Elsie has just released a collection of short stories accompanied by verse on a variety of topics but mostly to do with human frailty and mortality. It is called 'Around the Kitchen Table and is available on Kindle
Here is one example about an Irish football player who relocated to Australia to play the national game but who died tragically young.
Our eldest brother Jimmy was king of the kids and we younger ones deferred to him in all things, so it was a sad day for the family when Jimmy left our home to go across the sea to Australia where he had been recruited to play football, not the Gaelic type but Australian Rules, which was similar in some ways but alien in many others. Men from that code had convinced my Pa that Jim could make a lot of money and be a star.
Mam was right against it and cried for days. “He’s just a lad. How can we send him miles away to live with strangers in a dry and horrible place where the spiders are as big as banshees? It makes my blood curdle just to think of them. They hide in the toilet at night and come out and bite you on the bum. And they have snakes as well. Snakes slither up behind you and fill you with poison. And what about the sharks? My Jimmy is only eighteen years old and belongs here with his family. When he grows up he can do as he likes but right now he is too young. He’s not going!”
“The lad has talent, Tess. He has to take this opportunity. We can’t stand in his way. If he stays here there is no future for him. GAA is an amateur competition, so he’ll be playing his heart out for nothing but glory. Mr Barassi has promised that if Jim goes and plays Australian Rules football for two years they will educate him and pay him six hundred thousand dollars. That’s three hundred thousand Euros. Can you imagine that? I’ve been a motor mechanic all my life and never earned half that money in all that time.”
“Money isn’t everything, Sean. In fact, too much of it can be a man’s ruination. At eighteen the lad is so vulnerable. He will get into drugs and drink too much alcohol. He needs to be with his family so we can guide him.”
“Our Jim is not like that. If he was going to be a drunkard, he’d be one already, Tess. Besides, Mr Barassi said that Jim can phone home once a week on a Sunday night, so you will still be able to talk to him.”
“Do they have telephones in Australia?” Mam was incredulous because that didn’t coincide with her vision of that far-off country. She still wasn’t convinced. She prayed to the Blessed Virgin, lit candles and knelt before the Sacred Heart.
“Please dear Lord, make Sean say ‘no’ to young Jim. Make him wait until Jim comes of age.
“Holy Mary Mother of God. You know what it’s like to have a son taken away from you. Don’t let that happen to me. Keep him here with his family.”
But the Mother of God held no sway over the recruiters from Australia who were persuasive and convincing. Or over Sean for that matter! He saw a future in Australia for his eldest son that was not achievable in Ireland.
When Jim left, he left a huge hole and the family changed irrevocably.
It was as if one of us had died. There was one pair less of football boots lined up at the back door, one less bike thrown against the fence and one less coat, gloves and scarf hanging in the hallway. You would think that with so many around the table an empty place would go unnoticed, but it didn’t. I’d walk past his room and see his empty bed and the tears would well. I was only twelve years old and, to the twelve year old me, the family somehow never seemed complete again.
Out in the street everything was changed. With our leader missing, it was never so much fun again. Competitive Jim devised games and contests that challenged us kids, but the fair Jim always ensured that everybody stood a chance of succeeding. He did this by devising some sort of handicapping system, understood by only him. Without Jim, street games became a disorganized rabble and were not fun any more. Nevertheless life went on and as we grew to adulthood we were always aware of Jim, our folk hero, a part of our family but not amongst us. His weekly phone call kept him at the centre of our lives. For that we saved all the best bits of news and gossip and it was a highlight for our little family at home in Ballyroan.
“We will talk to Jim when he rings on Sunday night. Let’s see what he has to say about it,” Mam would say when planning was in place.
“Let’s ask Jim when he phones,” Da would advise when confronted with a decision about schooling or employment.
Sunday night’s tea eaten, we’d all sit watching television, waiting and listening for the ring of the telephone on the hall table under the stairs. When the first shrill sounded, we would descend as one upon the narrow hallway.
Da would take the receiver first. “God bless you Jimmy boy, we thought it might be you, lad.” He always began that way. He would talk about the football, Jim’s training and then he would get tongue-tied and say, “Would you like to have a word with your Mam?”
Mam would take the receiver and speak about all manner of things. She’d tell him about the weather, ask him if he’d been to Mass that week and hope that he wasn’t drinking or gambling too much. And then she’d say, “Ah, we all miss you, Jimmy love, would you like to talk to your brothers and sisters?”
We’d be lined up on the stairs eagerly awaiting our chance to talk to our hero. Because Mam was concerned about the cost of the call, she’d be there standing next to us saying, “Say what you want to say, Kevin, and then give it to Mary. This must be costing our Jimmy a small fortune.”
Jim would overhear and correct her by saying, “Don’t worry about it, Mam, the Club is paying. Tell me all your news.” During this hour on a Sunday evening the family was complete again.
A couple of years went by before Jim’s team had success on the football field making it all the way to the finals in September. Mr Barassi phoned Da and offered to pay the fares for the whole family to travel to Melbourne to watch the game. What a grand trip that was! Jim took us everywhere showing us off to all his mates who loved our Irish accents. His team lost. Apparently, it was because Jim did something that wasn’t allowed in the rules and so the other team kicked a goal. “He ran across the mark,” was how they described it. “How the feck would he know that?” Da defended him. Because the fans loved Jim, they agreed with Da, forgave him and got on with the commiserations, which turned into celebrations.
On that trip Mam realized that Jim would never come home, that even when his football days were over he would stay in his adopted country. “It breaks my heart,” she confided, “a mother doesn’t have sons to live twelve thousand miles away from her. It’s the Irish curse. Many an Irish mother sits alone at the kitchen table and cries. The sons of Ireland are spread far and wide all over the earth.”
The family grew and left Ballyroan leaving only Mam and Dad to take the Sunday night phone call. They talked of Jim’s wife, his family and Reach, the youth foundation to which he devoted his time.
“Oh by the way, Mam and Da, I’m about to begin the battle of my life,” Jim informed them one windy November night when the rain was blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean with such ferocity that it pushed its way under their front door and into their house.
“Well God bless you son, and what would that be?” asked his Da oblivious to the shock that was about to descend.
“I have a few little cancer cells on my brain and they are going to remove them for me. Nothing to worry about! I have it all in hand. You’re not to worry.”
Worry they did, and with good cause. After many operations and a drawn out and brave battle with a cancer, Jim died and the family gathered in Melbourne for a State Funeral. His adopted country held him in such esteem that the city grieved and afforded him this huge honour. Crowds lined the streets to pay a silent homage as his cortege left the church.
We should have been proud, but all we felt was a complete emptiness and utter sadness. Our Jim was dead and nothing would bring him back.
We siblings stood in a circle holding hands, sadly conscious that where there once was six there is now only five.
Our Jim will never phone home again.
Men from Australia convinced our Pa
Jim could be rich, a big football star
Mam was against it, cried all day
“He’s just a lad. We can’t send him away
At eighteen years old, the lad is so vulnerable
He could get into drugs and drink too much alcohol.”
Da saw Jim’s chance to make his name
Be paid good money for playing a game
“Our lad has talent. We can’t stand in his way
There is no future for him playing GAA.”
Jim’s going left a huge gap in the family
Changing it forever irrevocably
One pair less football boots at the back doorway
One less coat, gloves and scarf in the hallway
Around the table one empty place
His absence leaving a gaping space
Each Sunday evening Jim called home
Uniting his family in Ballyroan
Shrill ring announcing Jim’s weekly call
Like army drill, we all rushed to the hall
Lined up on the stairs and waited our turn to speak
To tell our big brother the news of the week
Da talked first about sport and men’s business
Then it was Mam’s turn for local news interest
All about weather, wind, hail and rain
“Have you been to Mass? Hope you’ve not been drinking again
Ah, Jimmy we all love you and we all miss you
I’ll hand you over to your brothers and sisters.”
Jim’s team won through to finals in September
The family travelled to watch the game
A truly grand trip they all remember
His team lost. Jim was to blame
Ran across the mark was how they described it
“How the feck would he know that?” Da adamantly decried it
The fans still loved Jim so continued celebrations
Forgave our hero, who was loved in both nations
Ma missed Jim. It broke her heart
“Mothers don’t have sons to live twelve thousand miles apart.”
The family grew and left Ballyroan
Only Mam and Dad took the Sunday phone home
Talked of family and Jim’s lovely wife
The youth foundation to which he devoted his life
One November night rain blowing off Atlantic Ocean
“I’m to fight the battle of my life,” Jim informed them
“I have a few little cancer cells on my brain
Don’t worry, but pray for me, all the same.”
Jim died bravely, without discovering the answer
To a wonder cure for his insidious cancer
Held by his adopted country in such high esteem
A State Funeral with trimmings was arranged for him
The city stopped and joined in the prayer
Proud of this man whom with Ireland they share
The family confronted a void they could not ignore
Like when he left Ireland two decades before
Jim was dead and that nothing could fix
There was now only five where there once had been six
Jim was gone and through the aching dull pain
Came sad realization he will never phone home again