One of my Dad’s favourite sayings was ‘My nostrils are twitching, there’ll be wigs on the green’ and that indicated that either one or more, of his brood of six, were in trouble. It was seldom we were reprimanded by Dad and not in the least intimidating, that was our Mum’s job, the whole good cop bad cop scenario. Her stern reprimand as she brandished the good ole wooden spoon, was enough to make us take notice but it wasn’t for fear of getting a slap of it, ironically I never remember that, it was the tone of her voice that would stop us in our tracks. If she said she wanted a ‘chat’, things were even worse, you knew you were really in trouble then. One particular sister, who had two christian names, which together made an enviable title, went through a tomboy stage, preferring only to be called by the first of these two forenames but when she was addressed fully, as she had been christened, she was most definitely in the proverbial doghouse.
Dad was easily into his 40s, when the first of their children were born and was as proud as punch of each and every one of us. However, at times, when addressing us individually, he might recite every one of our siblings’ names before getting the right one. It’s amazing, looking back, how we’d know who he meant, likely because of the expression on his face, puzzled, as if he was thinking ‘no that’s not who you are’, I’ll just keep going, sure there’s only six of you, I’ll get there eventually’. Bless him, he had his work cut out, because, more often than not, there were other names to remember as Mum, though strict, had a huge heart which sometimes extended to having extras around the table, and some of these friends had similar sounding names.
Like any parent, encouraging their offspring to eat healthily, Dad, who would be at the head of the dinner table, had an eagle eye for what wasn’t disappearing off our plates. Now it’d be fair to say that though he encouraged us to eat up our dinners, in the same breath, he would advise ‘if it’s going to waste, I’ll have it’. That would be long after Mum had tried the tack of many Irish mammies in the 60s and 70s, ‘think of all the starving children in Africa’. Brussel sprouts are foremost in my memory as he considered these very important for reproduction. ‘Eat up those brussel sprouts and you’ll have big babies’ he’d tease. Now why on earth would we have wanted to consider having big babies. I mean the two lads, who were 10 years apart, couldn’t have cared less what size their future babies would be and as for us girls, we would likely have exclaimed ‘EEUUWWHH’, which was, I’m sure the reaction Dad was provoking, with a hint of mischief in his eyes. My mischievous younger sister would secretly shove her sprouts onto my plate and though I wasn’t endeavouring to have big babies, I would gobble them up, just because they were my favourite veg. True as God, years later, when one of my sons was born, the nurse exclaimed ‘Jesus Mary and Joseph, this fella should have been born with a schoolbag on his back’!!
Our father was ahead of his time, in that he often brought some of us supermarket shopping and I remember him regularly advising the butcher, baker, candlestick maker, whoever would listen, to ‘never get married’ with a big grin on his face as he glowered with pride, over whichever of us he had with him that particular day.
Being a family of six meant you always had a friend, no matter who you fell out with and four girls and two boys were likely uneven odds. However each of us learned to handle ourselves, either verbally or physically when the need arose. The cutting remarks that were often thrown around could be more painful than the ‘chinese burns’ my older brother would give us, either to tease or annoy, depending on the occasion. The flicking of wet towels might then ensue, from said older brother, who often, would be doing this, with absolute glee on his face, while we were, admittedly laughing and screaming alternatively, then running away. I can still hear our mother saying ‘this will end in tears’, which it invariably did, after we had enough red marks on our body parts, that had either been burned or flicked by our tormentor.
That same tormentor accompanied me to the bathroom and waited patiently outside one night, when I was terrified of the thunder and lightning, then very kindly escorted me back to my room afterwards. He also provided an endless supply of potential boyfriends, trafficking them through the house, oblivious to my often admiring eyes, until, some might ring to arrange a game of golf, then ask to speak to his sister. Likewise at the local Friday night teenage disco in the Parochial Hall, he would sing ‘We are family, I’ve got all my sisters with me’ along with Sister Sledge, with his arms around two of his siblings, always with a glint of mischief in his eyes. Lying fecker, sure his two other sisters were at home. This soon wore thin as he warned me off some of his gorgeous golfing gamers, when he found himself at a loose end, if I was on a date with one of them. When supply ran thin because of this embargo, in his words, I moved my hunting ground to the next town and focused on the Rugby Club. A different species entirely, but fine things come in all shapes and sizes.
Religion in our house was as important as in most homes in Ireland in the 1970s. My doting Dad and wooden spoon wielding Mum, may have been softies in some areas, but where religion was concerned, being brought up Catholic meant the dutiful visit to mass every Sunday. This was sometimes preceded with the warning, that we’d be quizzed on the contents of the ceremony, so as to deter any chances of trying to fool the aul ones (parents). My mischievous brussel sprout dumping sister, had this covered and sometimes she and I would take it in turns to go to mass, though leaving the house together, in our Sunday best. The church evader usually met up with other church evading friends instead, while the church attendee would memorise the ceremony, to recount at the post-church sibling session.
As it happened, I was the more frequent attendee at the Sunday service, not by any means because I was holier than she, though in all honesty, that wouldn’t have been difficult. Sure didn’t she and her more innocent looking, younger counterpart, apply to a convent on my behalf on one occasion, watching my delight at having received a letter one morning at breakfast, oblivious to their mischief, until puzzled, I read the contents. I looked up as I heard hysterical giggles and decided then and there, that any spiritual tendencies I might have displayed would be well and truly buried. I certainly had no desires to be a postulant nun.
So, joining a religious order may not have been for me, but Sunday Mass most definitely was. Never mind the modern way of online dating, in my day, if you didn’t pull at the local Friday or Saturday night dance, the game wasn’t over till you’d stood at the back of the church, where you had a good view of the talent and the talent were there in abundance.
Moving the hunting ground to rugby club territory meant going to a different church on Sunday, (yes the hunting ground even extended to holy ground, may God forgive me) so my bestie and I would, more often than not, visit a neighbouring church. On one of the first of these occasions, not having cased the joint so to speak, to analyse the potential, I must have been in a more spiritual than analytical mood. Though we were at the back of the church, which is where the best talent spotters and spotted hung out, I missed an opportunity. Moving forward to kneel and pray at one point, I had failed to notice the tall, good looking, blonde, well built young man beside me. Just before I stepped forth, he had apparently reached his arm out to touch my shoulder. I was oblivious to all of this and my movement stalled his, as he lost his nerve and took a step back. In doing so, the handsome stranger also lost his footing and falling backwards, he toppled the stand where the candles were placed as offerings. Thanks be to God, there were only two lit, and with the flow of air the impact may have caused, from this rugby player falling against it, they were blown out, as the stand hit the ground.
My recollection is of the congregation, including myself, collectively turning our heads towards the sound that reverberated around the church and the poor so and so gathering himself together hurriedly. With a face the colour of crimson, raising his hand in apology, he picked up the stand, no worse for wear, set it back upright and raced out of the church, very obviously mortified.
The following Saturday at the rugby club disco, my bestie and I arrived dressed to the nines, a naggin of vodka hidden in our handbags, which weren’t searched in those days. We did our intermittent popping into the ladies to take a sup of the hard stuff, between buying rounds and throwing ourselves around the dance floor to various tunes, likely including Abba hits. A slow set began, sure those slow sets were great for getting couples together, really romantic they were, and I was just walking off the dance floor after a wild frenzy to a fast number, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning, I found myself looking up and even further up as I recognised the face of a familiar, tall, blonde haired, handsome well built guy, smiling, asking me to dance. Graciously accepting his invite, I turned and winked at my bestie, already in the arms of his dark haired friend, who was at that moment disclosing that they both should have been at their Debs dance (prom) but the previous Sunday, his buddy had been about to invite a girl he fancied, at mass of all places, but it didn’t quite go to plan. So, they decided to go to the rugby dance instead……!!
By that time, my lovely Dad had passed away, though he was likely looking down from heaven having a great laugh. In fact he might have engineered that poor lad falling against the candle holder, bless him. I can just imagine his words…’there’s a time and place for everything young man….and mass isn’t it….sure give that debs a miss and go to the rugby dance next week. The only spirituality she’ll be feeling that night will be in a glass, just make sure you have your wallet and plenty of patience to queue for the next round’.
So Dad…on this 4th day of December, 2018, I dedicate this post to you………cheers Mum and Dad……
Thank you for the music
The songs I’m singing
The church, the disco,
Those lads who were ringing
Thank you for the wooden spoon
I never felt a thing
And for all our christian names
Dad was never remembering
Thank you for the love
The lessons we all learned
From you Mum and Dad
And for the stripes we have earned
Looking down from heaven now
I hope you’re proud to see
That though you’ve gone, you’re in our hearts
WE ARE FAMILY!