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First Love
by Maura Connolly
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‘WANT to try, Gran?’ asked my grandson, Tim. ‘Ah, no thanks love,’ I replied as I watched him play a game on his dad’s mobile phone. I could not even imagine my arthritic fingers fumbling with those little buttons.

‘Tell me about the phone in the old days, please Gran.’

‘Our phone was the only one in the village,’ I said and my mind went back to my young days and the old phone in our draughty hall and to my first love.

‘Our phone sat on the hall table. It was a big black shiny hand piece. You put one end to your ear to listen and spoke into the other end. It was attached to a cradle and the cradle was wired to the wall.

‘Phone calls were very expensive in those days, you had to pay for to install it along with the cost of the phone and you had to pay to rent the line. Ours was mostly used in times of emergencies to call the doctor or a vet for a neighbour or an occasional call to relatives who lived far away.

‘Our Aunt Mary lived in London and when we were in bed at night we often heard our mother chatting on the phone. My father constantly reminded her of the cost of the calls. All the neighbours used our phone. That’s the way it was in those days. Neighbours helped one another…’

My grandchildren listened attentively as I became lost in my memories.

‘The exchange was in the Post Office three miles down the road from our house. All calls that came to our phone went first to the exchange and Mrs Parker, the Post Mistress, put the call through. It was well known that she listened in to the conversations.

‘John came to stay with his Aunt Hilda for the summer holidays. It was 1960 and I had just turned 17. I fell head over heels in love. September came too soon and he returned to Dublin to work in his father’s shop.

‘I was waiting for confirmation of a place to commence my nursing career in London but in the meantime there was the phone. John phoned as often as he could.’

My grandchildren got fidgety. They were too young to be bothered with romance but I continued with my story.

‘In the big cities they had phone boxes. The phone was like ours except there was a box with a slot where you put in the money. When your money was used up, the phone just went dead.

‘John discovered that the phone in the phone box at the end of his street was broken and you could talk for ever for free. The phone became our best friend.

‘Mrs Parker was very annoyed. She was not used to her exchange being so busy and I expect to her, our chats were boring. When she met my mother at Mass she told her about the calls.

‘Unknown to us she refused to put John’s calls through and when I asked for his number she said “no answer” and hung up. I was broken hearted and could not understand why John did not phone me or even accept my calls.’

‘She was a wicked lady,’ said Tim.

His younger sister piped up. ‘He should not have phoned without putting money in the box.’ She was preparing for her First Holy Communion and was very aware of what was right or wrong.

‘Maybe you are right child,’ I replied.

‘The years passed. I went nursing to London and returned to Ireland to work in the local hospital. Then I met and married your granddad, Pat. I never met John again. His aunt sold the farm while I was in London and I lost all contact.

‘It was years later I met Mrs Parker when she was in the hospital on an Out Patient visit. She asked me did I ever keep in touch with that “young Smith fellow from Dublin?”

‘It was a long time ago so I just said “No” and wished her well with her doctor’s appointment. My mind wandered back to bygone days and to John and the smile that made my heart sing.’

‘Gran, why do you look so sad?’ asked young Tim. ‘Do you not love granddad Pat?’

‘Of course I do, Tim. Now off with you, I hear your dad calling.’

Tim and his dad are gone home and I am still thinking of that summer and what might have been.

Pat and I have a good life and a happy marriage but there is always something special about first love.