‘Gus’ whose given name was Owen Augustus; lived along the avenue he was a contemporary of my parents. He always dressed in a Magee three piece single-breasted suit with turn-ups on the trousers and black soft Lee boots. Originally from Ballydehob near Skibbereen in County Cork, he was the youngest child in a household of women. Already established in Dublin when my father arrived he took daddy under his wing, they worked together and stayed in the same digs for a number of years.
Once married, Gus brought his sweetheart from Cork to join him in Dublin. They lived in the same house for all their married life. I was well into my teens before I discovered that their childless existence was not one of choice. There were in fact four or five babies in the early years, all ‘blue’ and nearly 70 years ago with no knowledge of the cause or how to deal with this situation all the infants died soon after birth.
We became their family; Gus and his wife were regulars at our fireside at least twice a week, and for all high days and holidays. Once supper was over Gus produced his pipe and all the paraphernalia that went with it. The ritual of preparing the straight stemmed short bowl pipe for smoking began. The upturned bowl was tapped on his hand, scraped with the little silver gadget, tapped once more before blowing through the stem. Only when he was satisfied that all was clear did Gus produce the envelope of St Bruno. A strip was removed from the tobacco and rubbed between his hands, then slowly and gently packed into the bowl. There followed the striking and lighting of several matches with deep sucking and inhaling before Gus was satisfied the tobacco had taken light. Once lit, the pipe remained in his mouth for the rest of the night, caught in his teeth as he added to a conversation.
Being the pre-television era, the entertainment around the fire often turned to song. Nothing pleased Gus as much as joining in as his wife sang for Ireland. She had at least one song for each county and knew all 32 verses of each one! While his wife sang like a bird, alas Gus oblivious to the fact that he had only one note, hummed along off key from the ‘Banks of my own lovely Lee’ through the ‘Gold Galtee Mountains’, round ‘Galway Bay’ to ‘Ballyjamesduff’ and on for some ‘Londonderry Air’, turning through the ‘Green Glens of Antrim’ to where ‘The Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the Sea’ past the ‘County of Armagh’, before returning to ‘Dublin’s Fair City’!
Suddenly he would realise the time and jump up calling to his wife “Nora, the bed, the bed! The bed will be on fire!” In winter time before the days of central heating they switched on the electric blanket and set it to low before going out for the evening! Thankfully they never required the services of the Fire Brigade.
Once the coats were donned it took at least half an hour for them to leave. There were always a few last thoughts or arrangements to be sorted before they walked to their little Ford Anglia parked outside on the road. We all stood at the door to wave them on their way. At this stage my brothers started to make revving noises reminiscent of those heard at the beginning of a Grand Prix Motor race. They were only echoing those from the car as Gus put his foot on the accelerator and pressed it to the floor, revving several times before taking a couple of kangaroo jumps and finally waving and heading off down the road!