By Paul Hughes from Blanchardstown.
Some years after leaving school, I was driving through my home town in my lorry. The memory of my past days came back to me. I went to school in Dunboyne, Co Meath, back in the fifties. I felt I was different to most of the other boys in the class. It was the teacher who made me feel inferior. Why would he want to make me feel different from the rest?
I came from a very poor, single parent family. This was very much frowned on in Ireland back then. The teacher seemed to enjoy making little of me in front of the whole class, always telling me I would never make anything of myself. I started to believe him.
When he wanted something done he would call on me to do it, such as going out and getting coal for the open fire. I did all his errands.
One morning when the roll was called and all the boys were sitting at their desks, the headmaster looked for a volunteer to kill his goose. There was silence in the classroom. Nobody put up their hand to volunteer. I knew it was going to be me, he didn't look at me, and he never did. With his next breath, he said:
"Hughes will you kill the goose?"
"I will, Sir" I said.
I had no idea what was to be done.
"Come up here, Hughes."
As I got out from my desk and headed up to the front of the class, he put his hand into his pocket and took out a small, well used, silver penknife. The master smoked a pipe and used the knife for cutting the slab of tobacco. He thrust the knife into my hand saying, "make sure you bleed him well". I still did not know what I was going to do.
"I will, Sir," I said.
On leaving the school room, I didn't know what to do next. I never had anything to do with geese at home. All we had were hens, turkeys and a few guinea fowl. Walking up the street to the master's house, it was about 300 yards away. I didn't know what to expect. I knew I could not turn back and tell the master I could not do the job.
When I arrived at the master's house, his wife was waiting at the back door.
"Good morning, Mam," I said.
She looked at me. She was a real lady.
She said in a very soft voice "You will find the goose over in the garage."
She looked a little embarrassed when telling me. As I opened the big garage door, I didn't know what lay ahead. Suddenly a black headed bird was looking at me, straight in the eyes. I was frightened of the size of it. I rushed at it and with one hand, I caught its neck and I placed the other arm around its body. I tied its legs together and hung it up on an old, rusty nail on the back of the garage door.
I took out the small silver penknife from my pocket, pulled out the blade and holding the goose by the head, I made a small cut in its neck. My hands were shaking. I let his head go. He started to flap his wings. The feathers were flying through the air. His head was bouncing from side to side. There was blood squirting from the small cut in his neck. But the goose was not dying. I could see his eyes were wide open. He was looking at me.
I produced the knife again and took another dive at the goose. I cut him again but it did not work, he was still flapping around. I got the penknife and for the third time I pulled out the blade. I took a dive at the goose and I kept cutting. I cut until I couldn't cut any more. The head was clean off him. It hit the garage floor. The wings were still flapping. There were feathers flying. There was blood all over the place. The wall and the back of the garage door were destroyed.
I looked at my own clothes and they were covered in blood. All of a sudden everything went quiet. I looked at the blood covered goose. He was dead. Finally, he was dead. I had to clean up all the blood off the floor, the garage door and myself. I did this with an old cloth that I found in the back of the garage. When all was done I closed the garage door.
I looked for the headmaster's wife; she was nowhere to be seen. I presumed she was back in the house. I knew her to be a very caring and pleasant lady. Walking back to the class, I had a great feeling of satisfaction. I had done something that no other boy in my class would do. When I placed the knife on the master's desk, the only words he uttered were:
"Did you bleed him, Hughes?"
"I did, Sir."
"I cut his head off, Sir."
"You bled him well"
He never said 'thanks, Hughes' or 'well done, Hughes' or even 'good boy.' I felt sad going back to my desk, after all I had done. No other boy in the class would even volunteer for the task. Before the day was out, I would be told that 'I would never make anything of myself.' I would be told that I was only 'fit to sweep the streets.'
In the years that followed, I had turned my hands to different jobs. After I got a few pounds together I purchased a lorry and started up my own haulage business. I had forgotten those days until one day I was passing through the village and the school children from the school that I attended were out playing football. Who did I see standing on the green with his hands behind his back but myoid headmaster.
I parked the lorry. I wanted to confront him but I was afraid. I went into the phone box and pretended to make a call. I got up the courage. I came out, I went over to him and said:
He looked at me.
"Who have I here," he said.
"Do you not remember me?" I said.
"No" he said.
"Paul Hughes" I said.
"Ah Paul! How are you?"
"Who are you working for now?"
"Paul Hughes" I said and then I turned and pointed to the lorry with my name on the side. I looked back at him but he was speechless.
"Paul Hughes,haulage contractor, that's who I work for."
I turned on my heels and got into my lorry and drove away.
It was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. Being able to walk away and hold my head up and show him that I made something of myself. I didn't end up sweeping the roads. He told me that's all I would be fit for. I was so happy to prove him wrong. So happy, and proud.