To commemorate the colorful life of Mary Gallagher (1916-2012), the team at Senior Correspondent is honored to present the last aptly titled contribution Mary made to the monthly newsletter — “Roadrunner Extra!” — published by the residents of Beatitudes Campus.
I was loose and available for mischief that morning because Maudie, the hired girl, was elbow deep in Monday morning washing suds. She was supposed to keep her eye on me while my mother was busy elsewhere. Maudie’s excuse was always the same. “She’s like an eel, ma’am. She slithers away.”
That Monday at my grandparents’ farm, in Ireland, was a ho-hum day for me. I had offered Maudie my help, plead with her, only to receive a decisive, “Go away!”
I was three years old and there were those who doubted my reaching four. It seemed that my brothers had a secret pact to ignore me, possibly to avoid being implicated in my crimes. My older brother Tom kept busy, following my grandfather around like a lost gosling. My other brother, Pat, read a lot. He was delicate, as people said back then. Hadn’t he walked out of the smallest shoes available in town? It caused my mother to cry. Fortunately, later in life, he amply filled his cleats as the star of many soccer games New York City.
Feeling useless, occupying myself by kicking around a few stones, I looked up to see my favorite person the country, my Uncle Bill, busy cleaning the back chimney. Uncle Bill always welcomed my help. A very long ladder stretched way beyond the roof, up to Heaven, awaiting my ascendance.
The cook had promised Uncle Bill a pie, if he supplied six apples from the orchard and cleaned the back kitchen flue, that is. The cook knew that a storm was coming and that is was sure to deposit loose soot on her cooking that afternoon. The vent hadn’t been cleaned in a while. Uncle Bill complied with his part of the bargain, supplying the six apples to forestall any delay in the delivery of his pie.
As a man used to shortcuts and labor saving devices, Uncle Bill had chosen the nearest ladder for the task, even though it was the tallest, capable of reaching the third floor of the house. No worry of mine, though. Climbing easily, I reached Uncle Bill. He was otherwise engaged on the far side of the chimney, however, so I scrambled further up for better viewing.
Gloriously, the entire Bere Peninsula lay before me. Bere Island was visible in the distance, surrounded by the great Bantry Bay, the second best natural harbor in the world.
The long road in front of the house, stretching all the way to Adrigole, caught my eye. It led to Uncle Bill’s latest interest, Lily Crowley. My wave of jealousy almost shook me off the ladder. I was severely envious of her.
Looming over me to the left was Hungry Hill, named in an uglier time. Below me was Mum, my grandmother, in her netting and Chinese tea picker’s bundling as she tended her beehives near the gooseberry and currant bushes.
I greeted her loudly in excitement, relaying to her the discovery of my new, more scenic world. Her scream in reply tore into the peaceful, quiet serenity of my new world and its surroundings. It seemed to echo through the many valleys and dales of Hungry Hill.
It wasn’t long before the countryside below me erupted with the cries of people who had assembled at the bottom of my ladder. Foremost, elbowing her way in a most unladylike fashion through the crowd, was my mother. She tried to coax me down, cooing as if I were a wounded bird. There were directions given to me, urging caution. This was followed by lovely nicknames I had never heard before and, incidentally, never heard again. I was, at that moment, my mother’s dear, dear girl. Her gentle directions guided me down the ladder until I landed among the outstretched arms that appeared to have been pleading to Heaven itself.
I was ever so lucky that Uncle Bill, upon hearing the commotion, made his way to me before my mother did. His wonderful soot-coated arms mercifully carried me on the descent. He smiled down at the unusually friendly audience that had assembled.
Uncle Bill never stopped carrying me in his arms, running up Hungry Hill or sitting on the boulder that had tumbled down to the farm long before. He’d get in trouble with Jack Brennan, the stableman for riding my grandfather’s favorite horse up the road to Adrigole to see Lily Crowley and never giving it a decent rubdown. And other times he’s hum a song that was probably meant for Lily Crowley. In the moment though, it was sung only for my three-year-old ears. In the cooling of the evening we’d sit, until the apple pie had cooled off.
Years later, looking back at my numerous near-death experiences, my mother would tell Uncle Bill that “that one,” referring to me, could stop traffic on the Suez Canal. “Give her a break,” Bill would say, then joke, “Make it the Erie.” “Not enough commerce,” my mother retorted.