Sunday, 27 December 2009

The Lawlor family expands

.On a very snowy Sunday, on January 16th 1944, the twins were born. My new sisters Patricia and Elizabeth or as they were always called, Pat and Betty. At the age of 5 years, I remember I had to guide my father to a friend of my mother who, in case of an emergency, had promised to be with her at the birth. My mother’s friend would assist the midwife. This lady’s name was Myra Thomas and yes she was a Welsh lady. Myra lived about a mile away and my father had no idea how to reach her. Looking back now, I feel this was the start of my growing up quickly. Even from such an early age my mother relied on me heavily. We collected Aunty Myra, as she was known. In passing, and just to digress, she would always use Evening of Paris perfume and, being conscious of her appearance, visited the hairdresser every week. Whenever the perfume bottles were almost empty she would pass them on to me. She was a very good friend to my mother, but for matters which I will relate later, not always a very good influence.

The twins were born sometime on the Sunday morning; it was a normal delivery. I can remember an ambulance arriving at the house and one little bundle in a big red blanket being carried down the stairs and driven off to the hospital. It was Betty; she had swallowed some mucus, which happens quite regularly at births. I think it was Selly Oak Hospital to which she was taken, she was given a stomach wash and was home within 24 hours, none the worse for the emergency. My parents would have had to pay for the treatment as there was no National Health Service in those days.

Moving on to the birth of my other siblings, in April 1945 the next addition to the family was Brian and in December 1947 along came Dennis. I was so looking forward to the Christmas of that year because I had a longing for a toy baby-doll, just after Dennis was born he was placed in my arms and that was the nearest I ever came to receiving the baby-doll.

So now the family had increased to six children and two adults. The house we were in comprised one room downstairs, which contained a range, a gas stove and a sink. Our furniture included a table, chairs and a big sofa stuffed with horsehair. I can remember the sofa being very itchy to sit on. The only other piece of furniture was a very high sideboard or, as my mother would call it, ‘a press’. The twins were placed side by side for a while in a basket on the top of the press, as later were the other siblings. I presume as they got older, during the day they would be tucked into the twin pram. I do not remember any nursery furniture, such as high chairs or any other baby equipment. Remembering the house, the upstairs was very big, why we did not make more use of it as living accommodation I do not know, other than the cost of heating or furnishings and of course at the time it was necessary to have coupons even to buy furniture. The house had three double bedrooms and a fourth bedroom, which had been converted into a bathroom. Now, when I say converted into a bathroom, I mean a bath was plumbed in at the far end of this enormous room. In what had previously been a cupboard or closet, a toilet had been fitted; there was nothing else in that large room.

Brian, Joan, Betty, Pat & Kevin

Unfortunately we could not afford the cost of hot water to heat our baths, so the bathroom was just used as a walk-through to reach the small room, which contained the toilet. I can remember using the bath just to play in the cold water. Our recreation included paddling in the bath. As my mother had no other means of washing, she would place the soiled clothes in the bath and give them a good dousing. She would always say “well at least they are water sweet”. As can be imagined, they were not the cleanest of clothes. Of course some of the clothing was heavy and hard to wash by hand. The room also had a clothes line stretched between the walls, as there was no other means of drying. As I have said, the upstairs was very big, there was a very long landing along which we would run. There was a deep step at the end of the landing and a further deep step into the bathroom. We would run and jump over the space from one step to the other. It must be remembered we did not have many toys and of course TV was years away, so we resorted to using our imaginations.

At times we did have our uncles visiting from Dublin, they would be looking for work and would come to stay with us. The one spare bedroom would be set-aside for them. Due to the bedrooms being so large, we had all the children’s beds and cots accommodated in one room. Regrettably we could not afford bed sheets or blankets, so we made do with army coats and various odd covers. When we did not have our uncles staying with us, for some unknown reason the vacant room became known as the empty room. Even though it was devoid of uncles, it became quickly filled with junk. Also it became our playroom but without toys. We used it as a meeting-room, and would pretend we were the Secret Seven, characters from the Enid Blyton books. Often it served as a theatre; we would put make-do curtains up and would perform concerts with other children invited in from the neighbourhood.

A cuddle from my father’s sister Kathleen in Dublin

Mother was always tolerant with the children, so this room was used as a communal playroom, there was nothing to damage and of course our house contained nothing of value. The only beautiful piece of furniture I can remember was my parent’s bed; it was definitely a king size, made from walnut and was beautifully carved, it had a wooden post at each corner. The house must have been let as partially furnished as the bed was in place when we moved in, as was the rest of the furniture. That is unless my father had furnished it before we arrived, which I would doubt. All the rooms upstairs were located over a shop; the single living room / kitchen was situated downstairs at the back of the shop. I remember two framed pictures hanging on the wall of the kitchen, one of a blacksmith shoeing a horse, the other a print of a famous work by Millets, ‘The Gleaners’. Thinking back over the years, I must have had an eye for artwork even at such an early age, I still remember them hanging on those drab dreary walls.

The attached shop was a wallpapering / paint business called “Decorwalls” and I would think it was a forerunner of the big DIY stores. We were allowed to go into the shop, as my mother made friends with the manageress and would spend many hours in there chatting. I suppose to us, at least to me, it was like an Aladdin’s cave of colours, with all the charts and books of wallpaper, which we were allowed to look through and touch. Often I would imagine lovely coloured paper pasted onto our walls. This same lady, whose name was Mrs O’Keefe, became a lifeline to my mother, as did other friends.


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