Love recoiled when Alex was born.
He never got to suckle at his mother’s warm breast, because she left him with the Catholic Church, who named him Alexander, after the saint St. Alexander of Jerusalem.
He was born on March 1st, 1951, at the Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, Ireland. The overcrowded facility offered shelter to orphans, unwed mothers, and their children.
Times were hard for many Irish. There were more than a dozen other places like Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home throughout the land. The majority of children who died at these homes were buried on site, in unmarked graves. It was one of many secrets kept by the nuns (and their superiors) who ran the homes.
Growing up, Alex barely fought off starvation, like his peers. The weaker ones died and disappeared. The children heard the nuns and priests talk of love – Agape love, and other aspects of love – but couldn’t picture what love looked like.
The nuns never smiled, and were perpetually angry about something. Even the priests who came to bless the children at certain times of the year, frowned while preaching. The constant struggle to find food – between meals of mush with mystery meat – caused the children to be wary of one another.
As soon as a child was five-years-old, they were put to work. They worked at menial tasks inside, and outside in the fields until darkness fell. There were no chubby children there. Even the dominant ones – who managed to scavenger food better than the others – were thin and sickly looking.
One day, just after his twelfth birthday, Alex ran away.
He was hardened by the way he was raised, and willing to take his chances anywhere else, but the home he grew up in. What little food he brought with him, wrapped up in an extra shirt, only lasted two days before his stomach was growling with hunger.
He walked along the main road, after sticking to the woods, on the third day. A car would pass now and then, but no one seemed interested in a young boy. It was a rural area and travelers probably thought he lived nearby.
If he wasn’t so thirsty, his water ran out with his food, he might have been impressed with the endless green rolling hills ahead of him. It was big world, and he was just getting a taste of it.
Exhausted, Alex sat down on the side of the road. It was getting dark and he was weak from thirst and hunger. After a while, he fell asleep on the grass.
When he woke up the next morning, he was in a house on someone’s couch! A middle-aged man with black hair and beard, was sitting in a chair watching him.
“How is it that yer out, and ’bout on yer own?” he asked him.
“Please sir! Don’t take me back!” Alex cried out.
“Easy lad…no need to talk ’bout that okay? I din’t care what yer story be. It’s yer plans from here, that interests me.”
Alex looked into the man’s eyes. They were dark brown with hints of gold. A deep scar stretched across his right cheek. He had a broken nose. His expression was neutral.
“I need a place to live,” he said, with fear dancing in his eyes.
“I see, lad. I’ll let you live with me, but ther be rules ye must follow.”
Relief poured through Alex’s body as he agreed to the mystery man’s request.
“Sir…what shall I call you?”
“Call me Da,” he said, standing up.
The man looked at the skinny boy nervously tapping his fingers on his knee and smiled. This naive boy would fit very nicely into his future plans.
“Are ye hungry lad?”
“Yes sir…er Da!”
“Well then boy…I’ve laid out some food for ya in the kitchen. Help yerself.”
As Alex bit into an apple he thought about how nice the man’s face got when he smiled. Was this love?,” he wondered as he took another bite.
Da, aka Seamus Brennen, was a lifelong thief. He made his living stealing from rural farms and homes far from the big city police. His old assistant was caught by the police six months ago and he’d been looking for a replacement since.
Finding Alex was a God send – even through Seamus didn’t believe in God. He was still young enough to train him in the tools of the trade. It was the devotion in Alex’s eyes that assured him he made the right pick.
The key to Alex’s attention was praising him as he learned how to pick locks and where to look for money in most homes. Their partnership flourished for seven years as they moved from one rural area to another, always a few steps ahead of the local police.
Alex was nearly a man now and like a son to Seamus. His wide shoulders and slender waist made him look like a body-builder. He was also taller than Seamus, with wild blond hair and hints of a beard.
His loyalty, and love, were always there. He never had trouble with his conscience, despite his religious upbringing.
One day, as Seamus took a nap in the car under the shade of a tree, Alex went for a walk. Hours later he came upon a young woman milking a cow in a field. He could see a barn not too far away, but no other people.
Like most young men of his age, Alex was curious and also getting funny feelings when around women. He watched her for a few minutes before slowly approaching. She was beautiful! Her long golden hair fell in ringlets as he stared in awe.
He thought, “This is what a princess looks like.”
Suddenly she turned around and looked at him…and smiled. His heart did an Irish jig and he attempted to smile back. When he got closer, she was still smiling and asked him what his name was?
He blurted out his name, as his cheeks grew red with embarrassment, “Alex…and yours?”
She picked up the milking pail and asked him if he’d like a drink of water?
“Oh, aye…” he stammered awkwardly.
“My name is Sarah. Follow me…”
He followed a few steps behind, admiring her youthful body in the plain white dress she was wearing. He felt a giddiness like nothing else before. She was singing an old shepherd’s song as they came to the barn.
She showed him a bench to sit on and went and pumped water from the well, after taking the milk into the house. When she returned with a full tin-cup of water he was trying to compose himself. He had zero experience with women. Da saw to that.
They sat and talked twenty minutes before someone called Sarah from within the house. He felt an electricity, but being a virgin he wasn’t sure what to do or say. Before she went into the house she asked him to come back tonight, and meet her here by the barn.
Their eyes locked for another moment – she smiled sweetly – then hurried off into the house.
When she got inside she went up to her father who was standing near the window looking out. Two of their neighbors were sitting by the cold fireplace with shotguns across their laps.
“Just one,” she reported. “The other one must be near by.”
The men discussed how they’d ambush at least one of the thieves who had been haunting several counties for nearly a decade. They’d catch them in the act if the damn police couldn’t!
When Seamus woke up Alex was sitting at the base of the tree humming a tune. He looked guiltily over when he saw Seamus was watching him. The smile left his face.
“Did ye take a good nap then lad?”
‘Tis a good thing. We ha work to do tonight,” he smiled and opened the car door.
Alex got in. They drove down the road for a mile, before Seamus pulled off the road and into a grove of trees.
“Will we stay in the county tonight?” Alex anxiously asked.
“Aye! Our targit for tonight is nearby,” he said, getting out of the car. They snacked on chunks of stale bread and waited for nightfall.
Alex followed Seamus. There was only a sliver of a moon peeking out from the dark clouds. When they came to a familiar barn Alex froze. This was where Sarah lived. There was the bench they sat on.
Seamus picked up on his apparent confusion and concern.
“What’s wrong lad” he whispered.
A war was going on in Alex’s head. Was it love at first sight with Sarah? He knew Da loved him. Hadn’t he taken care of him all of these years? But she made his heart leap with her golden hair and luscious lips! Her eyes promised heaven if he returned that night.
“Let’s leave…” he nervously whispered back.
Then Seamus saw movement on the side of the house. Men with guns!
Without saying another word, he followed Alex who was now on the ground and crawling in the opposite direction towards their car. They could hear angry voices in the night as they furiously crawled for their lives.
It wasn’t until they got back in the car, and were miles down the road, before Seamus found his voice, “Thanks lad! How did ye know?”
When Alex told Seamus about his visit to the farm while he was taking a nap, a single tear slipped out of one of Seamus’s eyes. This kid he adopted for a life of crime loved him enough to admit what he did, and then saved them both from a certain ambush and possibly death.
“Ye know Alex,” Seamus said the next day, “I know some pretty lassies that would love to meet a lad like you!”
Alex blushed. “Thanks Da,” he said with all of his heart.
As It Stands, love doesn’t always come perfectly packaged, but can be counted on to do the right thing.