Tralee Life Life In An Irish Town


Back to School

Sunday evening we had a surprise visitor. Rose, Fred’s teacher from school called around to deliver a ‘get well soon’ card from all his classmates. A sheet of A3 hard paper folded in two; apparently it had been designed by Jayden. On the cover were cut-outs of hand drawn Godzillas and dinosaurs, with a big ‘Get Well Soon Freddie’ at its centre. Jayden knows our Fred. Inside all the class had written little messages of goodwill. It really was the sweetest card and Freddie loved it. Usually he dismisses a card and looks for the real present but not this time, he was genuinely taken aback by it. When she had called, Fred had managed to slip on his new ‘Granddad Jimmy’ boots and now he proudly showed them to Rose. She was suitably impressed.

Those boots have gone everywhere Fred went all week. When I wake him in the morning, there are the boots beside the bed, cuddle him under a blanket on the couch and he’s wearing them, at breakfast in the morning they are under the table. If he could he would have worn them to school, Lisa and I had to draw the line at that one but he does love the boots. When we were preparing dinner during the week Fred kept walking around the kitchen, stopping to look at his reflection in the cooker or fridge door...

“What are you doing?” I asked, getting frustrated by nearly falling over him at every turn.

“Practising walking like Granddad Jimmy,” Fred answered as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

On Monday he had a fight with his mother as he wanted to wear shorts going out in the car, so he wouldn’t have to worry about tucking longer legs into the boots. The mother won for once but I think only when sending the boots back was threatened.  Our Fred and his figaries, when he gets something in his head that’s it, and he certainly pushes the limits of his mother’s legendary patience.

With all the recent disruptions Fred’s sleep has been all over the place. By Monday it was only four days since he’d been under anaesthetic and during that time he’d been falling asleep most afternoons. We’d decided that he was well enough in himself to go back to school Tuesday, even if he wasn’t keen on himself...

“I can’t go back to that school, I’m too tired,” was the response to Lisa mentioning it.

I bumped into Denise in town and told her we’d be back the next morning. She said they’d be delighted and especially so Jayden. Lisa had said to Jayden’s Mum that Fred may be back Monday and all that morning Jayden had been looking for Fred. If someone came to the classroom Jayden would look expectantly and the longer the morning went, the more worried the poor boy got about his friend.  But all day Fred pulled the tired card, dozing when he could and yawning continuously. However when I went to bed that night he was awake and he was still awake at 12.45am...

“Go to sleep, Fred,” I ordered...

“I am asleep, look my eyes are closed, look,” he answered lying on his back, hands clasped on his chest looking the picture of innocence. He began to list the movies he’d watched all day, eyes still closed, how they’d made him laugh. I let him talk to try get it out of his system.

At 1.05am he rolled over on his side, a sure sign that sleep was on the way. He left out a long, deep breath as if surrendering, and said “night my Dad.”  In a way it felt as if that was the end of the surgery intervention, the next morning he would be back at school and normality could resume.

In the morning a sleepy boy came down for breakfast. We all ate and by 8.05am Lisa and Ruby were out the door. Fred and I took our time; Lisa had washed him from top to bottom the previous night, so all we had to do was get dressed. We set off at our usual time and arrived at school just as Jayden was getting out of his car.

The look of joy on Jayden’s face. A smile as wide as Cork Harbour was all I could see as he walked across the yard. Fred, conscious of being the centre of attention, had his head down but looked up to get the big welcome back from all the class. He had the big bandage on his neck to show off and for once he didn’t seem to mind the eyes of everyone on him. Denise settled him into his seat and I went back to my vigil in the car.

It was as if nothing had ever happened. What a boy. That evening he came home with a special, private drawing from Jayden, wishing him well.

Wednesday evening and the two of us are sitting on the couch. Fred goes off and asks his Mum for the Playdough and a tray...

“What are you going to do with that?” I asked.

“You’ll see,” was the mysterious answer.

After an age of chopping and rolling Fred produced his masterpiece. Up he climbed beside his mother, holding the tray away until he was settled...

“Ta dah!” he declared.

“What is it?”

“It’s a map of the world,” Fred said proudly.

He’d made shapes from the different colours and laid them out on the tray, like in an old fashioned atlas, showing the continents spread out in distinct shades.

“Wow!” Lisa and I both said, and it really was great.

“Where’s this? Lisa said, pointing to an island of blue.

“That’s where Jaws lives,” Fred explained and he continued with all the continents, linking them to his movie characters. The Lion King and Madagascar were in Africa, Jurassic Park safely on its own, Godzilla in what must be Japan and so on. Ingenious.

On Friday evening I had to deliver a parcel, it must have been nearly 8pm. I asked Fred if he wanted to come with me, something I wouldn’t have dared risk before.

“Sure,” he answered, jumping up and putting on the boots. It was cold out, a beautiful, clear starry night and Fred found his heavy winter coat too. In the car we drove over to the parcel depot, chatting and looking out at the night. When we finished I asked if he wanted to go through the centre of town, to see what was happening. Fred nodded, he was enjoying himself. We drove up a side street and just as we got to the top I slowed to let traffic past. Fred jumped with excitement...

“Look Dad,” he pointed to the street we were about to turn into, “Christmas lights!”

Sure enough it looked like they had switched on the lights. The previous night I’d driven Ruby and her friends across town and they weren’t on. They must have known Fred was out...

“Keep looking,” I said. As we were on a corner I didn’t know if the street was fully lit. Fred stared intently at the corner.

We turned into the street. It was aglow with beautiful lights.

“Wow! Look at that!” was all Fred could get out.

The first sight of Christmas lights is always spectacular. The traffic was heavy, we didn’t mind, driving slowly; looking at the different lights was just wonderful. Fred’s face was up against the window, pointing at the different shapes...”look at the snowflakes, look there’s Santa, more snowflakes.”

A couple of years ago we’d done the same journey, just before Christmas week. That time though we were on the way to hospital with Fred in a cluster, Lisa and I crying. That this time Fred and I were just out on a drive made it even more special for me.

Saturday morning I took Fred over to the doctor’s to get the stitches taken out. We waited in the surgery and when our time came Fred strode in, happy to be getting the bandages off. The doctor put him up on the examination couch and Fred pulled up his top.  Fred is proud of his war wounds. The bandage came off easily enough showing a row of stitches, covering a very neat cut of about four inches across his left breast. Fred looked at the scissors and the blade the doctor now had in his hand.

“What are you doing?” he wasn’t so sure now.

“The doctor is taking out your stitches,” I reassured him.

The doctor pulled up the first knot with the scissors so as to cut it with the blade.

“Oh my Jesus!” Fred shouted. “Ow!”

I don’t know what the others in the Waiting Room thought but I was trying not to laugh. It was all over in seconds, the bandages on his neck and chest replaced by plasters which will come off in the next couple of days. All in all it went easily enough.

Back home Fred waited for Ruby’s friends who were coming in for a sleepover. Six of them were due, Fred was beside himself. When they all arrived he welcomed them all in and showed the uninitiated among them his Godzilla movies.

At one stage, as I was making dinner, I looked into see what was happening. The girls were busy chatting and looking at fashion websites. Fred though had eased one way from the crowd and had her making Playdough shapes. There he was on the couch, boots on, surrounded by beautiful girls, chatting and having fun while dinner was being cooked.

Heaven for any man but especially our Fred.

Richly deserved too.





Posted by John Verling

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