Some kids have a certain cheekiness that I am a little jealous of, even if one or two sometimes take it too far. I was never so bold as the little man in my featured image and while the old fogey in me says, isn’t he very bold’ there is another old fogey in me cracking up at his cheek and admiring his confidence. Some people get that knocked out of them all too early in life. Perhaps my greatest life achievement was making it past the age of ten without doing myself some serious damage. On reflection, while I was hardly the most wild child, I took risks which were to say the least, worthy of a sharp sucking of air through the teeth or at the very least a girding of one’s loins.
Window breaking seemed to play a bigger part in my life than it really should have. My neighbour, my brother and my cousin were all responsible for breaking our windows, demonstrating with a varying degree of failure their lack of sporting prowess. A golf Ball, a stone and a football, all managed to get me in trouble at the hands of others. ME! Just because I was the only child left to face my mother when the damage was done. I never broke even one window in our house, but I was the one who ended up ‘waiting until my father got home.’
Mind you, I did break a massive collection of car windows, parked out the back of the local police station when I was eight, but that was an entirely different story involving two rather large policemen, a peeing in my little boy short trousers, and the biggest scare of my young life. I was just an innocent you understand, but listen, like I said- that’s a whole other story.
I was a good boy really, for the most part – usually. We played games that were… well let’s just say, maybe not the type of games I would have let my kids play for fear of losing them young. They were different times. I walked the plank – literally, and at a fair height off the ground. My buddy and I used to stand at the back of our garden shed’s roof– a large, single-story, flat roof affair, and race across the roof to jump off and see who could land furthest away. I walked every metal railings I could, trying to execute a triple salchow on dismount. How I still have an intact set of testicles I really don’t know.
One of our favourite games was to build a fort at the end of our garden, using whatever scrap we could, and there was always plenty of that to find about the place in those days. We built it as solid as possible then one of us – the designated lone cavalry soldier, would hide inside shooting at the others who were of course Apache, as they tried to belly crawl through the scrub to attack. They would be shot many times but there were rules.
No one could just run straight at the fort, getting shot that way was just something you couldn’t come back from. Zig zagging from one piece of cover to another was fine. You could get winged, in fact for effect it was almost expected if not preferable, to dramatically spin out of a gunshot when hit in the arm. A good belly crawl, especially if you could go so slow so as to remain unnoticed until the last minute, was always a winner. Bear in mind, the lone soldier in the fort would only have limited visibility through one hole to shoot, and we generally tried to roof the fort even though that was technically not a fort. But the roof did have a very particular function.
You see, once the stand-off had lasted long enough and we had expended our energy fantasising about being part of a great wild west if not highly politically incorrect adventure, the attacking injuns would inevitable jump on top of the fort roof, to try and collapse the entire structure on top of the boy inside. Now I know it sounds cruel and dangerous, but this wasn’t some form of intricate abuse targeting one lad. We all took turns inside and that was strangely enough, the preferred place to be. The soldier you see, was the goodie and the injuns the baddies. In some twisted logic that only we understood in that exact time and place, there was a cost to playing the coveted role of goodie and some payoff for being the baddie. The goodie got to risk having his head caved in beneath the collapsing fort to and the baddies, got to cave it in. Trust me it made sense at the time.
While we played out such gentlemanly games, we learned lots and lots of things about life. We established rules, developed strategies of fairness and tethered natural boyish aggression within the ‘safe’ confines of our play. We never overstepped the mark and really didn’t want to hurt each other and we rarely did, despite the barbarity of some of our games.
But perhaps the biggest danger was from the less obvious risks we took. Playing where we were banned from, fording giant puddles 60 feet wide at the back of the local cinema, pretending it was the crocodile infested Zambezi river, or rolling in the grass in the local grasslands we called ‘The California Hills’ despite the fact they were deep in the heart of suburban Dublin, were all things that could lead to a torn item of clothing or perhaps,ruining a good pair of shorts through staining when falling into the muddy waters of the Zambezi. There, truly lay the greatest danger.
For in a time when money was scarce, we didn’t understand the pressure that our parents, particularly our mothers faced in trying to make ends meet, for they were the true keepers of the books. While I thought nothing of destroying a jumper (sweater for my American friends), my mother would go through me for a shortcut if it was unrepairable. I remember wearing my sisters socks to school because I had destroyed my last pair of clean ones traversing the Niagara falls on a tight rope when I was seven. No one knew I was wearing them except for my mother and I but OH, the humiliation! I don’t even want to go near the day I had no fresh underwear!… I said…let’s not go there!
So you can imagine that given the importance of not destroying our clothes, the day I had an accident at school, life became somewhat immersive. I was six years old and things became a little loose in the digestive department. Back then we had no phones at home and my teacher couldn’t contact our house directly. I lived about a mile from school so the lovely Ms O’Sullivan, sent me home with a chaperone who lived on the same road as me – so I wouldn’t get lost. While I was only six and we had one major and multiple minor roads to cross, those were different times, so it was quite acceptable to send a sick little mite like me home from school. Back then married women were not allowed to work in Ireland (I know WTF!) Well my God what a trauma.
Half way home my bowels took control and began to decide that what was inside my tiny little tummy, simply had to come out via the rear exit.. on an express train. Bear in mind I was wearing shorts, so I knew that if I couldn’t hold back nature, then the whole world would know my shame. It was one thing to be touching cloth, an entirely different shenanigan to be risking a veritable public shaming.
In panic, I skirted through the relative quiet of the church grounds, clenching like my life depended on it, no other thought in my little head but to get home to my mammy. I schooched through the church grounds and out the side gate, leggin’ it up the access lane at the back of the shops. The lane was always empty so no one could see me and I had to keep stopping to grab myself (my little bottom to be exact) in order to try and stop the inevitable deluge.
From the end of the lane to my house was a 4oo yard dash onto the main street and around the corner. It would be busy, filled with bescarfed women doing their daily shop as they were wont to do back in the day. If only I could hold it together for just another three or so minutes, I was sure I could make it home.
Ten yards before the end of the lane my world fell apart. I couldn’t stop it. Looking back I don’t know how I managed to make it that far. I was so tiny. I felt the explosive burst and the warmth of my shame instantly ran down the back of my legs. My chaperone grabbed his nose, called me a name and simply abandoned me for fear of association with the mess I had become. I wanted to cry, but I was stranded and alone, still having to face stepping out from the privacy of the laneway, into the busy street to make it to my house. There was no way to do this without the world witnessing the horror of me. I felt the moist sludge gather at the back of my left sock which had rolled down to my ankle. The smell was horrendous and I welled up.
I recall grabbing my mop of blonde hair at the front of my head with both hands and tugging at it, angry with myself for not being able to control what was of course beyond the control of a six year old boy. But it didn’t matter I still felt angry and devastated.
I stood there for a few moments and then from somewhere found the strength to carry on. I stepped out onto the street and turned left. The main road was just yards ahead and there was a steady stream of passers-by, so I gulped down the lump in my throat, wiped away the tear that threatened at the corner of my eye, and with my skinny little shoulders back, strode like a mighty, devastated colossus into the fray.
I kind of knew that I couldn’t do it, even though I was doing it as the thought crossed my mind. My little heart was frantically thumping in my chest and I could hear it in my ears. With every step, more of the mess that was my humiliation seeped slowly from the back of my shorts and down my little boy legs. But then I saw my mother. Like a miracle vision there she was and being my mother, she could pick me out from fifty yards. She knew my every dimple, the shape of my head, the shimmy of my walk and she stopped dead in her tracks, knowing full well I shouldn’t be standing there at this time of day. I registered the puzzlement of her face but her face… it broke my resolve and the tears exploded in relief. My saviour, my blessed relief.. I ran to her crying, not caring that the world could see me now for she would take that all away.
She swept me up in her arms not expecting her favourite coat to be destroyed in the process but on registering the problem, not caring. I doubt I ever cried so hard and she carried me home without a word. She was the real giant in my life. She made everything better. She clipped my little arse for hanging with boys who broke our windows, or for ruining my Sunday shoes. But she loved me when and how it mattered and carried me on her shoulders when she stood by my side. She was fearless, she was mighty and I thought of her today for no particular reason, a long lost, kind and wonderful soul, I hope I carry her tide with me, I hope I shine for her in her absence…
Haven’t read a Max Power book yet? I think it’s time to pick one up.
Max Power’s books include, Darkly Wood, Darkly Wood II The woman who never wore shoes, Larry Flynn, Bad Blood and Little Big Boy
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