In Awe.

“A blackbird! A blackbird !” I shout pointing to the bird flapping weakly in the grass.

Daddy, rolled-up shirt sleeves, tie and waistcoat, leaves the old lawnmower, comes over and crouches down near the bird.

Tommy and Ena McWilliams with their children, from the left, author, baby Elaine and Ivor in the garden at Carninny Road, Ballymena, 1957.

We are in the garden of our house on the Carninny Road just outside the Ballymena town boundary. Daddy has cycled home from work as a bread man at Morton and Simpson’s bakery, and before our dinner he cuts the grass next to the vegetable plot.

“No, it’s a crow, bigger that a blackbird. Look at its big black beak.” he says, taking it up gently and showing it to me. I hesitantly stroke its feathers. Above the large sharp beak its beady eye blinks.

We have lived here for about two years. Against my father’s better judgement – a fear of debt mostly – he and my mother took out a mortgage on this 1940s bungalow on a large 2-acre site. There’s a big front garden, the lower half, next the road, a boggy meadow. Behind the house where the ground rises, there is a hen house for about 100 laying hens – my mother’s enterprise. A year or two later major cracks will appear in the front walls, the house is sinking on poor foundations.  He panics, believing his worst fears are realised. However, the house sells relatively easily, and they move the mortgage to an urban end-of-terrace house on the Ballymoney Road; it has small garden, back and front, and there is no space for laying hens.

“What’s wrong with it?” I ask.

“It’s a young one, maybe struck a wire, but we’ll fix it.” he says spreading the bird’s wings.

He takes a box of matches from his pocket, carefully holding the bird between his elbow and body, strikes the red top match, blowing it out to wave the sulphurous smoke under the bird’s beak.

Cupping the bird in his hands he rises from the ground slowly. Standing above me, he launches the bird skyward in a graceful arc of his arms. In the air it flutters briefly, catches its rhythm, and flies up and away from us. He picks me up in his arms.  We hear the crow’s call – Caw! Caw! Caw! – and watch until it can no longer be seen in the evening sky.

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