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Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Wednesday's Child: 'We had another brother, didn't we?'
Sometime in the years after her mother died, my mother found and kept this photograph tucked away in her own little drawer in the cupboard which held her clothes and those of her sisters. Every once in a while, after her chores were finished, and she could take a couple of private minutes, she would take out the portrait from the place which kept it safe from prying eyes. Mom would take it out and stare at it. Sometimes she would kneel at the side of her bed to say prayers with the photograph propped against a soft blanket, so it wouldn't get damaged. She would gaze into her mother's face, and she would pray. Mom said she wasn't sure why she would do this, but perhaps it was the only way she could be sure of never forgetting her mother's face.
When my parents emigrated from Ireland to Canada, the portrait travelled with my mom. Whenever there was any discussion of the photograph, my mother's sister Bernadette would explain that she was the small baby pictured, but inexplicably my mom always disagreed. In 1994, at a cousin's wedding, all of the siblings were seated around one large table at the reception. It had been a very long time since all seven of them were together in the same room. Over dinner they spent a lot of time talking about their childhood with their dad, and Aunt Alice. My mom finally asked her older brothers the question she had long wished to ask, "We had another brother, didn't we?". Mom mentioned the photograph and the baby their mother was holding, and she asked her elder brothers if they knew who the child was. Anthony, Gerard, and Patrick instantly knew the photograph to which Mom was referring. They explained that the baby's name was Thomas, and said he had died when he was young baby. Beyond that they shared little of their recollections of him. There were several guesses at the date of the photograph, but no one knew for certain when it had been taken.
Based on the apparent ages of the boys in the photograph, and the clothing my grandparents are wearing, I surmised that it had been taken in the late 1920s. With the image of that tiny little boy locked in my brain, I searched for a late 1920s record of Thomas's birth in the General Register Office in Dublin, and discovered Thomas was born 27 October 1927. Knowing he had died very young, I limited my search parameters and found his record of death within the books of the very next year. Baby Thomas Christopher Ball died in St. Ultan's hospital on 18 September 1928. The registrar's notation of the fraction of 10 3/4 over 12 for Thomas's age emphasizes the fact that Thomas almost made it to eleven months of age, but did not live for even one whole year. For the last 23 days of his life Thomas was very sick; he died of Chronic Enteritis and Cardiac failure. Thomas is interred in the St. Paul's section of Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin.
Now, when I look at the photograph, I wonder, as she held her tiny son on her knee that day, did my grandmother in any way sense that Thomas would not be with their family for very long?