We traveled to Cobh on that winters day to see my father off. His ship the 'Nieuw Amsterdam' sat in the harbour waiting for my father and his fellow Irish passengers to board. When the time came to say our final adieus, I wailed and howled as if my heart would break. I did not want to let my father go. My arms had to be pried from his neck and he slipped away, boarding the ship that would carry him across the ocean and thousands of miles away.
I spent the next six months living between Abbeyside, my maternal grandparents home and Emmet Street, my paternal grandfather’s home. As the weeks wore on more and more time was spent in Abbeyside. I loved my grandparent’s house in Abbeyside. The back garden was huge and filled with cats. All sorts of cats, big ones, small ones, black ones, white ones, grey cats and spotted cats. Everyday I watched Nanny put bowls of milk out and the cats came out of the garden’s overgrowth from all directions. They fascinated me the way they magically appeared when the bowls of milk were set down and just as magically disappeared when the bowls were empty. Nanny sometimes allowed me pour the milk in the bowls she set on the ground for them. Pouring the milk into the bowls without spilling took great concentration.
I liked to hug the cats. I hugged them with such loving determination, I nearly strangled them. It didn’t take long for the cats to become wise to my ways and they quickly scampered off when they saw me heading in their direction.
I loved the smell of Grand-dads pipe. Remembering the smell of Grand-dads tobacco wafting around me always transports my mood to ease and brings a smile to my face. My grandfather was a big man and I had to strain my neck back to look up at him. When he sat in his chair by the fire, with his pipe lighting he would lift me up onto his lap and bounce me until I laughed so hard my stomach hurt. He told me wondrous tales of fairy queens, magical mists and little people. I sat on his lap mesmerised, my imagination totally engaged as he wove amazing tales filled with rainbows, magic dust and a world just waiting to fall at my feet. I adored everything about my grandfather. Right down to his large flannel slippers which I liked to clip clop up and down the hallway in.
Time was drawing nearer to our departure for New York. Nanny was very concerned for my safety due to what she perceived as my mother’s relaxed attitude towards my supervision. My grandmother decided to run a little test. One day the coal man came to the house with a delivery for the coal bunker. The story goes that Nanny met the coal man at the front door and asked him to do her a favour. The coal man agreed. Nanny made her way to the back door, opening it to let the coal man into the scullery. He began emptying the burlap sacks of coal he had hoisted in on his back into the coal bunker. Hearing the commotion, I ran out to investigate what was going on. Nanny smiled, thanked the man told him to pull the door out behind him when he finished and left me alone with him. I chatted happily to the coal man as he emptied one bulging sack after another into the coal bunker.
“Do you make the coal,” I asked?
“Why are you all black?”
So many questions. He closed the door to the coal bunker, rolled up the empty sacks and stuffed them under his coat. I laughed at his big tummy. He asked me my name and I told him. He asked me how old I was and I proudly pronounced I was two. I asked him where the coal came from. He told me if I came with him, he would show me. He held out his hand and asked me if I would like to go with him. I took his hand without a moment’s hesitation and we walked out the back door together.
Nanny and my mother were waiting for us at the front door. Nanny thanked the coal man for helping her with this experiment. She handed him an envelope and a package covered in waxed paper. The coal man thanked Nanny for her generosity, doffed his cap and said he was glad to help.
Turning to my mother, he said,” You have a beautiful little girl there Missus. Very friendly, full of the chat and not afeared of anything.”
My mother nodded at the coal man in stunned silence. The coal man winked at me as he turned and walked back to his horse and coal laden cart.
Nanny turned to my mother, “You see I told you," she said wagging her finger sternly.
"You need to be ever watchful of that child. She has no fear. If a strange man covered in black coal dust didn't frighten her nothing will. She might wander off with anyone who catches her interest or tells her a story that fascinates her. New York is a big city, with many dangers. You must be diligent and ever watchful.”
I look at the photos of this brave and fearless child that once was me and wonder where did that fearlessness go. If I could find a fraction of that fearlessness and tap into it today, what might I be able to achieve.