I have been sitting here, Hugh, in your chair since Anne and the children left, thinking about everything and nothing……what we would have done today…what we might have done tomorrow…
‘Remember me when I am gone away
Gone far away into the silent land
When you can no more hold me by the hand
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned
Only remember me……………’
……..this poem keeps coming into my head……….I think I learned it when I was about twelve years old………for a speech festival ………how could I possibly have said it with any depth of feeling then…….it would be different now……. I remember you relating how one of your singing teachers told you that truly exceptional singers were those who had experienced either great love or great sadness in their lives…….oh God, I could be exceptional now…..truly. I can see you listening to your beloved Callas, Carreras, Gobi ……. the tears glistening in your eyes…..crying for sheer joy at the outstanding beauty of the voices, the hypnotic power of their performances and perhaps, too, for something you would love to have been. You had a fine voice, Hugh. So many of us recall your rendition of ‘Largo al Factotum’ not only for meeting the difficult challenge of the aria itself but for the sheer skill of your piano accompaniment. I know that you would love to have been a professional singer. I know you gave it your best shot but it was not to be. But at least you were always willing to do your party pieces at more informal occasions. How many times did you ‘shatter the dumb gods’ from ‘Nirvana’ and introduce us to ‘Brannigan, Flannigan, Mulligan, Gilligan, Duffy, McGuffy, Malachy et al………I still have the parody I composed for your retiral based on that song …..and, despite the formality of the occasion, you actually sang it to uproarious applause! I can still see the faces of your colleagues as their names came up in the song, Jimmy Quinn’s included. How strange that both of you retired at the same time from teaching and at the same time from life. God must indeed be short staffed……..
I wish I had known you when you performed on the concert platform – maybe I could have held your hand, calmed you down, stopped you shaking and maybe saved the potted plants from toppling from the stage – maybe – but that could never have been. I would have been too young then and you would have taken no heed of me. How were we to meet then ?
You were already established in the district as a fine young musician and teacher. You were much in demand for singing and playing at concerts, for setting up church choirs and playing the organ at services. You were even in demand across the water in Lurgan helping out with their society’s preparations for the Waterford International Festival of Light Opera (now wasn’t that strange?)- and this was an absolute joy for you since it meant being close to ‘The Wood’ and to your dear Aunt Kitty, Uncle Sean and cousins Ann, Marie and Pauline.
Meanwhile, I was coming to the end of my teacher training in Edinburgh. Having managed to secure both the Teaching Prize and Art Prize I was looking forward to becoming a ‘salaried’ minion as well as realising my chosen vocation……well now, that is not quite accurate. The truth is my mother had chosen ‘my vocation’ for me and I had meekly complied. I had wanted to engage in something more creative. Urged on by my high school art teacher I was emboldened to ask my mother (why not my father?) if I could pursue a career at the Glasgow School of Art. My mother invariably responded with that initially positive and promising reply which caused the heart to momentarily skip a beat before plummeting like a stone into the pit of the stomach. Let me give you an example.
‘Can I get a bike ?’
‘You will be getting (heart skips a beat…’) no bike!’ (heart plummets like a stone )
‘Can I go to the dancing on Saturday?’
‘You will be going ( heart skips a beat….) to no dancing!’( heart plummets like a stone…)
Further dialogue was never advisable.
So you can guess her response to my plea, ’Mum can I go to the Art School?’
This time I was brazen .
‘ Why not?’ I squeaked.
‘Because I say so and besides I’ve seen what comes out of that place and you will not be going there to be coming out in that state!’ The reference of course was to some prejudiced notion she had of ‘arty types’ and their unique fashion styles which set them apart from the more soberly dressed, and therefore in her opinion, more focused and much more intelligent university scholars. Artistic talent was not a consideration.
So I was to go to Craiglockhart Training College and become a teacher and if after the three years training, I still harboured this ‘daft notion’ about Art School then she would have another think about it(!) Since many of my school chums had also chosen to go to Edinburgh I was pleased at the prospect of continuing to be with people whom I knew. I was excited by the thought of the new challenges ahead but still more by the complete change of lifestyle upon which I was about to embark for we had all to ‘stay in’, ie., become boarders.
I loved my college days but now wish I’d had more time to acquaint myself with our capital city. Free time was at a premium and the nuns kept strict curfews. So, important issues had to be crammed into the little spare time available…. important issues like catching the latest movie and when finances permitted, stuffing our faces with goodies from ‘Mackies’ or ‘The Chocolate House’ in Princes Street.
In May 1961, prior to my graduation in Edinburgh, I received a letter from home telling me about a new Light Opera Society that was scheduled to be launched in October of that year. My dad had been involved at the discussion phase and was quite excited by the whole project. Those of us who had an interest in music and were due to return to our roots in Lanarkshire decided that this would be an ideal leisure pursuit for the busy young teacher. We planned to become members.
So, in October, I went along with my father, to the ‘Old Building’ (as it became affectionately known) of Our Lady’s High School, Motherwell. Lots of people were milling about and, like ourselves, heading for Room 39, the Music Room. Standing just inside the doorway, was a tall, dark handsome young man drawing nervously on a cigarette (I learned later that he was no artist – that’s why he was drawing nervously!)
‘Hello Hugh,’ said my dad, and, acknowledging the great numbers that continued to pour through the doors, ‘why were we ever worried about a poor response!’
‘I know, Allan, it’s great but I’m not sure that the Music Room will be big enough to hold them all,’replied the young man I now knew was the musical talent my father had been talking about.
‘Hugh, let me introduce you to my daughter, Maureen – she’s just finished college this year. Maureen, this is the Hugh I was telling you about. This is Hugh McAlinden.’ Music to my ears, daddy, music to my ears………
I can see the main road from here…..past our tree, over the fence, across the grass and there it is….cars and buses and lorries whizzing up and down ….the outside world. We used to be part of all that traffic. We had places to go, people to see, things to do. I could even go off by myself….to school, to the shops, the dentist’s, the hairdresser’s, occasionally out for the day with Marie…but you were always here when I got home…and I did love coming home.I know now that was the best part of going out …….the coming home…..
Oh Lord ,it’s after six o’clock .Pauline will be home soon.
I’d better get a move on. O God, I’m so tired. My limbs feel so heavy – maybe we could just have something easy to eat – like beans – you know the things I am just not full of any more. Oh Hugh, you would have had the dinner all planned …..potatoes peeled, carrots scraped …. do you know that we haven’t eaten red meat since you were here? I haven’t had any soup either…and we did love our soup didn’t we? What a soup maker you had become …..papa’s soup…..
We’re having a favourite tonight – salmon with brown rice, Pauline’s special honey and lime dressing and some mange-tout…… You would have been having your smoked haddock with mashed potatoes (none of that mange-tout rubbish!) served on your tray just in time for the six o’clock news……….
We knew that as we lifted the first morsel of food to our mouths you would say, ‘Now what would you like for your dinner tomorrow night?’……..
“Dad !!….we haven’t even tasted tonight’s yet..!!’ You did like to be organised…………..
Oh, God, Hugh, it has just occurred to me that the last meal I ever made for you was smoked haddock and mashed potatoes. You loved it …you cleaned your plate – every last morsel….. Wednesday evening………..
‘That was great, Mosie,’ you said as I cleared away your tray .
How was I to know that this was to be your last supper? How was I to know that our Gethsemane was only hours away………..
Oh Mosie, dry your tears, put down your cross and concentrate on the living.
‘OK, Hugh, but I don’t think we’ll have fish tonight … anything but fish……..
….to be continued…..