Yesterday was a special day in our home-it was the third birthday of my son James. For those of you who are familiar with my post Boonless In Southport (19th June) you will know just how much he is obsessed with balloons. Mention it being someone’s birthday, anyone’s birthday, be them seven or seventy, and his immediate response is “Boons!” So, of course, first thing in the morning he was confronted with balloons everywhere-helium filled, resting against the ceiling, tied to chairs and door handles, and breath filled, covering the floor in a carpet of colour. His presents and cards weren’t even afforded a second glance.
Cue Sinatra: For I only have eyes, for boons.
He loved being the center of attention for the day, offering long-lashed, bashful eyes in response to the obligatory ‘Happy Birthday’ song.
I have a diary, as I expect most of you do. Along with the usual entries, I also put into it significant dates from the past that are significant to me and to my family. Dates where I set time aside to remember and mark things that were, and still are, important.
Two years ago, on the day my son was one year old, we came together in the pale fresh light of early morning to mark this momentous occasion. His first ever birthday. Even if he was unaware of its meaning, we sung ‘Happy Birthday’ and opened his cards for him, showing him the colourful pictures. And yes, balloons. My cousin Lorraine participated in this milestone event, and then, when we had finished opening everything, she broke the news to my mother that her elder brother-James Brown, had died that very day. Lorraine’s father, my Uncle Jim.
Life’s two great inevitables demonstrated within a minute.
My uncle was a great man, friendly, family oriented. I remember when he met my future wife for the first time, a few days after we had become engaged. He shook her hand and said “Welcome to the family.” Like an elder statesman. A family spokesman.
Another time, the telephone rang and the teenage girl that we were fostering answered it. Jim was on the phone, and spoke with our foster daughter for some time before she handed the phone over to me, commenting “Aw, what a lovely man!” They had never met, never spoke before, but in that first encounter she had got him to a tee.
I also include in my diary any information gleaned from doing my family history. On this same date, already chronicling my son’s birthday and my uncle’s death, I have also recorded:
James Denis O’Sullivan died, 1906.
This was my great-uncle, the brother of my gran. What I haven’t added is that he was born in 1905. It doesn’t look right does it:great-uncle, when he only lived to be one year old. But in the horizontal and vertical nexus of lines that constitute my family tree, that is what he was.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with someone who was mourning the death of a friend’s baby son. Sometimes you struggle to come up with anything positive, or any words at all. All I could offer was:
“Remember that the world is a different place because that child was born. It doesn’t matter if he was here for a year, a month, or a day. His brief presence has touched people, changed people. Wherever his family go in life, they will take him with them. He will always be a part of their story”.
James Denis O’Sullivan, forever a part of my gran’s story. In 2007 I stood at his father’s graveside in Thessalonika. A victim of the first world war, he brought his son with him to the sun-kissed soil of Greece, where his own chapter closed.
One single day in August-three people named James. With one a celebration, and the excitement of a future unknown. With one a thanksgiving, for the role he played in life. And for another with remembrance, of a life sadly unfulfilled.
Three figures all connected by bloodlines and story.