Today, October 9th, is my father’s 35th anniversary. I could tell you what a lovely dad he was, but it is better to, ‘Show, don’t tell.’ So, here he is.
Let me set the scene. 1980’s Dublin. I was a rather boyish, seven- or eight-year-old girl, the fourth in a family of five. My cousin, mum, dad, and dog also shared our home. Number 108. Rather skinny and loud, I wore my hair long, loved to climb trees and could hold my own in a fight. We lived in a time where you went out every day and returned when hungry. There was nothing about me that would make me stand out, no reason for anyone to nod or point in my direction and say, that’s that young McCahill one. Except for one thing, I’d developed an extraordinary love for my shoes.
Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t every pair of shoes I ever owned. It was just one pair. The tatty, scutched, brown pair, with a T-bar, silver buckle, and small well-worn heel which I wore every day that winter. I don’t remember the excitement of going into Clarkes shoe shop to buy them, or the silent battle, as I struggled to keep my foot away from the back of the measuring contraption, hoping the lady, ‘fully trained in foot measuring,’ would be fooled into thinking my foot had finally grown as big as my younger brothers.
What I do remember, is my mother saying months later, ‘Those shoes are for the dump.’
I’m pretty sure there was a sentence or two before this, in which my mother must have said that my shoes were getting small, or tatty and it was time to get a new pair, but I only recall the horror of thinking my companions on many a cycle, tree-climb, race or fight were to be thrown into our smelly, silver tin bin and from there, tossed by the binmen into their truck.
I was distraught, while my mother was somewhat amused, surprised by my love and attachment to a pair of shoes. No amount of forward looking bribing, such as imagining the beautiful new pair awaiting me in the shoe-shop, or the promise of an afternoon out, could stop my tears.
Retreating to my room, I removed my shoes and hugged them tight, sobbing a little more each time I thought of bin-day and the fate that lay in store for them. Mid-way through my mourning, Dad snuck into my room, a finger on his lips. In a quiet, conspiratorial whisper he said, ‘Follow me.’
Clutching my shoes, I immediately tiptoed after him, into ‘the little room’ downstairs. I can’t remember the purpose of the room at the time, perhaps it was their bedroom, all I can tell you is that it had a wooden floor. Not your fancy floors of today, just slats of varnished timber. I looked at him, wondering what the big secret was? The chisel and screwdriver in his hand and pencil behind his ear offered me no clues; they were part of his usual attire.
I watched as he bent over and unscrewed one of the floorboards, using the chisel to gently pull it up. Placing the floorboard to one side, he beckoned me over. I hunkered down and together we stared into the dark hole he’d created.
‘You can put your shoes in there,’ he whispered, ‘they’ll be there forever.’
Without a word I knelt and reverently lowered my shoes into the ground, one on top of the other. We shared a smile as together we pushed the floorboard back into place. It took only a minute for Dad to screw it down. Once it was done, I took his hand and we walked away. At the door I stopped and looked at him, putting my fingers to my lips as he grinned down at me. Passing Mum, moments later, I squeezed his hand, and we shared one final conspiratorial look, before I skipped away.
As far as I know, my shoes remain under the floorboards of 108.
Gone but never forgotten.