I have made a last minute decision to write about someone who had an influence in shaping me. This man was our next-door neighbour when I was young. He had polio as a child and as a result he was disabled. It had a huge impact on his life. He could not do manual work and in those days no employer would hire someone with a disability. He didn’t bemoan his unfortunate circumstances. When his father remarried he moved in with his unmarried aunt who lived next door to my family. This happened long before I was born. To us children he was someone who was always there. My siblings and I loved to visit him whenever we felt like it. There were no restrictions on when we could call in. He became a friend. We never questioned why an adult was one of our friends.
He had a very limited formal education but this didn’t deter him from advancing his learning. He transformed the sitting room of his aunt’s house into a library. The walls were lined with shelves of books. I was allowed to borrow books. He would discuss classic books and their authors with me even though I had no great interest in them. What he taught me was to love and value books. One year when I was twelve, he gave me my very first proper book for Christmas. Its title was “Knocknagow, or the Homes of Tipperary” by Charles Kickham. I loved that book. I loaned it to a friend. She never gave it back. I’m not sure if she even read it. I learned an important lesson. Be careful to whom you loan books.
I got pneumonia when I was seventeen and while I was recovering he kept me supplied with books. He introduced me to P.G. Wodehouse stories about “Jeeves” but they were not my taste. When I hear the name Wodehouse or Jeeves I always think of Jim.
Books were not his only interest. He taught himself to draw and paint. He played the piano accordion and other musical instruments. His best friend had a dance band and the instruments were kept at our neighbour’s home. Of course my sister and I had full access to them. He taught us how to play the drums. He had no success in teaching us to play the accordion but we can never complain of not having an opportunity to learn.
He was also a playwright. His play “Red Wine of Youth” had its inaugural performance in our local town. It was successful and was staged across the country.
Without realising it, I learned so much from this incredible man. His ability to overcome his physical and financial obstacles and become a respected member of our community taught me that anything is possible. It is just a matter of commitment and dedication.
When I went back to Ireland, I visited his grave. I was surprised to see noted on his headstone that he was a Poet Laureate. A photo of his headstone is attached.
A life well lived.