Granny Kildysart was in the kitchen one dark, wet and blustery evening when she heard the loud Ding Dong. It was the door bell ringing. Out of curiosity she went to open the door. She took one look at the caller, and my father who was coming down the stairs, heard her say “We have nothing for you tonight!” before she quickly shut the door.
My father from his vantage point on the stairs was able to have a good look at the roughly attired gentleman before the door was closed so abruptly. This tramp looked like he had not seen a bath for a year and wore a crumpled, dirty, soaking wet old trench coat. The buttons were long gone so to keep out the weather it was tied around the waist with coarse string. At the neckline was a scarf and below the coat ragged trousers were tucked into thick woollen socks with holes in them. Over the socks were well worn work-men’s boots long past their sell by date. The laces were gone and again the boots were tied with string. On his head the tramp had a greasy rain soaked flat cap. Bits of hair stuck out at each side.
My father reached the bottom of the stairs as Granny Kildysart was about to go back to the kitchen. “That was a very un-Christian thing to do on a night like this” he said to his mother. With her hand still on the door knob she turned, “What do you mean? She asked. “That man looked like he had not eaten all day” said daddy. “How would you like to be turned out on a night like this?” “I think you should call him back and make him a cup of tea!”
Since it was her son’s house and she didn’t relish the thought of a journey back to Co. Clare that night she reluctantly opened the door and called the tramp back. My father stood and watched as she invited the tramp in to warm himself by the fire and have a cup of tea.
The living room was warm and inviting with the fire blazing away in the hearth. Chairs were drawn up to the heat and Granny Kildysart turned to go to the kitchen and put the kettle on for a pot of tea. As she reached the door my father called to her, “This man looks hungry” and turning to the man he said “I am sure you could eat a plate of rashers and eggs”. The tramp nodded and twisted his cap in his hands. “You better cook a few sausages and if we have any black & white pudding do some of that as well”.
The men talked while Granny Kildysart set about preparing the food in the kitchen. They could hear her banging about the pans. Soon the house filled with the aroma of the cooking bacon. Granny appeared, to set a place at the table. Ten minutes later she was back with a tray and the tramp was invited to take his place at the table. The food was placed before him and he was told to tuck in. Tea was poured and daddy and his mother had yet another cup to keep him company.
Granny Kildysart noticed that the men were getting on well and the tramp seemed to be familiar with the names of family members. Soon the plate of food was cleared and the tramp who was feeling rather warm, undid the string of the coat. Daddy invited him to take it off, which he did. The scarf was removed as well and he brushed his hair back in place. It was only then that Granny Kildysart realised that a trick had been played on her.
The man was no tramp; he was in fact Richard, a brother of my mother’s! Richard was full of fun and always up to mischief. Granny Kildysart was not known for her sense of humour so his arriving as a tramp was a little more acceptable than the summer night he came wearing a bright yellow dress, stockings and sandals topped off with a headscarf, and bright red lipstick.
Is it any wondered I turned out the way I am now?
We like everyone else had two grandmothers. They were both known as Granny. They also had the same surname, so we needed a way to differentiate between them. Mammy’s mother lived in Dublin and we saw her couple of times a week, Daddy’s mother lived in Kildysart, Co Clare, so she became Granny Kildysart.
Richard was a great favourite in our house when we were growing up. Alas he died in 1966, aged 44 while waiting for surgery to replace two heart valves, surgery that is so matter of fact nowadays.
At that time surgery to replace valves was unheard of in Ireland. In fact the only place capable of carrying out the operation was Guy’s Hospital in London. There was only one team of Surgeons and staff qualified to carry it out, so only one patient per month was operated on. There were 11 operations in the year and during the month of August the whole team went on annual leave.
Richard was scheduled for July and was actually over in Guy’s. The June patient had a relapse so Richard’s operation was put off until September. My aunt brought him home but he went downhill fast. She managed to take him back to London for the beginning of September, but alas he died on 11th before he reached the theatre.
Originally posted in August 2007 as a Podcast that has expired and been deleted.
I thought it might be nice to revisit the subject in word form.