The weekend of October 15th was my last chance to visit Irene and find out what was so very important. She was at work when I arrived so I parked at the hospital entrance and waited for her to finish work.
When she eventually came out she seemed tense, looking like she would burst into tears at any moment as she climbed into the car. She asked me to drive to a quiet spot where we could talk. I started the car and drove down the lane turning into the Presbyterian Church grounds and parked under the trees. It was already dark with a light rain was falling, the ground was covered in fallen leafs
I shut off the engine and turned to hear what she had to say. Years later I’d look back on this moment as an award winning performance. Irene burst into tears, holding her head in her hands. I had difficulty hearing what she was saying. Through the sobs and the tears she told me that she was pregnant, and that she didn’t know what to do. She was too afraid to tell her parents. They had been bitterly angry when she fell pregnant with Lorraine, this time they’d probably throw her out.
“You won’t be able to help me, ” she sobbed. “You’ll soon be far away in Canada. It’s my own fault. I should have been more careful. I’ve only myself to blame. Oh Lord! What will become of me? What will become of my poor wee Lorraine?”
I sat in utter silence, simply not knowing what to say. I was both stunned and surprised to learn that she was pregnant. How could it have happened? I’d always taken precautions. Irene said she’d been careful too, and then she burst into another fit of crying.
Through her tears she said that being careful didn’t matter because there was always a risk. She was going to great pains to assure me it was all her fault, telling me I shouldn’t feel guilty. But I was in turmoil, and my mind was spinning.
I couldn’t think clearly and didn’t know what to say. I was starting to feel the weight and responsibility of my actions. I saw myself as guilty, regardless of what Irene said. It never occurred to me to ask how she could be so sure she was pregnant after only a couple of weeks. She continued crying and sobbing and claiming her life was ruined. I was completely unaware of what was happening or where this was leading. I was too naïve to realize that pressure was being applied to push me into making a decision. All I wanted was this to be over, to start the car and leave this depressing place.
I desperately wanted to go for a pint and pretend none of this was happening. Irene was saying I shouldn’t worry. It was her problem. Somehow she’d work it out, maybe rent a small flat somewhere. She would raise Lorraine and the new baby by herself. When she went to work her sister Marie would probably look after the baby. Lorraine was starting school soon so she’d manage to cope.
But the 1960’s was a time when a man was expected to take responsibility for his actions. A time when a man was supposed to do the honourable thing. Those were the thoughts running through my mind as Irene relentlessly kept up the pressure.
I was struggling. Then, without any real conviction, I blurted out that perhaps we could get married. And immediately I realized I had just said what Irene wanted me to say. And now it was too late. I couldn’t take it back. In that instant the atmosphere in the car changed and I was smothered in kisses and hugs. Irene had successfully accomplished her mission.
On the 26th November I caught the night train to Glasgow. I was on leave until the 10th December. The wedding was set for Saturday the 29th November at 2pm. Irene had arranged for her brother Angus to stand as my best man, and my sisters May and Anna travelled over from Belfast.
I arrived at the church about fifteen minutes before the ceremony was set to begin. The organ began playing the wedding march as I stood at the altar, and I wished I could just disappear. My head was spinning. This was something I did not want to do. As Irene approached down the aisle I was thinking of running out of the church. But my feet remained firmly rooted to the floor.
Ten minutes later I was married.
After the reception we were driven to the hotel in Minard, the same place Michael and Marie had spent their wedding night two years earlier.
On the Sunday morning we caught the bus into Glasgow. Irene had arranged for us to stay overnight with relatives as we were leaving early on Monday for the Stranraer ferry to Belfast.
I awoke the next morning to an empty house. The family had already left for work. When Irene appeared a few minutes later she looked pale and distraught. Tearfully she began to explain how she had just miscarried while sitting on the toilet. She went on to describe the tiny body with its little arms and legs. She said she had no choice but to flush the toilet.
I knew less about a miscarriage than I did about the female menstrual cycle, but I did have the sense to suggest that we should go to the hospital for her to be checked over. Irene said no she was okay. She added that the miscarriage was probably caused by the excitement of the wedding. ( It is now probably becoming clear why I titled this blog Stupid Stupid Stupid)
So Christmas 1963 and the next five would not be what I would consider Happy Christmases. Irene however, appeared very happy.
God Bless and Merry Christmas