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Michael 1947

Nineteen forty seven was the year of the Big Snow. It was also the year that I got my first injection. I was about five years old and was due an immunisation against some disease or other.

At that time we had a doctor Evans as our general practitioner. He lived in Plumbridge and had acquired a fierce reputation. He was a big gruff individual. At that time the Health Service was not in existence and people called a doctor as a last resort. As a result doctors were remote individuals in Glenelly and not really accepted as part of the community. They were always viewed with a good deal of suspicion.

As I said Doctor Evans was big and gruff and he did himself no favours with his attitude. The people got their own back by inventing stories about him. There was a popular myth circulating that he was not really a qualified doctor but that he had served in some war or other as a horse doctor and that he had got promotion as a result. My father met a distant relative of Doctor Evans in Plumbridge fair one time and the relative made enquiries.

"What sort of a man is he," he asked my father. My father, who was always reluctant to say anything negative, just said. "He's a good doctor," and what wasn't said spoke volumes.

My mother used Doctor Evans in her struggles to maintain some sort of control on us. When any one of us invented an illness to get a day of school she would accidentally let us overhear her discussing whether to send for Doctor Evans. This nearly always cured us. As a result of all this when I was due to attend for the injection I was reluctant to go. In fact I was terrified.

The Doctor had a surgery in Cranagh village beside the Public House. The surgery was a wooden structure with a waiting room and a treatment room. On the day of my appointment I was somehow cajoled to go and my mother and myself walked the short distance to the village. I was sick with fear and my mother wasn't much better for she half believed her own stories about the Doctor.

I sat with my mother in the waiting room while the Doctor attended other patients. Presently from the inner sanctum came a thunderous "Next" and Miss Hayes emerged to escort us to the Doctor's couch. My mother jumped at the sound of the Doctor's voice. I jumped too but in a different direction. My mother grabbed me and started her cajoling again. I lay down on the floor and when Miss Hayes came to my mother's assistance I lashed out with my feet. The melee lasted long enough for the Doctor to lose his patience. "Make him submit" he roared from his hideout. " If he was mine he would soon submit".

My mother was mortified but Miss Hayes seemed to be enjoying this unique bit of rebellion within the Doctor's jurisdiction. She wasn't much help to my mother. But gradually I was losing the battle. The two women had got me as far as the inner doorway and it was my mother's perceived hope that one final effort would see me through the doorway. She gave a desperate lunge forward and I gave a desperate lunge backwards. My mother lost her grip, went headlong into the room, lost her balance, hit her head on a wooden support and sprawled on the floor. She got up slowly and sat down on a chair muttering, "Sorry Doctor, sorry Doctor." Miss Hayes, as they say, was in stitches.

The Doctor seeing that I was escaping, ran after me, brandishing a big syringe and needle in his fist. He grabbed me roughly by the arm and I submitted immediately. He drew me into the inner room stabbed the needle into the flesh of my arm and pushed the plunger down roughly. He let me go and I sat down weakly beside my mother.

The Doctor sat down, grabbed a pen and barked at my mother, "Child's name?" My mother jumped again. "What?," she said somewhat distractedly. "For God's sake woman, what's the child's name?" roared the Doctor. "I don't know," my mother muttered, "I can't remember his name." I looked at her in amazement and nudged her gently. "Mammy my name's ------" but she wasn't listening.

Miss Hayes had whispered something to my mother and she got up out of the chair in a daze and followed the assistant out of the room. Miss Hayes must have felt the fresh air would do something for my mother's memory. I didn't know what to do so I just sat there feeling sorry for myself. At that moment I felt that I did not matter very much in the scheme of things. Then I swore to myself. The only swear thing that I knew at that time was; as sure as Death. So I swore to myself; as sure as Death I won't tell them who I am; even if they beg me; which they didn't.

Meanwhile my mother was out somewhere seeking inspiration. She was much given to prayer in her hour of need. "Holy Mary Mother of perpetual succour, help me," she begged. She rumbled through the litany of the saints but nothing came. "Oh most beautiful flower of Mount Carmel, fruitful vine and splendour of heaven" she flattered, but there was no answer.

Just then a man appeared out on the roadway in a horse and cart. He was a neighbour of ours and he was going to the fields to collect a load of potatoes. He was standing up in the cart holding the horse's reins and he was whistling a tune to himself.

My mother ran out on to the roadway grabbed the horse's reins and shouted. "James, James, could you tell me what we called our youngest son." "Is it wee Mick you're talking about?" said the man in utter bewilderment. "Aye, wee Mick," my mother sighed, and promptly burst into a flood of tears.

On our way home that evening we both laughed about the day's events. My mother had the ability to laugh at her own foibles, which was just as well because she got plenty of opportunities.

'Forty seven' will always be remembered as the year of the Big Snow. I will always remember it as the year that my mother forgot my name.