The Day He Left
By: Peter Dominic Walls
It was a beautiful sunny Sunday morning in March 1968. The sky was a bright blue and a fresh breeze blew gently about my face as I entered nine O' Clock mass with eleven sisters and brothers. We poured one after the other into the front pew, which was always filled by the early comers like us. My father or 'Daddy' as we liked to call him then, always insisted on going right to the front. As a boy of thirteen I loved the days we were early simply because I didn't have to parade all the way up to the front pew in front of "a million peering eyes."
After mass we piled into the Volkswagen van to take the short journey home. Little did we know it was to be our last as a complete family. After a big Irish Sunday breakfast we scattered around the house playing, laughing and having fun like we always did. I couldn't have been happier! Daddy kissed granny good-bye at the door of her apartment, which looked right across at our back door. "See you Dad," I said loudly as he disappeared. "See you my son," he said.
I never saw him again
Within minutes I was playing around the garden with my brother. We shot one another so many times it became boring. We kicked a ball, teased the girls a little until somebody told us to stop and then we drifted apart. My mother or 'Mammy' as we called her, came back from the airport, we had a gorgeous lunch and after I had washed the dishes, which for some reason I loved doing, I wandered through the house. I found myself sitting on my parents bed when I heard my eldest sister, Clare call gently upwards "Brid love, did you hear what happened?" I sprang upwards from the bed; you could have heard a pin drop but I heard no more of Clare and Brid's conversation. I didn't need to. Somehow I knew what I knew. I stiffened like a board and my mouth went dry. "Arthur or Daddy is in trouble" I lied to myself. I knew there was nothing wrong with uncle Arthur. I knew Daddy was 'gone' but I covered my pain so expertly and quickly that it stayed covered for a long, long time!
If I hadn't been in denial I would have shriveled up and withered away on the spot. I tip toed out to the bathroom taking a drink of water from the sink tap. I straightened up again and walked gingerly down our long hall. The silence was deafening. I could hear nothing except myself and I walked as if my steps were going to awaken something I didn't dare disturb.
I came to the dining room door at the end of the long hall and pushed it gently open afraid to see what I might see. I peered around the wood of the door to see my brothers hugging and laughing. What a relief! How could I have been so wrong? But I knew I wasn't wrong. I looked again. They were crying, not laughing!
My eldest brother at a mere nineteen was taking on the mantle of 'man of the house'. He looked at me firmly and spoke directly as though to ease the pain as much as he could. "Daddy's plane is missing. They think it's gone down in the Irish sea". I said nothing. Everything was now in slow motion. I looked through the doors, across the kitchen to where my mother stood by the stove. I had never seen her so humbled. She was puffy and red faced and her arms were a kind of patchwork of white and blush. She leaned her head to the left and smiled at me as though to say "Sorry my pet but I don't know what to say or do just now". I was numb. I wanted to cry. I wanted to be normal and cry. I couldn't and no mater how I tried, I couldn't. I just couldn't.
I knew Daddy was gone and I knew our family was changed forever.