Friday, June 20, 2008
Anything more than fifty years ago sounds like a L-O-N-G time ago. And yet I can remember June 21st.1954 with amazing clarity. At least part of it. The part where I had the temerity to leave my desk in Miss McCarthy's Senior Infants class and walk, unbidden, to the teacher's desk. Because I had very exciting news to impart.
"Miss McCarthy," I said, "I have a new baby sister!"
I obviously thought that a person with such stupendous news would be excused for breaking the rule against leaving her desk without permission.
As it turned out, I was wrong.
"Molly Bawn," said my teacher crisply, "Go back to your desk at once!"
I must have stood there, stupidly, stammering, and blushing with shame, as I tried to absorb the fact that a new baby sister, while earth shaking and life changing for me, was of no interest to Miss McCarthy.
Maybe she was having a bad day.
Or maybe she'd had a fight with her boyfriend.
Or maybe she'd slept through the Be Nice To Little Children 101 class in teacher training college.
Or maybe she was the incarnation of the devil.
Whatever she was, I got through the remainder of Senior Infants--it was late June so summer holidays were at hand, and in September I'd be in First Class, one of the Big Kids up in the Primary School,leaving the likes of Miss McCarthy and ear-pulling, cheek-pinching Sister Mary Gillen to traumatise a new batch of Babies and Senior Infants!
Since then I have often been wrong, but I don't think being wrong has ever been so devastating as in that moment in Senior Infants when I was just six years old.
Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I don't remember any more about the incident. I was a shy child. The incident did not make me any less so, of that I am sure. I had proof positive that my life was of no consequence to someone who loomed as large in my life as the teacher I spent my days with.
I would have been interested to meet Miss McCarthy as a grownup. Would I have liked her? I think not. Little incidents reveal a person's character, and even if it were not me she'd been so mean to, I would despise a person who could stomp all over the trust of a child, and then grind her heel in it!
Miss McCarthy's reaction to my news could not diminish my delight in having a baby sister for long though. I already had a baby brother. Boring. I was ready for someone like me. I needed reinforcements. Every afternoon mum bundled her up in the pram and put her out in the garden for her daily dose of sunshine, or at least fresh air. My friends and I could peek in at her and coo at her, but were given dire warnings about what would happen to us if any harm came to her due to high jinks on our part.
Six years is a gaping gap. She wasn't quite ready that summer to ride bicycles with me, or toss a rubber ball endlessly off the kitchen wall, or go exploring down Barry's field, or play jump rope with me. We tolerated each other and co-existed more or less peacefully throughout our childhood. In our teens she became the bane of my life. If I had a nice piece of clothing she would inevitably borrow it and incur my wrath, which didn't scare her in the least.
But the full import of that day in June, back in the fifties, has only become obvious in the last decade or so. It was the day my best friend was born.
Happy Birthday, Rise!