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U3A Writing: Birthday Memories

John Ricketts recalls his first love.

The fact that I have never been given a birthday card 53 weeks ahead before turned my mind to birthdays. After thinking about birthdays for some time I came to the conclusion that the older you get the less important they become. The really important ones are the early ones. Parties and presents were so important and were looked forward to for weeks ahead. After a while memories came flooding back about a particular group of friends and a particular birthday party, and it wasn’t even mine.

From the depths of my brain four names emerged, names that I haven’t thought about for sixty years or more. Joe Oswald, my best pal at the time, Margaret Thompson, Philamena O’Malley and Tommy Hyland. We were all in the same class at primary school.

Joe Oswald’s family kept a tobacconists and newsagents shop. I was always persona non-grata there because every time Joe got into trouble and that was often he always blamed me and his parents believed him. It is true that I was usually with him when he got into scrapes but he was one who led me, not the other way about. He waited every morning for me at the corner of his street and we walked to school together. About a couple of hundred yards from the school we picked up Margaret Thompson and we walked to school together. It was alright to walk with a girl in the morning because we did not have time to do anything but go straight to school. In the afternoon it was a different matter. We boys had too many things to do to bother with girls. We explored the railway sidings or the coal dumps. We once crawled under the gate of a mother and baby’s home (though it wasn’t called that in those days). That was one of the places where Joe was caught and reported by the nuns to his parents and where he blamed me who had escaped. If we couldn’t find anything more exciting to do we played marbles in the gutter.

Philamena (Mena), O’Malley lived quite near me but she went to school with her brother who was a couple of years older and was in the senior school which was on the same site. Mena was a black and white Irish girl; she had black hair and a pale complexion emphasised by red lips which one kind of Irish Girl possesses. Her eyes were clear blue, the sort that years later would do serious damage to the male population.

It was Tommy Hyland’s birthday party to which the four of us were invited. Tommy wasn’t really one of our group. He was slightly up market from the rest of us. His dad was a civil servant much superior to the rest of all our parents.

We had arranged to meet so that we would all arrive together at Tommy’s house. We were all in our best clothes and feeling a little strange as we did not know Mrs. Hyland. We went in quiet as lambs, handed over our small gifts, admired Tommy’s presents and then sat awkwardly waiting for something to happen. We were given papers and pencils and had to write the answers to questions. We looked at each other. What a rotten party. Soon things started to improve. We were taken into the dining room (Yes they had a special room to eat in) and saw a wonderful spread. After tea things livened up and we played lots of party games. The final one was postman’s knock and I kissed Mena O’Malley for the first time

Things were never the same again . Instead of meeting Joe on the way to school I now went with Patrick and Mena. Soon it was me and Mena. Of course I went home from school with Joe but to school always with Mena.

At the end of the Primary School we sat the eleven plus. I went to St. Philip’s Boys Grammar School and Mena went to St. Paul’s Convent. Things changed. I saw her at home of course but she was no longer the little girl I had known. She had suddenly become a young lady who tended to look down her pretty nose at rough boys like me. I saw her last in the summer of 1939 when my dad sold up and we moved out of the district.

The end of my first love.


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