Everyone knows a crazy person. They make you smile when you see them. They talk to themselves or have conversations with telephone poles, you’d swear they are doing it for your entertainment and you laugh. Then you feel bad ‘cause you know they can’t help it, you feel sorry for them ‘cause it’s just the way they are.
I saw one of these special people the other day at SunFresh (yeah, where you get the fresh stuff) and it made think of one of my favorite crazy people of all time: Seamus Higgins. Say it aloud to yourself…Seamus Higgins.
He lived in an orange bungalow at the bottom of the Glashey. The Glashey was a great big, flat stretch of road, with a decent rise on The Five Points end and the Ardara crossroads at the other. It was a significant section of road because in southwest Dongeal there are not many flat, straight roads. When God made Donegal he said “You’ll get what you’re given.” The Glashey was tree lined back then and gave the impression of a green tunnel when the trees and wild flowers were in full bloom.
We passed Seamus Higgins’ house walking to national school, making him a permanent fixture in our lives for a good four years. We didn’t know whether to be amused or afraid of him, so we laughed at him and his antics, mindful to keep our distance, somewhat afraid for our lives.
There were rumors that he served in Vietnam and that’s what made him crazy. Michael Conaghan said that, we didn’t know where he heard it, so we took it to be the truth. I could imagine Higgins in an American army green hard hat, M-16 across his chest as he hid in the jungle, that half smile across his face. His American buddies would have called him Irish or Paddy or Mick and would have assumed that he could drink any of them under the table.
He had a motorbike, with a rusty orange petrol tank, that he pushed as much as he rode. He would push it all the way up the Glashey and then run her back down to get her going. Sometimes you’d see him miles away, half way to Donegal Town, out in Inver or Mountcharles, pushing the bike and we’d look at each other and laugh, as if to say “that’s our crazy person.” To everyone else he was just some fella pushing a motorbike on a rainy day.
When he wasn’t out on the motorbike he had a classic old farmers black Raleigh bicycle. Rather than pedal the bike, he would stand up on one pedal and push off the ground with the other foot and when he got up to speed he’d sit across the bar rather than on the saddle. We often imitated this style of motion. To me, it reminded me of an Indian in a western movie, riding his horse on one stirrup, avoiding the cowboy’s bullets, preparing to fire his bow.
He’d either have an orange motorbike helmet or a plastic bag on his head, depending on the mode of transportation. I wonder if all the orange was a way of brightening up his life? Never thought about that till just now.
On the Ardara crossroads where Higgins’ house sat there were three respectable looking houses and then his. He had about an acre of land around the pretty common looking rectangular bungalow, the kind that sprung-up all over Ireland like concrete mushrooms in the 70s and 80s. There was one small shed on the land, but he had tons of animals on the property: goats, sheep, cows, donkeys, there might have been some fowl and the odd horse or pony over the years too.
It was a known fact that when the weather was stormy or very cold, he’d take the animals into the house. We could only imagine what it must have looked like inside. A few older boys at the Commons NS said they’d been in there and described piss and shit and straw all over the place.
On good days Higgins would lean over his fence and talk to us lads as we walked passed his house. On bad days he’d stare at you with mad eyes, looking like he just did something that no one should know about. On those days he wouldn’t even nod hello.
He wore slacks, never jeans, the fly bust open and bailing twine as a belt. A jacket that looked like it had been abandoned by its suit, a sweater underneath with a few holes poking through. Then to finish it all off, a pair of wellies, rolled down to the ankles. He’d roam about his rush and mud filled acre in this costume of craziness, playing the part of a farmer, a role you could tell he aspired to.
It’s been nearly twenty-years since those days of walking to school and I haven’t a clue if he’s alive or dead. If he still lives in that house or sold in the property boom. I could call one of the brothers back home and quickly find out, but I like the enigma of Higgins. When you know too much about a person like that, they lose their wonder and become real, and then sad. I imagine there are some young lads living out the Five Points today and their lives are enriched by walking to school and seeing a man like Seamus Higgins going about his day.