Thursday, December 23, 2021

Christmas Blog Thursday, December 23. 2021.

 Christmas Blog Thursday, December 23. 2021. 


Some Memories of my early Castlecoote Christmases


Christmas Shopping in the 50s’

Christmas shopping is always special, encapsulating joy, excitement, anticipation, and expectation. It crystallised on the day that the ‘big true Christmas Shop’ was brought home and the sturdy Raleigh bicycle hadn’t the capacity to cope with that. It was then that the donkey and cart, pony and trap (a lovely mode of transport), horse and cart, the odd tractor and carrier box, and the rare car were to jostle for staging posts around the shop. What a picture they made. (The car owners were few, Dr. Coyne, Fathers Fleming and Father Keane, Mattie Hughes and the returned ‘yank’ Johnny Kelly were representative.)

My friend Jimmy Coyne who worked in Hughes’ shop in Castlecoote then, relayed to me recently, when talking of those times, that on those Christmas days as the shop boy;

 “The atmosphere was such that I cannot describe but I can remember it as if it was yesterday. It was just magic.”

When this array of normal groceries enhanced with delicacies arrived at the home most of it was stored in a special room labelled as the ‘good room’ or the ‘top room’ of the house, not to be touched until the big day or the day before, if required. As youngsters, we were always curious to see the real treats and what the shop owner added to our ‘shopping list’ as a reward for being a loyal customer through the year. 

People would have saved some extra money for this special outing helped by some early Christmas-card money from members of the family in England or the magical dollar bills from connections in New York or other great cities in that dreamland of the fifties that was the United States.

A memorable staple of those years was the home-baked Christmas Cake rich with treacle, currants, and novelty.

Christmas Dinner.

With a fairly big family group, parents and four boys and three girls, there were two tables used. The usual large kitchen table with, perhaps, a new colourful oilcloth with a smaller table appended for the younger family members.

It was not turkey in those times but a ‘goose’ with slivers of rasher and stuffing. One of the highlights was the annual appearance of the ‘dessert’ always jelly and custard in my memory but exotic nonetheless. While my father might have his bottle of stout and mam a rare sherry we had Monica Duff (Ballaghaderreen) lemonade. We teased ourselves with it when removing the cap and letting the fizz shoot up our nose! We teased each other by trying to be the last one to have a decent amount of the dessert still remaining while the rest had cleared their plates.

The remainder of the evening was spent playing board games. Snakes and Ladders was pivotal. Later I got to really enjoy playing draughts something I could resurrect. Then came the card games. The new deck of cards would be taken from the box and had a special aura and odour. Sometimes the upturned tea chest served as a table of convenience. The game of choice was ‘25’. This was played with a steely determination and a caustic eye. Despite being the season of goodwill the fragile tea chest was sometimes tested as people played badly, reneged or seemed biased for or against another individual.

Christmas Day had begun early with the Santa devotees up early. I remember one incident in that phase of my childhood. I was the first person up to inspect the stocking for Santa’s delivery. I was a bit unhappy and felt that Santa had left me a mite shorter than my older brother. So I decided to balance the booty. It led to some puzzling- to me- later delicate interrogation. How it turned out has not been recorded.  

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve has been perhaps marginally the most atmospheric day of the calendar year. There was a real hustle and bustle around the house. There was an effort to ensure that everyone played their part. That did not always work!

I tended to the fires as maybe the ‘top room’ was brought into service then as opposed to ‘The Station’ or visiting ‘yanks’.  

The work of the farm went on of course with milking of cows and tending to their enclosure with hay from the loft and bedding from the stray pike. The rota for cow-milking sometimes was a subject of debate. Occasionally there were early lambs and watching over the sheep was a regular vigil with the storm lamp deep into the night as we sought the flock in the mist of darkness.  

Some family members went to Mass on Christmas Eve at 12 midnight. This would be a crowded church. There you would see those who were home on holidays from London, Manchester, Birmingham and the occasional star visitor from New York or Chicago. My sister Carmel, then a nurse in London, would visit some Christmases but preferred the summer of good weather and the Ballygar carnival. The rear of the church was often a mixture of those of little faith or some who had already spent some celebratory hours in Hughes’; Ansboro’s or Ward’s bar in the area. These construction workers (mostly) seemed to be doing well abroad as they had the shiny mohair suits, Brylcreem hair with a slick or a lick and a harlequin tie. Sometimes their manner was somewhat disrespectful and tested the patience of the stern Father Fleming. He was, I imagine, restrained by the probability of a surge in the Christmas collection and no major intervention was employed. I, at the requisite age, liked to be on the fringe of this group as an observer of course.

The more conservative group of the congregation went to mass on Christmas Day and welcomed the visitors with genuine good will and all was well with the world. Most families had a particular seating arrangement with blue bloods locating to something akin to the box seats in the front pews. There they would have the full family with members home from Dublin where they worked in the civil service.  

St. Stephen’s Day also Wren Boy’s Day.

I participated a few short years on St. Stephen’s Day as a ‘wren boy’. One year my older brother and I headed off. Across the bridge to Fuerty and met a man we thought would be a reasonable mark. So we gave it our all with the song ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’.  He listened to us attentively but his review on our conclusion I will not repeat here. That knocked Brendan out of the frame but I soldiered on. I suppose I’m a kind of a nightmare for an audience if I ever sang. I couldn’t sing but I would know all the words of a long song!

On that occasion, I knew that the Heavey family connections were home from Chicago and in residing in Castlestrange. Though it was maybe two miles on I didn’t want to abandon my odyssey and trudged to that house through the snow. There I sang my song, made sure my mask was at half-mast, was easily recognised and welcomed as if I was Bing Crosby. It was made worth my while by that family which I have always regarded highly. I had decided to abandon my tour and was helped by being brought home in a car by a visiting cousin.

There I prised open the treacle tin, tipped its content onto the table and counted. Though I had not made many calls I still had a pretty penny by being selective after my opening rebuff.

In thinking how to end this reflection I can think of no better way than repeating Jimmy Coyne’s summation;

“The atmosphere was such that I cannot describe but I can remember it as if it was yesterday. It was just magic.”

Sin é.

Slán is Beannacht.

Take care, try and follow the safety guidelines…get your jabs.

I wish you all the very best that you can be this Christmas and that 2022 will be a year of hope realised and that the magic returns in full.  

I especially include those from abroad who read my ramblings here as I am told. T.C. 

No comments:

Post a Comment