It is a Tuesday afternoon, just after 3 o’clock. For some reason not at school on that day, the 11 year-old girl is in the kitchen with her mother who is preparing dinner for brothers who are about to return home from school. Suddenly there are shrieks from children leaving another school across the road, and looking out the window they see children covering their faces and running. Her mother runs out to see what is going on. Within seconds there is a chilling scream that causes her to run to the front door too. There she meets her mother coming in, carrying her baby brother, blood pouring from the side of his little blonde head. Her mother is screaming : ”The baby is dead; the baby is dead; the baby is dead , the baby is dead.” Frozen together in the hallway, she touches the limp body in her mothers arms; she tries to wipe the blood out of his hair and feels it warm and mixed with gravel, flowing through her fingers. She wipes her hand on her red and white striped dress.
Back in April I read a very poignant post on the wonderful blog site Seeking Susan ~ Meeting Marie ~ Finding Family. It was a surprising and pain filled post about the loss of a son from measles. Here she wrote about remembering her baby on his birthday, many years later. It occurred to me then that perhaps babies are often not remembered in the same way as parents, grandparents etc., other than by bereaved parents.
I wondered about writing this post after that, but then changed my mind several times, thinking it would be too morose.
This morning at 6 am I had just woken up when my sister from Australia texted me: ‘Is Canice’s Anniversary today?’ Again I thought about the blog, and again decided against. Some hours later when I logged in to my PC there was a post from Jean Tubridy, wonderful writer of the blog Social Bridge, who wrote here about memory and remembering those we have lost. Quoting Melvyn Bragg remembering his late mother she wrote: ”My mother is secure, in the future, in my memory. And she’ll be secure in my children’s memories. And although she might fade in their memories. I’ll be secure in their memories and I’ll carry that memory and it will pass on like that. So there is that sort of future, which is interesting to think about.”
It was after reading this that I decided that I ought to go ahead with the post. Too many signs – and who would remember a baby that they never knew, who had not had his own children to remember him, who had never known his nieces and nephews, whose footprint in life was so miniscule that only his immediate family, the closest of those to him, can possibly remember.
I was the 11-year-old whose baby brother, Canice John Gallagher, the youngest of 6 in our family, died on June 30 1959 at the age of 15 months. Born on 31st March 1958, he was a happy little baby, but had been teething in the past few weeks,which made him grumble a little. He had a little blue rubber duck that he loved when in his bath. He had just had a new pair of trousers – beautiful little striped red and yellow and green shorts and had little brown leather shoes, with the toes well-worn from creeping along! Not yet able to walk, Canice had apparently crawled out onto the road and under a lorry that was parked in front of our house. When it moved off he was killed instantly.
The next 24 hours are almost a total blur, but I crept into the sitting room when there was no one around to look at him in the little white coffin, resting on top of the Singer sewing machine. The funeral took place the following day and every week afterwards, usually on a Thursday, my mother prepared bunches of flowers for his grave and I cycled to the graveyard with them. I protested regularly, to no avail. Sometimes I would have to go looking for the flowers on my bike – there were a few deserted and abandoned old cottages that had beautiful roses, and I would pick these and she would tie them into a bunch and I would put them on his grave. This pattern continued for over 2 years until I went to boarding school.
Years later, after my mother died, we were replacing the headstone on the grave and I decided to look for death certificates. I was shocked to be told that there was no death certificate for Canice as his death had never been registered!
So today, 54 years after the event, he is remembered with love, and with as much grief as on the day that we lost him. His little blue duck and his little brown leather shoes are in my drawer.
Fortunately, we had a very rare family photograph taken just days before he died, so we have his picture, his duck his shoes, and above all his memory, to treasure.
Today too we remember the kind and gentle man who was the driver of the lorry – he was totally blameless and unaware of what had happened, but his life, like ours, changed forever on 30 June 1959.