Thursday, June 23, 2011

My Back Up Against the Wall

“Paul, have you cleaned up your room?”

There he goes again, the stern voice from beyond my bedroom door. He’s a bright fella, my Pa, self-taught and all that, but, on his own, Bob was a bit lost, a bit too rigid. Clearly he misses my Ma, but she’s dead, right, and we all have to go on the best we can. For me, that means carrying on with no rules.

Not so for our Bob, who must be obeyed. I can’t believe his views. Today, he showed Norman and me his new system. A list of who would be responsible for which chore. Do the beds, vacuum the floor, mind the washing. And all pinned on a note to the kitchen door. He was no Martin Luther, I can tell you that. Pa’s 95 Theses were about doing the bloody laundry.

And Norman was right with him, my big brother trying to be a big man. Who’s he to boss me around? I’m already 14. It’s too bad I missed him when I threw the kitchen knife at him.

The door swung open.

“Paul, did you buy the dinner like I asked you?” Pa was steaming; he didn’t even knock before he entered my cupboard sized box-room.

“Could you knock first? I could be busy, you know?” That’s not how to talk to the old man; I know that, but what of it? Who was he after all? A postal clerk who didn’t listen anyway. Oh, he’d go on about “Gerry this and Gerry that” from the office, but if I had something to say, something important, he was a brick wall. And if I talked back, he’d erupt, like the time I was ten and he locked me in my room. He could be an ass, for sure.

“It’s my house and as long as that is the case, I have no need of knocking.”

OK, fine, it was going to be that way. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of looking his way. Instead, I faced the floor, running my hands through my hair. If I closed my eyes could I make him go away?

“Paul, I know it’s been difficult for you since your Ma passed, difficult for all of us, but we need to come together as a family and you are not doing your part to help. Your brother Norman is working, I’m working and you need to care for the house. We’re….”

Ah, he keeps prattling on. I tuned him out. What a bore. Just like a Catholic, with their arbitrary rules and orders and guilt. Why’d a nice Church of Ireland girl marry a Papist and endure the wrath of her family and mates? My Ma was so sweet and gentle. She deserved so much better than Bob. Though Dublin’s no Belfast, it didn’t do me any good to come from a mixed marriage like that. I’m glad she brought me up the way she did. Let Bob Hewson go to Mass alone. He deserved it. Ma’s death was a punch in the gut and, when I gulped for air, my eyes widened and saw everything clearly. For the first time really.


“Will you just shut up, you bloody Fenian.” The words just came out. Not loud, not screaming. Cold and calm.

My Pa turned white as a sheet, though I hadn’t seen a clean sheet in weeks. Laundry was another one of my chores.

“What did you call me?” Oh, he heard me loud and clear and didn’t like it.

“Fenian. Well, you are aren’t you?”

Bob went from pale to scarlet in a flash.

“Listen you little whelp. Iris and I suffered enough at the hands of our parents and so-called friends when we married. I will not hear it from a snot-nosed little boy, even if that boy happens to be my son.”

I never thought about their struggles, not once, but I saw in the moment that my mother was wrong to marry a Catholic, that the troubles outside raging were the fault of Catholics looking to overthrow the rightful government in the north. And old Bob Hewson, my Da, he was one of them. I’d had enough of it.

“Ma was right to bring us up Anglican. That’s who she was and that’s who I am.” It was time for my own Reformation. “The Protestant Ulstermen are right.”

Pa’s ruddy face blanched. He seemed to shrink a tad.

“You’re part me, you may have noticed,” he put forth without passion.

I thought on that a moment. He was wrong.

“Nah, not really. I can’t imagine the life of a postman, shuffling papers and waiting to have a pint and a singsong with my mates on Friday night. There are big things out there, big causes, and I’m going to find them out.” I stood up and there you have it.

“You’re a 14-year-old schoolboy. I forbid you to leave this house.”

I surprised myself when I pushed him aside from the doorway he blocked. I’d read about the Ulster Young Militants, the youth wing of the Ulster Defence Association. I wasn’t quite sure how I’d find my way North and, even if I got there, how I’d find the loyalist sons of the land.

“You’ll regret this son. I swear on your Mother’s memory that you’ll be back. And when the day’s come that you return, don’t be so sure you’ll be welcomed with open arms.” That was my Pa, strict and cocksure, to the very end.

“You’re wrong there,” I answered, giving him a steely look. “Someday, Bobby, someday, you’ll get yours.”

He was dead silent as I brushed by him. My new passion overcame me and I spun around, fist upraised.

“No fockin’ surrender! Remember 1690!” And I was gone.

Paul Hewson, the youngest son of Bob and Iris Hewson, grew up in Dublin, the child of a mixed marriage. Though Dublin wasn’t victimized by the religious violence of the Northern “Troubles,” his parents mixed marriage (Bob was Catholic and Iris was Protestant), caused young Paul much uncertainty and confusion. After the sudden death of his mother in September 1974, Paul rebelled against father. Though Iris had taken Paul and his older brother Norman to Church of Ireland services, Paul had no religious affinity as a result of his parents differing religions. Soon after his mother’s death, Paul found a religious awakening in the early “Charismatic” movement at Mount Temple School. Now known around school as Bono Vox, Paul answered a note posted at school by Larry Mullen, looking for kids who wanted to start a band. David Evans (The Edge) and Adam Clayton also responded to the post and in the fall of 1976, these schoolboys were on their road to becoming U2.

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