, sing to me, her lips close to my ear:
'...a garden of roses with dew heavy-laden
And thy mother's voice singing an old lullaby:
Hu-ush thee, hu-ush thee, none shall harm thee
dearest little child....!'
And curled in her arms, my cheek against her breast, I would sleep.
His beard was like myIn the original m/s, Ingram has started to re-write in the third person. Thus, this line was changed in pencil to,'like the beard of Michael's maternal grandfather'. This ends after four pages in the m/s and in the digitisation we have kept to the first person narrator from the start. maternal grandfather's in the picture over the dining-room fireplace with a little girl between his knees—my mother; and like the beard of Doctor Kidd whose foot made such a capital rocking horse. But he was not my grandfather, nor was he Doctor Kidd, though I kissed him without pressure, vaguely suspecting that we had met before, or that he was in the family. My instinct was right in the first instance, for he had already photographed me in my mother's arms at the age of five months. His name is before me on this photograph as I write: R. Forbes, Photographer, 154 Grafton Street, Dublin. Never had I met a more entertaining person than Mister—I called him Doctor (on account of his beard) Forbes. We had the same tastes, we liked the same kind of toys. Mr Forbes' collection included a big rocking-horse like the one the King of Spain, Alfonso XIII, used to be photographed on at the age of six, an elephant with ears that moved, one of my grandfather's fire engines in miniature, a sword and a lancer helmet, and lead soldiers by the box. And how he warmed up to my cat!—at the risk of making the camel jealous I had insisted on bringing it along. Mr Forbes actually modified the cast in its eye, and held out definite hopes that its purring faculties might be restored if we both looked and smiled, without moving, at the little bird he held up while a box on stilts with a tube attachment that had a rubber ball on the end of it made a clicking noise. But I kept looking at the rocking-horse instead of at the bird, so, after several clicks Mr Forbes decided to let me have a ride. Then, following a talk with my mother, he, put me in a chair and screwed a clamp onto the back of my neck. I began to cry, but Mr Forbes said it had to be done for me to hear the music. And sure enough, when my mother had made me blow my nose, had wiped my eyes, rearranged my beautiful curls and smoothed out the collar of Irish lace on my green velvet frock, 'A Bicycle Built for Two' tinkled out from some mysterious source. This time everything went very well. I noticed that Mr Forbes, before every click, had a curious habit of sticking his head under a black cloth that hung over the box.
"You're sure the curls will show?" asked my mother when it was all over. Mr Forbes reassured her emphatically as she fondled them and sighed.
Mr Forbes was right. In due time came the proofs with my curls well in evidence. That afternoon we parted company. Bridget, my nurse, handled the scissors. My father stood by grimly and my mother looked out the window a handkerchief to her eyes....
When the deed was done she kissed me and went off with Bridget. Before I had time to realize what had happened, my father opened a box and took out a lancer's helmet—just like the one at Mr Forbes'. When he had put it on my head he led me to the mirror. In my newly acquired grandeur I did not even miss the curls. Then he left me, departing silently, as from a burial. Alone, I was to discover the tragic loss.
Wondering if the helmet would not look better the other way around, I pulled it off. A shorn and unfamiliar entity gazed at me from the looking glass.... With a cry of dismay I flung away the helmet and then, in a corner, the camel and the cat in my arms, I wept and wept, a draughty feeling at the back of my neck and in my heart a vague but fearful suspicion that I was somebody else.
Bridget had two suitors. I knew them as Red Paddy and Black Paddy. They were tramconductors on the Dublin United Tramway Company line that ran along the North Circular Road to the Phoenix Park, and they collected used tramtickets for me which I kept tied up in little bundles assorted according to color: red, blue and white. Each Paddy had presented me with a shiny conductor's button with a shamrock on it. These I prized very highly as they would come in handy when became a tramconductor myself. I impatiently anticipated the day when I would have a uniform like the Paddys and a nickelplated contraption that punched holes in tramtickets. I already saw myself in possession of a collection of used tickets running into the thousands.
But my professional ambitions underwent a sudden change. A tall building in the neighborhood caught fire and I had a chance to see in action the celebrated Dublin Fire Brigade that had been reorganized and modernized along American lines by my grandfather, Robert Ingram, on his return from New York. The fire engines of bright red and shining brass, the galloping horses, the clanging bells and the firemen in their brass helmets, red shirts and waterproof hip-boots made me forget all about Red Paddy and Black Paddy and the Dublin United Tramway Company.
That evening at bedtime I informed my parents of my decision, supplementing it with a description of what I had seen: firehoses playing into windows fifty feet above the sidewalk; firemen clambering down swaying flamelicked ladders with women on their shoulders; a police cordon that broke for me and Bridget to pass when the station chief was told that the grandson of my grandfather was there. And then the thrill of watching the fire from his shoulder, and his satisfaction when I advised him of my intention to pass up a career in the Dublin United Tramway Company for the life of a fireman.
My mother decided I needed someone to play with. I was not so sure myself, wondering if that meant sharing the camel and the cat with another. But whether I liked the idea or not, I learned that God had decided to send me a little playmate. I tried to find out if it was to be a boy or a girl; on this point, however, my parents were noncommital. I hoped it would be a girl, having noted during my play hours in the Phoenix Park a marked partiality for dolls on the part of little girls.
Christmas. A gift from my father of a swing and a horizontal bar. These were made to be hooked onto a crossbar with rubber pads on the ends of it which made the bar adjustable to the width of the average doorway. My first attempt at the swing was a thrill, at the horizontal bar, a disaster. The rubber pads slipped and the crossbar fell. My face hit the floor for the first of many knockouts, and a resultant distrust of horizontal bars that has followed me through life.
One morning my father brought me to my mother's bedroom. In her arms lay a raw looking bulgyeyed creature that was making a whining noise.
"Your little brother," said my mother. "Give him a kiss."
Though the idea did not enthuse me, I did as she told me, —discreetly wiping my mouth in my sleeve when she was not looking....
Daily I grew more resentful of this creature that took up all her time while I was relegated to the nursery, denied even the customary morning minutes in bed with her which had been my privilege before its arrival. But by the time it could walk a few steps things had changed for the better and I was again enjoying my share of maternal attention.
For several days my little brother—three years old now—had slept in a cot in the nursery between Bridget's bed and my own. Every morning my father came and kissed us both and talked in whispers with Bridget. I wondered why I did not see my mother and why everyone tiptoed around the house and we were only allowed to play with toys that made no noise; and why my father slept on the sofa in his study in the daytime.
I found out why the day his sister, my aunt Edith, came to take me away. Bridget had buttoned me into my pea-jacket and sent me down to the drawing-room. On the landing I noticed a strong acrid odor that I had already smelt in the house. My mother's door was open and a woman I had never seen before was pouring something into a glass. Her clothes looked stiff and starchy and she was wearing a white cap. I could see a bit of Doctor Kidd sticking out behind the door. My mother was lying on the bed, her face very white and, horror, all her long hair gone—clipped off as close to the head as my own had been on that distressful day. It took me some moments to realize that this shorn white-faced woman lying there silently with closed eyes was really my mother. I began to cry. The starchy woman looked up and frowned at me and came over and shut the door. I turned away helplessly and started down the stairs, clinging to the ballustrade, weeping the loss of my mother's tresses as she had wept mine.