Mary was relieved but not surprised. She had now discovered why it took Timmy so long to walk to Granny’s each Saturday morning.
Peeping through the bars of the big iron gate at Jeffers’ farm, as Sandra Jeffers put “Silver” through his paces, he was now so enraptured that Mary could spy on him at close range, having tailed him from home at a discreet distance. She watched her little ten-year-old swoon with fascination each time the grey pony swished past, ears pricked, with Sandra balanced beautifully in the saddle, the reins held gently in her white-gloved hands. Mary could sense his ecstasy, riding in tandem with Sandra, moving his little body in harmony with every stride, savouring the thrill of the gallop, feeling the excitement in his little thumping heart.
Mary Treacy felt blessed to have such a special little son, cherishing him as the answer to her prayers, after having three lovely girls in succession. She would dearly love to get him the pony he craved, but Jack’s meagre County Council pay-packet would never stretch that far.
“But Mammy,” he would plead, “If I could get a little foal… he wouldn’t cost much an’ he would grow big an’ I could train him myself.”
“Oh I don’t know, Timmy.” Running short of convincing answers Mary thought of a diversion.
“Wouldn’t it be better for you now to be thinking of poor little Jimmy Ryan down the road instead of a pony. It’s not ponies that’s worrying him, but trying to stay alive and get cured of his terrible ailment.”
“Mammy, why don’t God cure the hole in little Jimmy’s heart, an’ all the people at Mass, an’ the teacher, an’ all the children at school asking him?”
“God has his own way of doing things, Timmy, and if he wants little Jimmy to grow up he will cure him in his own time.”
“But why wouldn’t he want little Jimmy to grow up like other little boys? Sure Jimmy never did anything to make God vexed with him.”
“Ah, sometimes he takes back little boys when they are still young; I don’t really know why, darling. Perhaps he feels they are not strong enough for this big world. Anyway, sure God knows best himself, and we have to accept whatever he decides to do.”
“Well, what’s the use praying to him then, Mammy, if he is goin’ to make up his own mind anyway?”
“I’ll tell you what you’ll do, darling. Her hands gently on his narrow fragile shoulders, she held him out from her to get full eye contact with her little addled son.
“Saint Anthony has never let me down when I asked him for things, and you should start praying to him for little Jimmy. He must love little children because he spends every day in heaven carrying Baby Jesus around in his arms.” Pointing to the small picture on the wall, she continued, “See what I mean, and wouldn’t he have a great chance to whisper your little request in the ear of Baby Jesus.”
Timmy’s eyes lit up.
“ An’ can I ask Saint Anthony for a pony too, Mammy?”
“Of course you can, love…. but remember now, little Jimmy’s recovery is far more important than your pony.”
“Yes Mammy, I know, I know.”
The little community hall in Ballygrow was the venue for the special meeting convened by Father Byrne to organise fund-raising for Jimmy Ryan’s operation in London. It was the last hope for the little boy, with a fifty per cent chance of success, and although it would cost a lot of money, all agreed that he deserved this chance of a lifetime.
A children’s concert, a church-gate collection, a jumble sale, were all good ideas, but Mrs Jeffers’ suggestion got them all excited. Her proposal was a Monster Draw, and she would personally donate the Grand Prize: a two-year-old Connemara pony. The tickets would be sold far and wide, and the winner would be drawn at the children’s concert.
“A brilliant idea,” everyone agreed, “and so generous of Mrs Jeffers.”
Returning home with her neighbours, Mary shared a beautiful feeling of togetherness and community spirit, reflecting on the wonderful motivating power of a little sick boy, lying there at the crossroads of life, waiting for divine directions.
But she was also thinking of her own little boy. The Grand Prize of the pony would set little Timmy’s mind in turmoil. It would be such a huge focus of his attention that school and everything else would be totally excluded from his mind. Then he would have to suffer the sadness of seeing someone else winning, causing such pain and disappointment to break his little heart. She would have to be gentle and patient with him, somehow get him to understand the very slim chance he had of winning, and prepare him for the almost certain possibility of losing.
Her fears were justified. For three weeks he thought of nothing else. Repeatedly she would overhear him pleading with Saint Anthony to whisper his little twin-tracked request in the ear of Baby Jesus: “To win the pony and cure little Jimmy.” Mary was becoming so worried she could have done with a few prayers for herself.
Each book of tickets contained two free for the seller. Timmy saw his opportunity. He got his parents, sisters, uncles, aunts, and even his granny to sell books for him, putting his name on the two free tickets in each book. Mary was amazed at his ingenuity. It worked so well that the name Timmy Treacy was written on more than two hundred tickets with no cost to anyone.
The children’s concert was a marvellous success. The little community hall was bulging with the crowd. It was time for the Grand Draw. While Father Byrne thanked everyone on behalf of little Jimmy Ryan, Mrs Jeffers prepared to draw the winning ticket.
Timmy was squashed between his mother and father mid-way down the hall. When Mary took his hand at the big moment it was hot and sweaty. His face was flushed and he was shivering all over. She put her arm around him and held him tenderly as Mrs Jeffers thrust her hand deep into the drum, withdrew a ticket and handed it to Father Byrne. A hush descended. Nobody dared to make a sound as the priest’s clear voice rang out: “Timmy Treacy, Bog Road, Ballygrow!!!”
The hall erupted in pandemonium, with thunderous applause.
Timmy was stunned and speechless. His parents were
overcome too, and Mary felt even worse to witness the rare sight of big tears streaming down Jack’s face.
It took a few evenings for Jack to convert the little shed behind the cottage into a snug stable and repair the fence around the half-acre.
Mary pondered a remarkable co-incidence. On the day Timmy’s pony arrived, Jimmy Ryan was taken by ambulance to Dublin Airport, and by plane to London.
As each day passed, the joy of having the little grey pony was sweetly savoured by Timmy. Looking forward to riding him soon, he would rise early each morning, rush out to the stable, and only on his mother’s insistence, return for breakfast, before heading off to school.
In the evenings, Mary watched him sit quietly admiring the pony, and realised that thoughts of little Jimmy were filling his mind. She knew he was still saying a few little prayers to Saint Anthony asking him to whisper again, because without Jimmy’s recovery the joy of winning the pony would be all no good.
One evening about two weeks later Timmy arrived home hot and breathless, dropped his heavy schoolbag behind the kitchen door and headed for the stable. Mary called him back.
“Come here Timmy, I want you.”
“Ah, Mammy, I’m just goin’ out to the pony.”
“Come here now, I have something to tell you.”
He turned. “Yes Mammy?”
“Mrs Ryan was here to-day. She came back from London yesterday. Little Jimmy is over his operation and it was a great success. He’ll be home in a couple of weeks, and the doctors hope he will make a full recovery. Now isn’t that great news.”
Timmy seemed stuck to the floor. For a few seconds he just stood there wide-eyed and speechless. Then rushing over, wrapped his little arms as far as they would go around her waist, pressing his little body tightly to hers.
Mary knew that the sheer gravity of it was too much for his little mind to cope with all at once as a great flood of tears filled his eyes and flowed down his cheeks. The gentle sobs
against her body led Mary to tears too, and in a soft soothing voice asked:
“What’s the matter Timmy darling? Sure you should be delighted with the great news. You’ll have little Jimmy home soon now, and everything will be fine.”
“I know, I know, Mammy…’tis great… an’ then I’ll be able to keep my promise to Saint Anthony.”
“Promise? What promise did you make to him, darling?”
“I told him that if little Jimmy got cured an’ came home again, I would do the same for little Jimmy that he does for little Jesus; I would carry him around every day on my pony.”
Astonished and almost overcome with emotion, Mary embraced him so tightly that he couldn’t look up to see the tears of heavenly joy streaming down her face.
An excerpt from ‘TIME AND TIDE’
(Stories Rich and Real – Poems Sweet and Tender)
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