Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday's Child: 'We had another brother, didn't we?'


This is the photograph, the only one, with my mother's older brothers, Anthony, Gerard, and Patrick, and her parents, a photograph taken years before my mom was born. On my grandmother Mary Fitzpatrick Ball's knee is seated a tiny fragile looking baby, his eyes almost shut, my grandmother's hands enveloped around him. My mom could identify all of the children in the photograph, save one, this tiny baby seated on her mother's knee. Mom knew it could not be her baby brother John, but she could not name the child.

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, one of my mother's sisters would say 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?

Copyright©J.Geraghty-Gorman 2011.

10 comments:

  1. Thank you. Another lovely, poignant story.

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  2. How wonderful you have a photograph of Thomas - he will not be forgotten.

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  3. Hi Carol and Hi Maggie,

    Thanks for your comments; I really appreciate receiving them! :):)

    Cheers to you,
    Jennifer

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  4. What a haunting post, Jennifer. I saw it pop up today again on my dashboard and I just had to come back and see it a second time. Incredible thought...

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  5. Hi Jacqi,

    Thanks for your comments; they are much appreciated.

    Cheers to you,
    Jennifer

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  6. Thanks you for sharing Thomas' story. He will not be forgotten.

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  7. Hello Sharon,

    Thanks for your comment; I very much appreciate receiving it.

    Cheers to you,
    Jennifer

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  8. How sad, and it was very intuitive of your mum to know that there had been another brother in the family, and that her brothers were able to confirm this. Jo

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  9. Hello Jo,

    Thanks for your comments; they are much appreciated. Nice to hear from you. I hope that all is well with you this day.

    Cheers,
    Jennifer

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  10. Thank you for sharing a wonderful picture of Baby Thomas. That photo must have meant the world to your mother, and how great you now have it.

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