Boy to Man ~ Michael Styles
My nephew Michael was one-year-old when Bob and I left for California, but Michael and I had already established a relationship that was, for me, most unusual: I wasn’t often in the company of children – I’ve no younger siblings, and no children of my own. So I treated them as adults, insofar as extending them the same courtesy as I would a grown-up – and for some weird reason, when introduced to a child, I would shake their hand. This sometimes baffled them and they’d look at me speculatively.
I’ve sometimes said – trying to be funny – that I’ve inherited my mother’s ‘anti-child’ gene. And this is not unfounded: sometimes I’d meet a child who would avoid me (maybe having seen people ‘coo’ over babies (which I find baffling) and talking down to toddlers forged this approach). However, it’s obviously not true about my mother.
A truly beautiful baby, Michael’s nature reflected his inner beauty too: people often stopped to admire him, and he’d smile charmingly and be adorable. We all spent a good bit of time together in those days, family gatherings and such, and I fell in love with this little person, and he knew it, and wound me round his finger. And he seemed to reciprocate my ‘adult’ approach, being a quite dignified chap.
Martha and I would meet for lunch sometimes, mostly in the now defunct Cumberland Inn in Dun Laoghaire (I worked in Crofton Road at the time), and as a toddler, Michael would climb up behind our seats, wriggle around, grab a hunk of my hair and begin to chew on it. It didn’t bother me in the least that I went back to work looking like I’d been dragged through a hedge. One day I even found a bit of tomato in my hair, which Michael might have thought would look nice there and poked it in.
The day we left for the US, Michael was in his buggy, head to one side and looking rather put-out: this was one image I took with me to California. He wasn’t upset because he was obviously unaware of where we were going and why, but with all the good-byes and other people getting choked up, he must have sensed something – and wasn’t best pleased.
I have more photographs of Michael than I have of anybody else, I think: Martha would send me bundles of them when I was away, and I still have them.
When I returned about four years later (we returned home for good the next year), Michael and I picked up where we left off.
Now he’s a grown man, and (I believe) a unique person: sensible, kind, witty, thoughtful… I could go on. So, I must be still mad about him! And his younger brother, Iain, is of the same calibre – and talk about a gorgeous baby! But that’s another story…