If my father had been born Italian, I swear he would have been linked to the Mafia.
My father has always been furtive. He has always been secretive in everything he has ever done. It is as though without a secret my father has nothing. I could never get a straight answer about anything from my dad. I’d ask how he had spent his day, and he would always reply vaguely, saying something like I can’t discuss that. Dad would preface all the little snippets that he might divulge with for reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you anything more than this… He would insist I trust him.
Dad had the hair and the complexion to warrant being part of the Mafia. I can remember his thick dark hair when I was a little girl, but just in case I should ever forget, Dad would frequently remind me, I used to have a thick head of hair. I longed for Dad to be Italian. Spanish would have worked too, just anything other than Irish. Italian and Spanish people seemed exotic to me as a child. Our parish priest was Italian and ironically enough, when I was old enough to make the connection, I realized that he sounded just like the Godfather in the movie. Irish people, with the exception of the leprechaun, held absolutely no interest for me. From as early as I can remember I always associated Irish people with being the under-dog, even when I didn’t have the language to express that concept. Irish people seemed mournful, full of woe, and as I grew up I felt they carried the weight of bricks as chips on their shoulders. How else could I possibly have felt growing up in an Irish household in London in the 1960s? I went to Catholic school with English and Irish children, but I always knew deep down inside, that those of us from Irish parents, even as far as the nuns were concerned, were just not good enough.
I was two years old when my parents left the house they owned in Dublin to go to London. They were in search of a better life. They were following Dad’s dreams, and that of the then president of Ireland, Eamon Develara. It was a shock to the young fortune hunters when most of the places they looked to rent wore the signs of prejudice proudly in their windows. My Dad’s half-nephew had moved to London ahead of us, and he had found somewhere for us to live, saving Dad and Mum the first shot of shame. Not long after we arrived in London, Dad would find us a flat in North Finchley, where after going to nursery school in Hendon I would end up at school with the likes of the daughters of Conservative Party politicians. Margaret Thatcher would one day present me with the prize for Endeavor at the annual school prize -giving day. Poor old Belinda, my mother would say as she watched me, a shy child walking to the stage to receive my gift. She tries so hard and never gets anywhere.
Who could have blamed me for my sense of insecurity and lack of self-worth? After all, if the No Dogs, No Blacks, No Irish signs weren’t enough, comedians on the television and the radio flaunted their jokes. Did I tell you the one about the Englishman, the Scotsman, and the Irishman? Guess which one was the idiot.
Dad had this thing about youth and baldness and how the two just shouldn’t be in any way related. I stumbled upon his sensitivity to the issue when one day while he was watching wrestling on television, I drew a circle with my finger tip inside his bald spot. I think it was when I suggested it would make a good skating rink for spiders that Dad lost it with me. I was only five years old and I will never forget that moment. Dad yelled. I cried. Mum told us to cut it out. What ensued was far more troubling. Ready for bed and just needing that last kiss goodnight, I came into the living room one night to find Dad sitting with a flowery shower cap on his head. The stench in the room was appalling. It was like nothing I’d ever smelled before, and wouldn’t smell again until my new next-door neighbor in California (whom I would meet almost thirty years later) left the poop from her chickens to fester in the heat of the sun in her plastic garbage can next to my front door. Dad had smothered his head in chicken shit, and locked it all down with a plastic cap.
I reminded Mum about this incident last November. The weather in Dublin was cold and icy. Mum was at home alone caring for Hugo, my step-dad, and I was sitting at my computer Skyping her from sunny California. Mum and I had got into a routine. Mum was lonely and she was struggling to manage Hugo’s physical needs. I skyped Mum every day, being careful not to interrupt her favorite television shows. God forbid she would miss a minute of “Coronation Street”. Four months later and post-stroke, Mum would deny ever watching such working class trash on T.V. I was working pretty intensively on my book Kippers on Thursday; Bombs on Friday. Stories about my mother featured affectionately in the Kippers section, and so I would read her a little of what I’d written each day. It was fun. It was like bed-time stories in reverse. It was morning for me, evening for her, and the “child” was telling the story. Mum remembered some of my
recollections. At times she was able to fill in some blanks for me. She had absolutely no recollection of the chicken-shit baldness cure story though. Maybe it was like child-birth for her – the pain you deny later on and swear not to remember. If I can still smell the chicken poop, forty plus years later, surely so could she.
Troubled by Mum’s assertion that well now, Belinda. I think you are imagining this, and in my commitment to honor the truth as a writer, I decided it was time to research this cure for baldness. First stop –Google. Sure enough there it was. An article published as recently as 2007 supports my Dad’s claim and my recollection of his actions, stating that indeed, spreading a paste of chicken poop and potassium salts on the bald spot would make the hair grow again.
In an article in The Telegraph on August 30th 2007 about a rare book find – The Path-Way to Health, written by Peter Levens (first published in London in 1654,) the chicken poop cure is described:
A cure for baldness: apply chicken dung
“……The hair-restorer is a noxious concoction, enough to put off most 21st-century men. The book says: “Take the ashes of Culver-dung in Lye, and wash the
“Culver-dung” may be translated as chicken dung and “Lye” is a strong alkaline solution of potassium salts made from ashes and used in soap-making.”
In the same book the author goes on to give his remedy for infertility:
“To make a Woman soon to conceive with Childe”, instructing:
“Take the wine that Nep hath been sodden in, til the third part thereof be consumed, and give it to the Woman to drinke, fasting, for three days together, and she shall soon conceive with childe. Proved.”
Now that I’ve read it on the Internet, I know it must be true. Right?
I’d love to be able to share this new information with Mum, but now, post-stroke, she will not remember anything about the conversation we had last November.