September 20, 2005

Rest in Peace

First of all, as we knew she would.... Granny (my mother) did a phenomenal job babysitting yesterday and was so considerate to make herself scarce when I got home so I could have some private cuddle time with my little man.... coming home to him was the best feeling ever.

This morning started off terrific.... I didn't wake up crying.... I kept it together while I fed the 'lil guy..... the Big Dubya rocked him back to sleep.... we were like a well-oiled machine, then I heard the phone ring. Like most houses, our phone doesn't ring at 6:06 a.m. for just any old reason. I heard the Big Dubya coming up the stairs, he didn't have to say anything.... he opened our bedroom door and I said "She's gone" and he said "I'm sorry" -- It had been my Dad on the phone, his mother, my granny, 'Lil Dubya's great-granny (she preferred "super-gran") died last night, she was 90.

By the time Dad called us, Aunt P was already booking flights -- when you grow up in a house like ours, with families overseas, there's a system.... when "those" calls come, time is short. There is usually only one or two flights out of Boston each day, so we all have a job. Usually one of us books the flights, the other packs the suitcase and does any necessary last minute shopping, Granny goes to the bank, Uncle RoRo takes care of whatever's left -- this time it'll probably be a ride to the airport.

Super-Gran will be waked at her house (they still do that in Ireland) and she'll be buried on Thursday. She lived an extraordinary life, in an extraordinary time -- it's hard to think of a way to pay tribute to her. A few years ago, she wrote a memoir to commemorate her home town -- I thought posting an excerpt might be an interesting read:

My name is Mary, born on the 6th day of July 1915 in Logboy of parents named Joe and Nellie. My father was a farmer and a hard working one and so were all the other farmers in the area. Their wives also worked hard. They were thrifty, made much of their own bread and butter, and reared chickens, ducks, geese and turkeys. In those days there was no running water, electricity or stoves for cooking. When it rained, water for washing and cleaning was secure as there was always a barrel or two to collect water from the down-pipe off the roof of the house – that is if the roof was slated. The first house I lived in was thatched. I remember the present house being built and the excitement of moving into it and the fear of going up stairs.

My father and mother had a country shop, mostly grocery. The women brought their eggs and sold them to pay for the groceries. Flour, sold in 8 stone and 10 stone bags, was always available. Feeding stuff for animals was also sold in the shop. The flour bags were made good use of. The large ones made excellent sheets. First of all the brand name “Early Dawn” had to be removed by bleaching. There were many other brand names I cannot recall. Other uses made of the flour bags included pillow cases, underwear and bodices for skirts. They were very hard-wearing, easily washed and they had to be as every drop of hot water had to be heated on an open turf fire. Some people had a small wood on the land and were able to burn some timber.

All baking and cooking was done on the open hearth. Bread was baked in an iron pot oven with a lid. There were red coals under the oven and on top of the lid. The heat from the oven baked the bread, and lovely bread it was. In the finest hotel today one would not be served roast chicken as tasty as that served from the pot oven. The skillet, which was another iron pot, was used to make porridge. It hung from a crane over the open fire. Porridge was a very nourishing, healthy, part of the diet in those days as the oats grown on the land were taken to the mill and oatmeal was ground from it. There was a big pack of oatmeal in the corner of every kitchen.

The land was used and cultivated to the limit. First of all there was a vegetable garden near the house where cabbage, a few ridges of early potatoes, onions, lettuce and scallions were grown. Nobody sows a vegetable garden now as farmers are often employed in other jobs as well as working the land. All sorts of vegetables are readily available in the shops at not too exorbitant prices, and great variety also.

The potato crop was considered very important. It was the failure of the potato crop caused the famine and so many deaths. The people on the land did not want that to happen again. I was talking to a cousin of mine lately and we talked about the famine and remarked that in our childhood we never heard a mention of the famine or the hunger and there were many very old people alive in our neighbourhood in our youth. One aspect of the potato growing I remember very well is four or five old women, dressed in shawls and caps, sitting on cushions of straw slitting potatoes which were used as seed. Even in that time the farmers were particular about the variety of the seed used as a good crop was necessary for people and animals alike. The women always seemed to be in great form, chatting away and singing. One song I do remember “Tis all around my hat I wear the tri-colour ribbon o”. This all went on in a barn which was cold. There was always a little drop of whiskey at hand to keep the cold out and the spirits up.

Other crops were equally important. Hay making was always one to cause unease as weather was most important. Mowing the hay was slow as scythes were used. The mowing machine was not available ‘til later. Dry weather was very necessary to save the hay. Bringing in the hay to the haggard was a big event. There were many hands needed and for that reason neighbours helped each other in turn. We had one neighbour who lived alone and a cousin of mine and myself cooked a meal for about eight men the day of bringing in the hay. There was no shortage of food. Many flitches of cured bacon hung from the ceiling in the kitchen and eggs were certainly no problem. So we fried and fried and served as best we knew how until all were satisfied.

The turf was another important crop. Cutting and saving the turf was hard work and dependant on weather also. Early May the men set off for the bogs with a turf barrow, slane, spade and an old kettle for boiling water for the tea and, last but not least, an old saucepan for boiling eggs of which many were consumed. The bog is a hungry place. The tea and sugar were too important to forget, also salt and cutlery. Nowhere has tea ever tasted as nice as in the bog. First the turf bank had to be scrawed. Then the turf cut in sods and allowed to dry fairly well. The sods were then put standing up in “grĂ³geens” to allow the air and sun to dry them out. This was all very hard work on the hands and back. After further drying, somewhat bigger clamps were made of the turf and it was left in the bog until it was dry enough to bring home by donkey and baskets or by horse and cart. There were no tractors in those days.

There were some farmers who had other occupations. One man at a certain time of year killed pigs and cut them up suitably and cured them either by coarse salt or putting them in brine. This was a very skilled job and took at least two full days. There was at least one pig killed in every household every year. It was very necessary to make the dinners for the family. Cabbage or turnip was cooked with the bacon and to this day is one of the most popular meals in Irish households. There was a very nice custom practiced with the killing of the pig. Black puddings were made from the blood of the pig, oatmeal, onions, lard chopped up from the animal, spices salt and some sugar was added. The mixture was put into the thoroughly cleansed intestines of the pig and cooked in boiling water. Then the pudding and other tidbits were given to the neighbours as a treat. They in their turn did the very same. Likewise if the cows were dry and had no milk, the neighbours would supply the household that had none ‘til their cows calved. There was no charge.

Another farmer was a brilliant tailor. He made suits of clothes for many, many, men and he also employed other tailors to help him out when trade was brisk. There was another farmer who did a lot of carpentry. He made the specially made turf barrow, spinning wheels, kitchen chairs, ladders, stools and churns. He sold these very necessary articles at his own house or at the fairs and markets.

Another man had a kind of forge. He did not shoe horses but did repairs to spades, shovels, ploughs and scythes. He was in constant demand to repair butter dishes which were made of timber and broke in two very easily from the constant scalding with boiling water. This was necessary to ensure cleanliness for the making of the butter into rolls. The man who repaired them did so by a riveting method. He used a particular type of metal for the riveting so as not to taint the butter.

My own father had his own sideline. He had a garden in which willow rods grew. I don’t suppose he ever planted them but they were there year after year. He cut them, pointed them, tied them in bundles and sold them at the market and they were bought and used as scallops for thatching and possibly basket making.

As you can imagine there was much hard work and long hours necessary to get it all done. Being Irish, the social side of things was not forgotten. There was much visiting at night from one house to another. Relations visited, often on a Sunday. I had an aunt who came to Mass in our church and visited afterwards and enjoyed a cup of tea and possibly her dinner at times. Other relations would come by special invitation on Sunday for dinner and refreshments. Then there were weddings and funerals which were attended by traveling by sidecar. There were two lamps on the car for night time but I could not imagine much light from them. There was no such thing as a hearse for funerals in my early days. My father and his horse and car were in demand to take the coffin to the church and graveyard. The coffin was placed on the well of the car and the bereaved sat each side of the car on the seats. Later on there was a hearse available, drawn by two black horses. The driver sat in the middle at the back of the horses and wore a black hat and a white scarf. I always thought it looked an elegant turnout and very suitable for the occasion.

The night before a fair was a very important one for farmers. If they had animals for sale they were anxious to have some idea of prices. There was one progressive man in the village and he had some sort of a receiving set (I think it was a crystal set) and he was able to get the prices from the Dublin market. The set was kept in a bedroom, it was so precious. The men sat in the kitchen and the first man near the bedroom door got the prices from the owner of the set and passed them on from one to another. I wonder was the last price received the same as the first one got from Dublin ? There was no such thing as a radio at that time, not as we know it today...

As a result of this news, I got to stay home with 'Lil Dubya today (yeah, I really did call in on my second day back). Super-gran lived a long life -- leaving behind 6 children, 18 grandchildren, 2 great-grandchildren (with another on the way). She knew the end was near, she was ready and she didn't suffer -- there'll be another angel in heaven tonight.


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