“B Dublee dubblel dubblee K,” my grandmother said triumphantly, when I asked her to spell the name of her hometown. She smiled happily, glad she had remembered. My mother interjected, “That’s not how you spell it! It’s b,e,double l, double e K.” My grandmother looked her in the eye. “What was his question? “How do you spell Beleek,” my mother answered. “And to whom did he ask that questions?” “To you,” my mother replied. “Well, that’s how I spell it!” Grandma said. Mother turned, looked at me, rolled her eyes and walked away shaking her head and mumbling.
Beleek is a small village very near the border of North Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, in County Fermanagh. Consequently, there was much friction there between the Irish and the English. Thankfully I had the privilege of visiting there and meeting family, although after my grandmother had passed. I personally never encountered any turmoil, but it was often talked about by the adults in hushed tones, and always in a corner. Whenever an event occurred, it seem to be at night when I was asleep. I do recall arising one morning just as my Aunt Bridget was coming home. She had been to a meeting the night before and had been on her way home on her bicycle when she was confronted by a vehicle filled with English soldiers. After extensive interrogation, they allowed her to continue but confiscated her bicycle. This meant she had to walk home in the dark night over roads that were little more than cow paths. They returned her bicycle the next day after she had walked back to town to retrieve it. This occurrence did little to ease the tensions that existed.
As for me, I was having the time of my life. I discovered that there was a garage in the village that rented bicycles. For the sum of one penny I could utilize one for the entire day. God and I were smiling, and heaven was right here in Beleek. And on top of everything else, the man in the garage only charged me every other day! This meant two days for a penny! Life has never so good to me since! Everyday would find me riding on the back roads, singing at the top of my lungs. The popular song at this time was “The Wayward Wind.” I adored it and bellowed it throughout the countryside. By the time our vacation was over, every tree, bird, fence and rock knew the words by heart.
I never had a mishap–my bike and I ruled the world! The only accident that happened had nothing to do with my bike. My cousin Mary and I were walking along a country road when we chanced upon an abandoned baby carriage (we called them prams). Everything was in working order. Although it had been used and abused, to us it was like finding a diamond. “Get in and I’ll give you a ride,” Mary ordered. Joy consumed me as I sat in the battered shell.
We took turns pushing each other along the road. When we came to a steep downward slope, I was riding in the shell and started to get out. “No stay in. I’ll push it down the hill, ”Mary ordered. “OK,” I replied and off we went.
Almost immediately the pram began to pick up speed and I was soon barreling down the hill. I turned to tell Mary to stop, but was flabbergasted to see her standing at the top of the hill waving her arms. I just had time to turn back around when the road ran out. Up over the embankment I went, becoming airborne and landing in a stream. Thank God it was shallow, as I couldn’t swim. Mary came running at top speed and lept in the water to save me. As we climbed out, we both promised not to tell our parents and began what we thought was the long walk home. But as we rounded the first curve, we practically bumped into the house. My mother was standing outside looking at us. “My God, what happened?” she said.
In true gentlemanly fashion I became a turncoat. “She threw me in the river,” I said. “I did not. It was an accident, and I jumped in to pull him out,” cried Mary. With water still dripping from us, my mother told us to stay where we were. She went inside and got towels and dry clothes. When we at last were presentable, she told us to go to our rooms–in this case it was the same room. Aunt Bridget’s cottage had only two bedrooms–one for her and one for guests. In no time at all, Mary and I were best friends again and laughing over the whole episode.
I think of Beleek often with great warmth, and when I do, I see my grandmother smiling proudly and saying, “B dublee dublel dublee K.”