17 February 2018

Some Party in Heaven part 2

‘Rejoice Always’ are very pleased to serialise an abridged version of Noel Davidson’s much-loved classic, ‘Some Party In Heaven.’ Although no longer available, there has been great public demand for this book and we are privileged to offer chapters of the text in each of our monthly magazines. Furthermore, Noel has rewritten aspects of his original text to bring the narrative up to date and increase its relevance for contemporary living.

Happy Days 

The wedding of Hertford and Phyllis on 23 April, 1983, in High Street Presbyterian Church, Lurgan, was a happy occasion. In addition to the joining together of two loving hearts, it afforded an opportunity for the coming together of two large families.

As wedding days so often are for parents, it was a day of joy, tinged with just a hint of sadness for Tom and Ethel Blakely and Ford and Jean Arnold. They were pleased at the prospects for their children, but conscious of a gap looming up somewhere ahead for themselves.

Brothers and sisters of the bride and groom assisted in every possible way to make the ‘big day’ a success. Some were in the bridal party, others acted as ushers at the church, and all the remainder attended with their husbands or wives, boyfriends or girlfriends, contributing much to the overall happiness of the event. They all enjoyed themselves, basking in the warmth of the infectious love of Hertford and Phyllis.

After the wedding, the young couple moved into the Arnold family home. Hertford’s parents had built a new house, leaving theirs for the newlyweds. It was a good house, a solid country house. The main feature of their new abode was the massive kitchen with its great terrazzo floor, white Aga, and huge twelve foot by five foot table.

This gigantic table, their dominant item of furniture, proved to be the setting for some heart-to-heart conversations between the young couple. Hertford sat at one end of the long table. His new wife was seated just around the corner, beside him. Often, when a meal was finished they would push the empty plates away from them and look at one another, then up at the length of the table. They would ponder, and dream and chat. Regardless of the topic on which the conversation started, it always seemed to end up on a constantly recurring theme. It was about a family. Their family. The family that they hoped so much they were going to have.

“How long do you think it will be until we have a family big enough to fill every chair?” one would ask.

“Ten or twelve years, likely, unless we have a set or two of twins!” would come the reply.

“How many boys do you think there will be?”

“How many girls?”

Thus the question and answer fantasy sessions continued, fuelled by much love and punctuated by much laughter. These end-of-the-table, end-of-a-meal, affectionate exchanges reflected an ambition of both husband and wife. They had both come from large, happy families. They would both like to have a large, happy family.

They were overjoyed, then, a few months later, when Phyllis discovered she was expecting a baby. Their dream had taken at least its first tiny step towards fulfilment.

During those days of early married life, Phyllis was vaguely conscious of God. She used to pray to Him, but only sometimes, and usually only when something was troubling her. She had lost her Christian conscience as well. Things that once caused raging storms of guilt to buffet her burdened soul didn’t even create the faintest ripple now. Anyway, she had something else to occupy her mind. There was someone else to talk about, to plan for. Her Saviour was shoved back into a distant third place in the race for her priority thinking.

Sitting side by side before the Aga many an evening, often with the lower oven door open and their feet jammed into it for heat, Hertford and she would discuss the baby-to-come.

“What room should we do up for him or her?” was one topic of discussion. Other matters considered at some length ranged from prams and cots to toys and nappies. Everything for little junior was going to be of the very best they could afford. It was important to them. They were ever so content.

Just one thing Hertford didn’t like. It was being left on his own, at work on the farm, while Phyllis attended her

antenatal clinic. Time dragged when she was away. On her return the anxious husband was invariably waiting in the yard. In his own direct, but caring manner, he would enquire, “Well, how are you today? What had the doctor to say about the both of you?” Then they would go into the house, put the kettle on the Aga, and Phyllis would give him a detailed, word-by-word account of what the doctor had said about her condition. When he was satisfied that all concerned were fit and well, and Phyllis kept assuring him that the doctor had told her they were, Hertford would return to work. That was usually about half-an-hour and two cups of coffee later!

Christmas, 1983, was a joyful time for the young couple. It was their first Christmas together. As she decorated the tree in the corner of the living room, Phyllis remarked to her devoted husband, “Just think, Hertford, next Christmas there will be three of us. We will have a baby to share all this with!”

On New Year’s Day, 1984, a Sunday, the happily expectant couple had lunch with Hertford’s parents. In the afternoon Phyllis was admitted to Lagan Valley Hospital, Lisburn. Again she found herself coping with that mixed-feeling sensation. She didn’t really relish the prospect of giving birth to her first-born, but she did look forward to having a baby of her own to nurse.

As Phyllis lay in her hospital bed she prayed about it. Although the fire of her faith had long since faded to a flicker, she communed with her Lord about what lay ahead, “Lord, please help me in the coming days,” she would pray, and always there was the same conclusion, the final request, “And please, Lord, let my baby be born safely.”

On Thursday 5 January, 1984, her prayers were answered. Thomas Jackson Arnold was born, called after his Granda Blakely.

He was some baby, too, tipping the scales at eleven pounds seven and a half ounces! The news spread like wildfire through the maternity unit. Some of the canteen staff visited the ward as they went off duty, “We just called in to see this big fellow so we could measure him up for his school uniform!” they joked.

The interest of the hospital staff, however, didn’t in any way match the delight of his mother and father. They were parents now, and proud of it! Hertford rang everybody whom he thought would be even remotely interested. He was so thrilled! The family circle on both sides was overjoyed as well. Everyone loved the young couple, and they all knew of their desire for a sizeable family. Thomas was a sturdy start to their campaign.

Phyllis, the radiant mother, just glowed. When she wasn’t actually nursing the baby out of the cot, she was watching him in it, or rearranging the rapidly increasing collection of flowers, toys and teddies around it.

On the day she was told she could go home, it snowed heavily. Phyllis phoned her husband.

“We can go home, Hertford!” she exclaimed excitedly. “Can you come for me? Even if you have to hire a helicopter, can you bring us home?”

Hertford’s days in motor-sport hadn’t been wasted after all. He knew a trick or two about driving in all conditions. A foot of snow wouldn’t deter him from fetching his wife and infant son home! “Don’t worry about a thing Phyllis,” he assured her. “If they are going to let you home, we will surely get you home!” Phyllis loved her Hertford’s determination. She was pleased with his decision. Above everything else, she wanted to be back at home with her husband and their little baby boy.

Tyrell came with Hertford and they made it to the hospital although the roads were well covered with snow.

What an exciting homecoming! Driving back up the M1 through deep snow, in the red EscortXR3, Tyrell had a big responsibility. The conditions were bad and the cargo was precious. Phyllis nursed baby Thomas. Hertford’s attention was divided. It was a threeway split. He was either concentrating on the hazardous conditions, his wife, now a mother, or their little baby son.

Before leaving for the hospital, Hertford had stoked up the fire. And what a fire! The living room was like an oven when they entered it. The tiles on the hearth were too hot to touch, and the chimney breast creaked in agony. It was bitter winter weather, and his wife and son were definitely not going to be frozen in a cold house! The warmth of their arrival was to herald happy days to come. The resounding echo had gone from the kitchen now. Nappies, a baby bath, a carry-cot and sterilising units were the additional items of essential equipment. Objects of various sizes, shapes and colours that either shook, rattled or squeaked were the ornaments. The big table always had something sitting on it. Hertford remarked once that it took more space for baby Thomas, with all his bits and pieces, ‘and all the size of him too,’ than it did for Phyllis and him put together. A new member of the Arnold household had come home. Things were never going to be quite the same again!

 Baby Thomas brought much delight to many. He was the centre of attention in the family circle. The entire lifestyle of his young parents was readjusted to accommodate his needs.

Programmes of work, snatched moments of leisure, and even the extent of any night’s sleep were geared to fit in with his feeding, sleeping, waking and resting patterns.

It was quite a change for Hertford, who once believed that you worked hard by day and slept soundly at night, to be standing perched on one leg by the Aga, at two o’clock in the morning heating a bottle. The other foot was being kept warm in the bottom oven. A terrazzo floor was desperately cold on the bare feet!

Thomas’ grandparents on both sides and his new aunts and uncles kept calling at the house or ringing up, to enquire about him, “Well, how’s the big man today?” they would ask. Phyllis’ sister Heather, however, had a keen interest in babies in general, and two in particular, at that time. She had just had a baby herself, a girl with a shock of black hair, called Carolyn. As Carolyn was her second child, Heather felt herself qualified by experience to help and advise Phyllis, a novice, in matters relating to the care of her infant son.

One afternoon in mid-March 1984, Phyllis went round to Heather’s house in Dromore for a chat. As always she had Thomas in his carry-cot. Hertford was busy in the fields, preparing to sow the barley. It was a pleasant, warmingup type of an early spring day. The first of the daffodils were beginning to reveal a hint of yellow. It was the sort of an afternoon when the days of winter faded from the memory. There was life in the air. And hope.

The two mothers and sisters sat in Heather’s kitchen and fed their babies. They chatted animatedly to one another as the bottles were emptied. Something Phyllis noticed, though, caused her a little concern. She had observed it before but hadn’t mentioned it to anyone. Thomas was always slow to finish his bottles. Carolyn, who was a month younger, usually had hers scoffed in half the time.

As Heather placed the empty bottle on the table, and straightened her baby up, ‘to get up her wind,’ Phyllis exclaimed, “She couldn’t have finished already!” But she had. When the feeding session was over, Phyllis and Heather went into the living room for a leisurely gossip. They would allow their babies to stretch and kick. It would be a refreshing time for them all. Heather was on her knees on the floor, adjusting the change mats, and making sure the children were comfortable. She had her back to Phyllis who was sitting on the settee.

Trying to sound as casual as possible, the mildly concerned mother asked the question which had begun to niggle her, “Heather, do you not notice a difference between Thomas and Carolyn?” Heather didn’t turn round, didn’t look up. She just answered, “What do you mean, Phyllis?” Before explaining exactly what it was she meant, Phyllis stood up. Then looking tenderly down at her cherished little boy as he lay flat on the floor, she blurted it out, “Do you not think there is something wrong with Thomas, Heather?” she asked quickly. The words seemed to explode from her mouth like fizz from a well-shaken drink can. She had to get it over with. Now it was out. What would be the reaction?

Nothing at first.

There was an awkward, almost embarrassing, silence. Both sisters felt strange.

Slowly Heather turned round and looked up at her younger sister. Phyllis noticed that her eyelashes and cheeks were glinting-wet. “To tell you the truth, Phyllis,” she replied gently, “Mummy is worried about Thomas. You know she has had seven of us so she should have some idea of what she is talking about. She thinks Thomas’ head should be a lot firmer by now than what it is.”

Turning back down again to attend to the children, Heather hastily brushed the tears from her cheeks with the side of her hand. So that was it! Phyllis’ worst fears had been realised. There WAS a difference between the two babies. Both sisters wept unashamedly.

Now that it was all out in the open, they could talk about it. They could act on it too. Changing infants back and forward between them they compared their firmness. This exercise progressed to a comparison of every possible feature they could think of.

Now that she had confided her blackest fears to her sister, Phyllis became more emotionally distressed. Heather kept trying to console her. She assured her younger sister that if there was a difference, there would probably be some perfectly simple medical explanation for it. “Just you stay here with me,” Heather suggested. “My doctor will be calling this afternoon to see Carolyn. We will ask him what he thinks.”

The next car to pull up at the house, however, was not the family GP. It was Ethel Blakely, the young mothers’ mother! “What on earth is wrong with the pair of you?” she asked as soon as she entered the living room. It didn’t take her many seconds to size up the situation. Red eyes, and soggy hankies in clenched fists, were the sure giveaways.

“What’s the truth of all this, mummy?” Phyllis came straight to the point, addressing her bewildered mother. “Do you think there is something the matter with Thomas?”

Mrs. Blakely stood still. She looked across from Heather to Phyllis. Then down from Thomas to Carolyn. She needed thinking time. How was she going to handle this one? How was she going to tell her daughter what she really thought?

“Yes, Phyllis,” she began lovingly. “I think his wee head should be firmer by now.” She paused for breath, but noticing the just-about-to-cry-again look on her young daughter’s face, went on hastily, “But don’t panic. I would advise you to take Thomas to the doctor and ask him to conduct a thorough examination.” “Well, actually, I have just told Phyllis to wait until my doctor calls this afternoon. I will ask if he would have a look at Thomas,” Heather informed her mother.

Mrs Blakely was glad to hear that. “Good idea,” she said. “I will just stay too and hear what his opinion is.”

When the family doctor called, about an hour later, Heather met him in the kitchen. There was a whispered conversation. As they approached the living room door, Phyllis could hear, through the chink that had been left open, Heather preparing the doctor for what he might find. “She is in here. She is really upset.” When the visiting GP entered the living room Phyllis was cradling her treasured Thomas protectively in her arms. Speaking quietly, he instructed Phyllis to lay him down on the floor. Then, kneeling down beside the baby, the doctor tried to lift him up.

As she watched him examine Thomas, Phyllis was conscious of little things which she had noticed before, but hadn’t dared mention. They didn’t seem like little things now! His head was floppy. Thomas could make no effort either to raise it up, or hold it up. After completing an examination of the tiny arms and legs as well, the doctor agreed that, yes, he should probably be firmer by now. Realising the emotional state Phyllis was in, but also the medical implications of the baby’s condition, he spoke kindly to the anxious mother.

“I would advise you to go, with Hertford, and take Thomas to see your own doctor as soon as possible,” he counselled.

Phyllis had to wait until after the doctor had checked up on Carolyn, before leaving. Beyond that she couldn’t stay. “I must go home and find Hertford,” she said, through her tears, to her mother and sister. Finding Hertford didn’t prove difficult. When the work in the fields was finished for the day he started to clear out a sheugh on the lane. That way he could occupy his restless hands and brain and he would be in a position to greet his wife and son when they arrived home in time for tea.

He was pleased to recognise the engine noise at last. That was them coming now. When Phyllis pulled up beside him she wound down the window. It didn’t take more than one glance into the car at her to establish that all was not well. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

“There’s nothing wrong with me, but I think there is something wrong with Thomas,” came the shock reply.

“What do you mean?” Hertford rushed to enquire. He was stunned.

“Let’s both go down to the house and we can talk about it,” his wife proposed in a voice that trembled with emotion.

Work was finished for good now. Shouldering the shovel and the fork, Hertford followed the car, which had set off in a flurry of stones and dust, to the house.

When the car drove into the yard, Hertford’s mother came over to it. As Phyllis opened the door to get out, her mother-in-law asked, out of friendly interest, “Well, have you had a good day?” Phyllis dissolved into tears. Again. With that sickening sense of having said the wrong thing, Mrs. Arnold followed up with a considerate, “Is there something the matter with you, Phyllis?” Opening another door of the car to lift Thomas out, the distraught young mother pointed to her infant son and said, through her sobs, “Not with me. But with him.”

Jean Arnold’s face turned ashen pale. The two women carried Thomas into the kitchen and were soon followed by Hertford.

When she had spread the change mat out on the large kitchen table, Phyllis laid Thomas down on it. Then she copied what the doctor had done. She raised him gently. “Look at his head,” she kept repeating. “Look at his head.” When her awestruck husband and his numbed mother did as she asked, they saw what she meant. Thomas couldn’t hold his head up. It just wobbled about. Or hung down limply.

Mrs Arnold knew they had to do something. There was no point in just standing there all afternoon, becoming more dejected. “Hertford, you go and get changed,” she ordered calmly. “Then the pair of you take Thomas down to the doctor’s right away.” It was sensible advice. The only obvious course of action. They needed answers, and they needed them soon.

Continued next month…

Noel Davidson