My life story began in my grandmother’s house in 121 Union Street Lurgan County Armagh Northern Ireland. I was born on the 14th of October 1958; my mother’s name was Jean and my father was Roy Fugard. I was the first child, my brother Terry and sister Ruby followed later.
Both my parents worked in factories and i have vivid memories of my mother leaving me with another family when she went to work. I am not sure exactly what age i was but i know that i always kicked up a fuss when my mother would leave me. Later she worked in the home clipping threads off embroidered handkerchiefs.
Our house was situated beside my Grandmother and Grandfather McCullough; my Aunt lived next door to that. Most of my memories in Union Street were good. When the front doors opened in the morning they remained open until bed time. It was great running in and out of the different houses getting fed. Nutty crust with butter and sugar was part of my staple diet.
My Grandfather McCullough was a well known character who had a business selling chickens. Chicken and woodpigeon were also a part of my staple diet. My father would go hunting and bring home pigeons and sometimes ducks and rabbits. I liked the chicken ok but was never all that keen on the wild stuff. In those days you went hungry if you did not eat what was placed before you.
I have no recollection of any of my family going to church but for some reason someone decided that it would be good for me to go. Literally yards from our house in Union Street there were two Christian meeting places. The Brethern Gospel hall was on my side of the Street and the Salvation Army was directly opposite the Gospel hall on the other side of the Street.
I think i was around seven years old when i was first introduced to the things of God. Outside of the two Sunday schools i heard nothing else about God, certainly not in our house. My Early Sunday School experience was a little confusing, in one place there was great singing but no musical instruments and in the other place it was coming down with musical instruments accompanied with great singing.
The people in both places were kind and friendly, one seemed more generous than the other when it came to prize giving and i can remember on only one occasion answering a question right regarding the loaves and fishes and receiving a thru penny bit as a reward. (Not sure of the spelling there). Both Sunday Schools told me that Jesus loved me and gave his life for me.
I honestly don’t know how much of what i was told about Jesus then made any real sense to me there and then but i know for certain that it impacted my life in a powerful way later on in my life. My recollection of stopping Sunday school was when i reached the ripe old age of nine or there about. I don’t think my parents had any real interest for my spiritual well being; rather it gave them a break from me for a couple of hours.
It was around this time in my young life that i would encounter for the first time what personal loss was. All i know is this, one day my mother was there looking after me and then suddenly without warning she was gone. Gone where? To this day i still do not know. My brother Terry had been born but not my sister Ruby when this happened. When i asked where my mum was no one could tell me, when i asked why she had gone away no one could tell me and when i asked when she was coming back the answer remained the same.
I thank the Lord for a loving Grandmother and Aunt who really looked after us and cared for us during this confusing and worrying time. After some months my life seemed to re-adjust to the absence of our mother. My Grandmother had taken the place of her daughter as mother. Then one day approximately one year later our mother returned as suddenly as she had departed.
My recollection of her return was that of confused feelings, i was glad that she was ok but angry at the same time. I suppose that i somehow understood that we had been abandoned but with no comprehension as to why. Things were not the same now in the home, i was not the only one confused and angry, my father’s attitude towards his wife and our mother had also changed.
When exactly my father started drinking i cannot remember but his drinking became more obvious to me after my mother’s return. Arguing and fighting became more prevalent in the home but only when our father had consumed enough alcohol to drastically alter his personality. When sober my father was a quiet gentle man but when intoxicated he became a wicked man. He was not wicked towards his children but he was towards their mother.
During this period our mother became pregnant and during her pregnancy she had to have heart surgery in the Royal Victoria hospital in Belfast. I for some reason remember that a doctor or professor Pantridge was the surgeon who persuaded our mother that the baby would not be affected by the heart surgery. Thankfully he was right and our sister Ruby was born healthy.
A year or so after this we moved out of Union Street and away from our Grandparents and Aunt. I found this very difficult as the bond between us was threatened. I voiced my objections but to no avail and we moved to Hill Street. The move did not make sense to me as it was not really that far away from the place where i was born and was happy with my extended family around me.
It has been said that the older you get the wiser you get and i was beginning to experience this. Out of the blue a friend of our mothers started to visit the house in Hill Street; we knew nothing about this man. We never had a family car and to be honest any trips we ever went on were usually by bus and on the odd occasion by train. This man had a car and suddenly he was taking our family on outings.
I do not want to go into all of the details but the reason why we moved to Hill Street soon became apparent, this man lived just across the street from our house. As time passed i became aware that this man and our mother were in some sort of relationship but due to our father’s alcohol problem he was at this point seemingly oblivious to what was going on right before his eyes.
At some point my dad must have found out that something was not right and we moved out of Hill Street and into a place called Trasnaway. I felt a sense of relief and hoped that in our new home things would be different. I was between the age of twelve and thirteen. I was particularly excited about the new house as for the first time during my life we had an indoor toilet. Excuse the pun but what a relief.
When we lived in Union Street i had to take a torch with me to go to the outside toilet at night. From an early age my Granny had warned me always to shine the torch into the toilet bowl before sitting on it just to make sure that no rats were in it. The toilet was adjacent to what was called the pit. There were no rubbish bins distributed in our Street at this time so all the garbage was thrown into this pit and the bin men would come with their little red lorry and transfer the garbage from the pit into the red lorry.
This was a real spectacle for the kids because as the bin men cleared out the pit the rats and mice that were inhabiting the pit would be scurrying everywhere and the bin men would be either trying to club them to death with their shovels or impale them on their pitch forks. The new house also had a proper bath with hot running water. Up until this time hot water had to be boiled in buckets and put into a portable tin bath in order to bathe. Recalling these memories are starting to make me feel a little old.
Time for another break. Next will be the start of my teenage years.