I suggest that we let most of the days of our lives pass into blurred oblivion. Of course, some days are remembered due to unusual happenings. Thursday, May 27 1954 is a day from my childhood, which stands out vividly. It was a day packed with events each of which might have slipped into my hazy memories of growing up, but somehow their aggregate marked a day which I recall vividly.
That Thursday was Ascension Day, and as such my Christian School gave it special recognition. We had no classes; instead, we were instructed to go to school later than usual, in order to attend a church service after which we were given the balance of the day off. On a normal day, my father drove my sister and I to school on his way to work. I have vague recollections of these drives with an associated long wait at the Framwellgate Bridge traffic light so that we could drive up winding, narrow, one-way Silver Street. By the time that we got to the bridge Dad was diligently quizzing my sister and I on the dates of the Kings and Queens of England or some other facts which he wished us to memorize. If you look to your right as you cross Framwellgate Bridge going into town you get a stunning view of Durham Castle and Cathedral standing high on their promontory, shrouded in the greenery of the banks of the River Wear. I don’t recall ever having done this on my way to school. Looking back I wonder if it was familiarity or perhaps the view wasn’t good for a child in the left-hand side seat of a car.
For some strange reason, I walked to school on Ascension Day 1954. During my entire childhood, this is the only day that I ever remember walking the two to three miles to school. I was almost nine years old, which explains why my sister, who would have been seven, was not with me. She started at the “Big School” the following academic year. The other odd thing about that morning was that I was accompanied by Robert Mulkerrin. This day is the only day of my entire life that I remember Robert Mulkerrin. He lived with his mother about a block further down our street. Their house always had roses in the garden, but I generally hurried past as quickly as possible because Mrs. Mulkerrin was one of our school teachers. I don’t know why Robert was with me – perhaps it was circumstantial, and he was going to meet his mother at the school or maybe my parents had arranged it; I just don’t know. All I know is that he was there. I recall that we were engrossed in conversation and although only nine I have a vague memory of my being somewhat flirtatious.
Half-way up Silver Street, crammed onto the sidewalk on the south side of the street, we came to a ladder leaning against one of the ancient buildings. It bridged the sidewalk and had its toe in the gutter. Robert checked the traffic and deftly walked around the ladder. I walked under it.
“Jane, don’t. Walking under a ladder is bad luck!”
“Pooh, that’s just an old wife’s myth.”
“Maybe,” Robert was staring at me, “but why tempt fate?”
“I’m not afraid. Now if there had been someone up the ladder, I agree that it might not be a good idea to walk under.” I was giggling, thinking of a tool or paint falling down. Today was a propitious day, and I felt exuberant.
My next recollection from that day is when our mother drove my sister and I to go fishing. She had promised to do this as a treat on our afternoon off. It is also a first because our mother had never ever taken us fishing before. She had just learned to drive and drove us in my grandfather’s old red VW. We joked that she bought kangaroo petrol because the car jumped and started every time she changed gear. I vaguely remember the Lake. It was reached by long drive through an avenue of trees and was next to one of the hospitals which my father visited. Apparently, he had obtained permission for us to fish there.
Our equipment was homemade; stakes from the garden, twine, hooks made from hair pins, and bait in the form of chicken parts. We stood on the grass, which I recall is being very green, and cast our lines into the murky water. Within no time, I had a nibble and hauled in a small fish about eight inches long. I hadn’t even got it off my hook before my sister also had a bite. Instead of being a traditional fishing trip, in which one waits and watches the water for hours, the fish rewarded us by taking our bait every time we cast. Within an hour, we had caught twenty fish. By now, I recall that our mother was becoming anxious and declared, “Enough is enough,” and that we needed to go home.
We always ate dinner at about 7:30 PM. That day was not to be an exception. Our mother volunteered to clean and fry the fish so that we would eat them for dinner. My sister and I were becoming boisterous and housebound, and so she sent us out to play on our bicycles in the street. They were always several children outside, and we often played games on our bicycles. That evening Robert Mulkerrin joined us. Of course, I teased him and told him that instead of bad luck the ladder had rewarded us with an incredible fishing trip. He smiled and even then seemed unconvinced.
We played tag. The one who was ‘it’ carried a stick and chased the others to touch someone so that they became ‘it’. Our road was paved for the block near Robert’s house but towards our house, it was narrower, steeper, and unpaved. That’s where I had the accident. I was swerving to avoid being tagged and spilled putting my right arm to the ground to catch myself. It popped. I had dislocated my elbow and was hurriedly driven to the hospital. I remember going in feeling very cold and in pain and being given a sedative. I shall always remember the contrast, for when I awoke I was pain free and cozily warm. To me, it was a miracle.
Mother cooked the fish, but I never ate any. To this day, I wonder what they tasted like. I also wonder if Robert Mulkerrin went home convinced that he had irrefutable proof that walking under ladders is bad luck.