Tralee Life Life In An Irish Town


Picking Blackas

When Fred’s epilepsy began to overtake out life, shocking us into almost a total retreat from day to day activities, Ruby kept us going. Her involvement in normal life, sports, dancing, having friends over kept the house alive and our focus off Fred’s condition. She still does it in her own way, keeping her parents on their toes but it hasn’t been an easy few years for her either. The changes have affected her just as much as it has affected us but she has dealt with it all with a maturity beyond her years. This week we had to break the news that she couldn’t keep going to school in Dingle, it has become inpracticable, but she understood and got on with the change. There were tears but mainly from her parents at having to ask her to change schools when she hadn’t done anything wrong and at her taking it so well. We’d been putting it off all summer, scared at upsetting her and ruining her holidays. Her response was to reprimand us for always leaving things to the last very true.

Earlier in the week Lisa and Ruby had gone to Waterford for the last time this summer. Rudi was going back to the US of A and the two were driving the Gaulke family to Shannon early Wednesday morning. This left Fred and me at home, a chance for the men to enjoy the last of the summer wine. Funnily enough when they left Monday afternoon I couldn’t think of a time before when Fred and I had two nights at home alone. Certainly not since the move to Tralee.

So after the last of the dancing girls left Tuesday morning and after we’d taken the empty champagne bottles to the recycling the two of us went to the library. Fred has become resigned to the hour of reading now, not that he doesn’t kick up a fuss, but he knows it’s a losing battle and all went well. His reading is much improved, though still he wanders off to Fredland looking out the window or staring off into the distance. I think we spent almost two hours there on Tuesday, me browsing, Fred drawing pictures and reading his books.

Back home we had lunch and afterwards Fred went out to play. The kids in the estate are younger than Fred and he tends to stay at the periphery but he is safe, which gives me a bit of time to work. When I was finished we went of picking blackberries. One of the strongest memories of my mother is the two of us setting off ‘up the fields’ to pick ‘blackas,’ as they were known. The sight of a blackberry juice stain can send me back over forty two years when all was ok with the world. With my father’s crooked walking stick we’d pull down the best branches at the top of the bushes and fill the big red mixing bowl before struggling home.

Fred was a bit sceptical of leaving the fun around Springwell Gardens but he came anyway. The two of us set off up the mountain roads behind Ballyard and our first job was to find the blackberry bushes. Fred, probably like most kids today, had no idea what we were looking for but when we found a good spot he got stuck in. The hunt for the fruit, trying to fill his bowl quicker than Daddy soon had him hooked. He had his wellies on but took off the gloves as they were slowing him down. Even after a few minutes he ignored the constant pricks of the thorns and concentrated on getting the fruit.

Once one spot was cleaned out we drove on to find other ones, Fred the lookout for the bushes. About two hours we spent up and down the little lanes, getting bemused looks from passing drivers but having great fun. Even when our bowls were nearly full Fred wanted to keep going and I think it was hunger in the end that got him home. The little man sat in the front seat proud as punch at our harvest and couldn’t wait to show Mummy when she came home.

The two of us had our dinner and settled in for the night. Before going to bed we went outside to look at the stars, Fred spotting the few that were out, as he does most nights. In bed I read him a story and as he turned over to go to sleep he said...



“I had fun today picking the blackberries.”

Such a simple little time but hopefully one that will stick in his memory.

When our two ladies came home on Wednesday Fred showed them the big bowl and they were suitable impressed.

Later I asked him to help with making the jam.

“No thanks, you do it,” was the response from the front room.

Mummy was home and she needed to be cuddled.

Yesterday all was forgotten though and Fred was banished to his room for the afternoon. A row had broken out between the two of us, culminating in his throwing a fair sized stone at me in a fit of anger. He was frog marched home and sent to bed. It took the three of us to get him up the stairs such was his anger, anger that came out of almost nothing.

Later when all had calmed down I asked him why he got so angry. It’s a worry of mine that Fred’s temper can boil over so quickly, though rarely, and that he can become so intransigent for the time it lasts. A lot I reckon is to do with frustration and boredom, of not being able to lead a normal life.

“The anger is in my head and my legs,” he answered me, “I can’t stop it.”

Getting back to school this week and mixing with the kids should help. There will be a special effort to get Fred involved again and maybe get more friends over. More routine and more play will help but also the two of us were working on anger control yesterday; maybe that will help too. As Fred gets older his frustrations will increase so there is a lot of work ahead of him.

I’ve said it before, but it’s not easy being a Fred.



Posted by John Verling

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