My father, William Francis Doherty, stood quietly in the arched doorway, his swift glance sweeping the room. The “Great Surgeon,” as some called him, stood virile and powerful. A subdued ferocity lurked behind his cold eyes and he hesitated. Then, for a brief second, his gaze rested on Mother and finally softened. She smiled and said, “Come sit down. It’s such a lovely day.”
It THE EARLY YEARS – MIXED EMOTIONS Interspersednestledwas Easter, April 1908, when I had just turned six, and yet, even today, that memory is still with me. Perhaps it was pain even then. Everything had to be perfect for Papa. Mother had lined the five of us up and after careful inspection, smiled her approval as we took our seats around the dining room table. I can still see that table. Mother loved flowers and it looked like she had brought the whole garden inside that day. She decorated with clusters of blue and white irises interspersed with bright yellow jonquils. And yes, there was something for us too. Nestled among the flowers were baskets of chocolate bunnies and colorful Easter eggs. Finally, a tiny stuffed baby chick marked each of our places.
We had all been to Mass that morning, but not Papa. Papa was Catholic, but he did not go to Mass, not even on Easter. And no one had seen him yet that morning. As we waited, I could feel the tension around me and my stomach did its familiar flip-flop. I glanced across the table at my older sister, Veronica. She did not like to wait for anyone and a fleeting show of annoyance slipped across her pretty dark features. Little David squirmed next to me. His small face twitched involuntarily as he eyed the chocolate bunny in front of him.
At the far end of the room, my two older brothers, Bill and Patrick, sat rigid in their seats. With their faces scrubbed and hair meticulously slicked back, they looked handsome in their dark suits and glistening white starched collars. Patrick, although still in knickers, always seemed so serious while Bill, the oldest, was the clown of the family. He sat there now chuckling to himself. I worried about what new prank he had up his sleeve.
As my Father stepped into the hushed room, we all chimed “Happy Easter, Papa”. The tension broke and the tabloid burst into motion as James, our butler, rushed to hold the chair. Silver platters heaped with steaming hot crossed buns and boiled sausages of every description suddenly appeared. Lighthearted chatter filled the room and even I allowed myself to believe ‘Yes, it is perfect for Ppapa. Everything is perfect’.
Yet Patrick looked doubtful as he carefully unfolded his napkin. And at the head of the table, Papa sat quietly controlled in the midst of the noisy confusion while his scowling features betrayed his mood.
I never quite understood what happened that long ago April morning…just the abrupt outburst and the sudden stunned silence that followed. And I never forgot the napkin being slung across the table nor the snarling words “No one insults me at my own table.”
Later that night I overheard Bill and Patrick arguing in their room next to mine. ”I told you that wasn’t a good idea.” Patrick said.
“Why not? It was hilarious. Have you ever seen him so mad? Did you see his face? Maybe he’ll go on one of his fancy Continental Tours. I say – Good riddance!”
“But what about Mother? Think how she must feel.”
By this time I had made my way to their doorway which stood ajar and after listening to these last few words, couldn’t keep silent any longer.
“What did you do to Papa?” I asked.
“We did nothing. It’s unbelievable.” said Bill.
“Bill, but you know Papa, how he is.”
“He’s crazy, that’s what he is!” Then to me he said, “ “You know those little stuffed Easter chicks? Well, we found one with its beak sticking straight up in the air. It looked just like him. All we did was put it at his place. It’s not our fault that he noticed the resemblance!”
“Oh Bill. That’s terrible. Look what happened to our Easter.”.
“Yeh”, he mumbled. “Good riddance. He really is crazy.”
We learned later that Papa had packed his bags and left in a rage. No one, not even Mother, knew where he had gone or when he would be back. Actually, she never tried to explain or excuse his behavior or his abrupt disappearances which happened often enough. Life in the Doherty household just went on as if he didn’t exist.
Details of that Easter have fade in my memory, but a vague feeling of unease has stayed with me over the years. And, aAs we grew into adulthood and could talk about our early experiencesyears, we found that each of us harbored a different memory, colored by our own perceptions. But we all agreed on one point. Our father, no matter how brilliant and successful, had been a very hard and complicated man, and living under the same roof with him had left its own mark on each of us.
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