The Thoughtful son
The Thoughtful Son
It was a couple of days after my mother's funeral that all the
shameful, grieving childhood memories of bereavement came back to me. I
was the hero returned. The successful one. At least in my mother's eyes
I was. A moderate managerial job had been blown out of proportion as
she described my life to her friends and neighbours who now perhaps
wondered as they peered from behind closed netted curtains at my taxi
drawing up outside our family home, why this was my first time back in
Ireland in over seven years.
The unlocked front door allowed me, without announcement, to enter the
house and once again climb the narrow staircase. From the upper landing
I stood back on the thinning carpet and watched my older brother Frank
busily clearing out the back room. Frank was always the practical one,
always thinking ahead. Earlier in the morning when I was ordering a
late breakfast in my hotel room, he was on the telephone arranging the
delivery of a rubbish skip. One that would be big enough to hold all
the old, now worthless furniture. I would never have thought of that. I
suppose my mother was lucky to have at least one thoughtful son, one
that could happily marry an approved likeness and live close enough to
visit. However the lack of grandchildren did cause silent
A cough was enough to announce my arrival and after my brother and I
had politely exchanged salutations he directed me to the attic.
Spitefully,I thought, he had saved this dusty part of the house for me.
The attic was pitch dark and the absence of an electric light made it
seem cold; too cold for this warm summer's day. As well as a small
torch Frank had given me a candle and some matches. I was relieved when
I lit the candle to find that the attic was almost empty save a single
tea chest and one or two old bags. I did not like the unnatural
coolness of the attic and decided to complete my work as quickly as
possible. Without any genuine care I began to fill the large black bin
bags. I had most of the rubbish from the tea chest bagged when to my
delight I came across my 1970 ESSO world cup coin collection. It was
the only piece of my own personal past that I actually found among the
rubbish in that cold attic. Fascinated I opened up the outer cover as
once again l examined the metal profiles of the players. Magically I
returned to my childhood.
"Vincent...Vincent, hurry up and get down here."
I could hear our Frank calling me but I didn't want to go. I didn't
like the house when all my aunts and uncles were visiting. Some of them
touched and patted me on the head and they all talked about me as if I
wasn't there. It made me feel stupid. If my Aunt Pauline was visiting I
knew that she would try to get me to sing. She thought this cute. But I
hated it and when I refused my mother would give me one of her silent,
disappointed looks. No. If I pretended not to hear him then I wouldn't
have to go. Anyway I was too grown up for all that now. I would stay
here under the bed with my torch and football coin set.
I played endlessly with my coins, looking at them, taking them out,
turning them in my hand and then replacing them in their blue display
folder. They were wonderful, each one of them was bright, shinny and
new. I knew, of by heart, exactly where each one of them went. I also
knew their every little tarnish or flaw. The bright blue folder, along
with my first coin, the keeper Gordan Banks, had been a present from my
uncle Tony. He had started me off. Since then I had managed to coax my
father to use only ESSO petrol and as the weeks passed I added more and
more to my collection, the Charltons, Bobby and Jackie, Astel, Stiles,
Osgood, Cooper, Mullary, Ball, Bell and Sadler. But my hero Bobby Moore
was still missing. Eventually he was the only one I needed to complete
my collection. He was the hardest to get. My da had asked the old man
at the garage for him by name. He said that he hadn't even seen the
Bobby Moore coin yet and winking down at me as a show to my da,
promised to keep me one if any came in.
Then my Da went into hospital to undertake what my mother described as
a very serious operation. Playing in our back garden I had overheard
part of a conversation between her and our neighbour Mrs. McGrath. My
mother was busy telling her all about about my Da's heart complaint and
his operation. But when Mrs. McGrath noticed me she nudged my mother
who then stopped talking about him, instead she began to talk loudly
about an incident of great importance that had happened in Coronation
Street the night before. Even at that early age I knew that they just
didn't want me to hear their conversation. I remember running out of
the garden to allow them their privacy. I knew what surgery meant but
it honestly didn't interest me. It wasn't that I didn't care about him.
I did. Before my Da went to hospital he told me that I was to be a good
boy. "I don't want to hear any bad reports." He said in his friendly
When he was in for his operation, my mother didn't keep her usual
check on me and I found that I was able to slip away from the house for
longer without her noticing. I was able to go up to the garage at the
top of Woodfield Park and back without her noticing that I had been out
of our street. She seemed too preoccupied to worry about me.
Nevertheless I always came away from the garage with the same negative
reply. Moore hadn't come in yet but as soon as he did he would be put
aside for me. This standard answer did not change until my last visit.
It was on this last journey to the garage that I met another boy out of
my class at school. I knew that he didn't live in this area.
"What are you doing up here?" I asked him after we had noticed each
other and drifted together.
"I'm heading up to Keenan's garage." He answered with a sound of
importance. " Old Jimmy who works the petrol pumps said that he was
going to keep me some football coins for my collection. I've only one
more to get."
"Which one?" I asked stopping.
"Moore" I thought shocked. But the garage owner had promised Moore to
me. I didn't know that Petesy O'Neill was collecting them. I tried to
"I only need Moore as well." I snapped angrily.
"I didn't know you collected them?" Petesy said.
"Aye I do, an' the man in the garage promised me Bobby Moore as soon as
it comes in."
"Well we'll see." Petesy said confidently as he began to walk
"Aye so we will." I asserted following.
Neither of us spoke again as we marched briskly up to the garage.
Frank, on his knees pulled me from under the bed. "Didn't you hear me
calling you." He shouted. "Why didn't you come down.?"
His angry gaze lifted off me and rested on my coin collection. He
lifted it and using both hands tried to tear it. But it was too strong
for him, some of the coins spilled out onto the bedroom floor. Finally
in his frustration, he thrust the damaged blue folder at the
"What did you do that for?" I screamed at the top of my voice. Without
replying he slapped me hard on the side of the face. I quickly raised
my hand to my painful cheek and closed my crying eyes. When I
eventually opened them again our Frank was sitting on my bed; he was
crying too. He had his hands up to his face.
"Daddy's dead Vincent."
Confused I sat down on beside him and silently watched him cry. I knew
his thoughts would be full of my father. I tried to join him but
quickly I grew bored and began looking around the room. My restless
eyes settled on the scattered coins and remembered the garage.
"Aye but if it does come in who gets it?" I said to the old man.
"Him of course." He replied pointing at Petesy.
"But you promised it to me. You told my da you'd save it for me."
"Aye, well his da buys petrol son, I'm sorry."
I spun around and looked at Petesy. But dropped his eyes. The old man
turned to return to his work as he did he spoke again, "No petrol, no
coins. I'm sorry son, But that's the rules."
Our solitude on the bed was disturbed by my Aunt Eileen. She came into
my room and sat on the bed between us. She put her arms around us and
silently held us close.
"Would you like to stay with your uncle Tony and me for a few days?
Vincent? Up in our house?"
"Aye brilliant," I answered immediately. Then after a moment's
reflection I asked her if it would be okay for me to bring my coin
collection. I really wanted my uncle Tony to see it.
"Certainly son." She said as she bent down and kissed me tenderly on
I loved staying at their house, they didn't have any children and
always treated me as their own. They never tired of my endless
requests. Any child would have loved staying with them. My Aunt and
Uncle were always very kind to me and to help me get over the trauma of
my father's death they bought me a new gun, that fired real pellets,
and some new clothes especially for the funeral. My uncle Tony even
passed a few different Garages to buy extra petrol in an ESSO station
in the unsuccessful hope that I could get Bobby Moore.
I was taken directly from my Aunts house to the church for my father's
funeral. Inside all my relatives were gathered and they whispered to
each other as I walked to my mother who sat up at the alter beside my
father's coffin. When she saw me she hugged me tightly and her red eyes
began again to cry. Her pain ran down my face and wet the collar of my
new shirt. She wept all through the service. Two of my aunts had to
support her as she rose to her feet during the service. They stayed
beside her as we tramped behind the coffin on it's short journey to the
graveyard. When we turned from the Antrim Road to Woodfield Park I was
thinking of the last time I had visited my father in hospital and how
he had again asked me to behave myself. I remembered him reaching over
from the starched hospital bed to gently brush his oversized fist along
my cheek as he spoke. This was his way of showing affection to me. Even
in hospital when he was sick he seemed strong and powerful to me.
But as the funeral cortege approached the top of the hill I could only
think about the old man at the garage. He was standing at the side of
his petrol pumps. Respectfully he removed his cap. I kept my eyes
firmly on him but he did not notice me. My uncle Tony at my side
totally overshadowed me. As the cortege slowly passed I noticed my
school friend petesy. He was walking to the garage. I had to completely
turn around and walk backwards to see him properly. He pulled on the
old man's work apron. I kept watching them as the old man dipped into
his pocket and give something to the boy. At that moment I hated them
both. I knew it was my Bobby Moore coin. I felt my eyes well. Turning
away from the garage I looked at my mother. She was walking directly
behind the coffin. I went to her and took her free hand. Immediately
she pulled me close. I needed her comfort. My face was pulled into her
waist and in my sorrow I allowed myself to cry. My mother slowed her
walk and put both of her hands on my face. Her eyes were puffed and
"Get it out son, don't you be afraid to cry. Just let it out. You'll
Even in her grief she had time to comfort me. As we gathered up pace
again my Aunt Eileen took my hand and resumed her link with my
"That's the first he's cried now." She said quietly to my mother."It'll
do him good to get it out."
"Ah. Eileen, He's a good lad our Vincent." My mother added drawing me
back in close to her again.
"Didn't you hear me calling you?" Frank asked." I called you a couple
"No I was day dreaming. Some of this stuff fairly brings back
memories." I said handing him the football collection.
"God I remember this." He said opening the blue cover. "And look
they're all still there. A full set. I'm sure it would be worth a few
"Not to me." I said tearing the already creased collection in
half."Some things are best forgot." Frank did not question my action.
When I tossed it into the rubbish bag he simply tied it and lifted it
onto his shoulder. I tied and lifted the other bag and joined him. At
the entrance of the attic we both stopped and reflectively looked
"You done a good job there Vincent."
Without answering I blew out the candle and returned the attic to its