Landscapes of Memory
by Perry McDaid
The first time I saw our new home, I was buzzing with excitement. There was a football pitch beside us where the children were allowed to play, and what looked like a mains leak proved to be an overflowing burn which gurgled between a break in the houses offering a glimpse of a woody lane.
I wanted to explore immediately, but mother insisted she check the lay of the land first, saying hello to the neighbours and sifting through the small talk for vital information on where children were allowed to play: the grass of the park near our previous one-room home being off-limits to children, and the parkie wasn’t shy of laying about himself with an old blackthorn stick.
I didn’t mind the delay. There was such a lot of garden at the front and gable of our house that it dizzied me. Francis street – our old hovel – had a front door which would have brushed the pedestrians off the pavement had it opened outwards, and the only greenery was either off-limits inside the gates of Brooke Park and Saint Eugene’s Cathedral grounds or on the dinner plates.
In this comparative palace there was plenty to roll about in, play in, and… Good God, there was a back garden as well. I had to run indoors and exit via a back door to make sure it was ours as well. It was only later that I registered having the space to run indoors. At the bottom of what seemed a huge garden was a pond … A POND.
It wasn’t fancy or installed; it was just surface seepage from the houses up the street. Rain would pool there because of topography, not financial investment. All manner of beetles swam in that pond and various insects skimmed or hummed over the surface.
This was a new world to me. I stumbled, the blue sky, green earth and limpid pond threatening to spin. Next thing I knew I was sitting in the kitchen with diluted orange in my hands being instructed to ‘take a good glug’. The mother neighbour was chatting confidentially to my own as she hovered around me. I was sitting. That was good.
“Our May went through the same thing when we first came up – she was sick for a week.”
“Were you stung?” My mother pulled at my clothes embarrassingly, looking for a welt at the neck, waist and thigh. Short trousers.
I shook my head, immediately regretting it.
“God, the inquisition I put our May through about that. No matter how many times she said no–”
“What is it?”
“Oh I sorry, I forgot how frantic I got back then. It’s the air, dear.”
“It’s so much cleaner and richer up here – that’s what the doctor told me – that their wee lungs aren’t used to it. It’s like hyperventilating!”
There was a lot more conversation after that, but I was too busy trying to finish off the juice before surrendering to the sudden tiredness.
“Overexcited as well, he reckoned,” the neighbour continued. “He’ll be alright in an hour or so. They just have to take it slow.”
Her words faded into my dream of exploration beneath the leafy boughs of the sycamore, oak, and poplar I had noticed at the bottom of that mysterious lane. I wondered what it would feel like to paddle up through the little brook to the hills beyond.
I wondered … and slept.