It would be condescending to think of the Myles children as being unaware of the wider world in the 1920s and 30s. They weren’t. Every few years their quiet, clever mother took one or another of them on a winter holiday to Glasgow, her original home town.
Bessie’s Glasgow trip was full of wonder while she and her mother were still on the night ferry from Derry – she discovered the flush toilets. Her memo says, “I went into one, pulled the chain, enjoyed watching the water gush out, then into another and did likewise and was heading for another when Mum spotted me. ‘Come back here. You don’t keep flushing toilets. The stewardess will scold you.’” Bessie didn’t quite see the logic in that: “After all, water isn’t scarce, the boat is surrounded with it, and there was nobody else in the toilets”.
Another window into the world was opened by electronics. The Myles family had a cousin, Bob, who had been orphaned at an early age and was being raised by an uncle and aunt, also in the Breesy district. Bob was like having an older brother living up the road. They forgave him for being of little use on the farm or with the cattle because he was a whizz with tiny craftsmanship.
This extended to building himself a radio, a first for Breesy and the surrounding district. A cable strung across two trees on either side of the road and down into the house served as the antenna. At night that house was busy with people coming to hear the “talking machine”.
Sunday night was a special case because Bob was able to tune in to the service broadcast by the BBC from St Martin-in-the-Fields church in Trafalgar Square in London. The Myles family, and half the neighbourhood, came over and congregated in the kitchen. The visiting farmers doffed their caps and sat in reverent silence for the duration.
It was from my mother’s notes that I first learned about Bob building the radio and the Sunday evenings. In fact, my mother surprised me by including in her Breesy memoirs matters of the heart – the goings-on between her heart and God. It looks like she had a tender conscience. She could remember being chastised for a fit of temper while still a little girl.
Then, ominously, she remembered, “When the fever was going round the school I took it later than the others. My throat was so bad the doctor was sent for”. Nobody did that on a whim. It required one of the boys to cycle the seven miles to Ballyshannon as fast as he could to produce Dr Gordon. He came and shined a flashlamp down her throat.
She says, “I don’t remember what was prescribed for a cure, but I do remember Dad coming in and praying for me on his knees by the bedside. I never did hear him pray out loud before.” Those were the days before penicillin was available. I can only imagine my grandfather’s turmoil as he prayed by Annie’s bedside. It moves me to this day.