im Pat Boyle March 14th 1930 – May 9th 2008
If I had dared to imagine
trading, I might have wished to trade
places with anyone raised on love,
but how would anyone raised on love
bear this death.
In my childhood home there was a room of books left over
from my father’s days in Belfast, they were toys to us.
In hard linen jackets of primary reds and greens, they were building blocks
in the spare room, the one not needed yet for children, its bare shell walls
smelling thrillingly of plaster and of possibility. Not a library but piled
haphazardly on the floor they were a magic mountain in our eyes.
It was my favourite place to play, to go in there at night and ‘write’-
to scribble in their margins. It was if he no longer had need of them.
Those that made it onto shelves in later years were paperbacks and full
of optimism – Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People,
Teach Yourself to Swim, Teach Your Child to Read, How to Lay a Lawn,
and then a big regal- looking book, propped up and hidden in a velvet-lined
box that I was not supposed to find and that would eventually be lost
with all the others, on how make – the perfect Catholic marriage.
My father made his first garden in that house in Liggartown facing the Sperrins.
He named it Lynwood after a military march, my uncle’s was Belphegor.
Tiny bricks came out of red metal moulds like magic, like jellies.
He riddled the soil for stones like flour, the mixing of cement an alchemy
of sand and turpentine that made rainbow colours in the well and chimed
with the bubble in his spirit level. He planted swathes of Siberian orange wallflower perfumed for christenings and birthdays that lived up to its name
as the bee flower alive with sound. Michaelmas Daisies were September flowers
and Livingstones fascinated when their pastel petals went to bed at night
opening up to the sun like us each day. Peppery lupins we anthropomorphised
into characters we visited on our bikes around the lawns – the purple lupin
was the teacher’s house, the white the doctor’s. Lilac and flowering currant
were the smells of my May altar and we had baby gardens of polyanthus –
the word seeming to grow in me as much as the flower.
He bought that house from a jilted Orangeman who didn’t know that land
was not to be sold to Fenians and tried to buy it back. Maggie Henderson
was orange enough to make up for us – King Billy looming in her hall
and tea brewed for the ‘wee soldiers’ who set up checkpoints on the road.
Her quiet husband Hughie walked with the Black Men in August.
She kept cats that reeked and snoozed on the roof of her henhouse.
They said there were dead Franciscans under us – a medieval graveyard
but all we ever found were shards of willow pattern when we tried to dig
to China and the monastery overgrown at the turn of the river where we went
to play in the sheep tunnels under the railway lines. The Mc Cullaghs were our neighbours on the other side who arrived bedraggled one night in a storm when
the electricity off. They came from the mountains – ‘the Plum’. She had
a countrywoman’s disdain for pets and drowned the only kitten I ever owned.
I would sing on my swing and imagine that Paris lay beyond the hills.
© Maureen Boyle