In Eileen/James’ Clonroche Kitchen

Martine Brennan

I’ve just been reading a gorgeous wee post by Martine, which I was alerted to by twitter.

I never knew what it was like to have one moment with a granny, so I couldn’t naturally recall any memories from that close quarter. However, when I read opening lines:

The wind is blasting the rain at my window today.
And in the blink of an eye, I am transported back to my small granny’s house.
I can hear the wind in the chimney and the fire blazing in the Aga.

A groundswell of memories instantaneously came surging back to me about frequent visits made to my mother’s nearest cousins in Clonroche, Co. Wexford.

Anyway, I began by responding to Granny’s kitchen in Martine’s comment section I had to dispense with it very soon thereafter, as I subsequently saw a blog post emerging from the floods of memories that were pouring out of my head. It was a subject matter dear to my heart.

corgi party 7I’m transported back to the times when I visited cousins’ of my mother in Clonroche, Co. Wexford, and the first spot I aimed for on a cold day was the chair beside the oil-fired Aga. [They had an oil-fired Aga, as apposed to a turf-log one, as they needed the heat to spread quickly through a very large sprawling old farm-house, that encompassed the size of three houses, [19 rooms] not to mention constant hot water/milk/food needed urgently for animal husbandry on the 300 acre busy farm.] It was snug, despite the slight interruption by the waft of cold air that entered the door, as the two corgi ‘sausage’ dogs made their entrance, and gnawed and dug anxiously away at my feet demanding to be stroked. [They may be small dogs in stature, but they are very heavy-weight.] I enjoyed listening to conversations with Eileen, James, Sn., and young James about horses, farming, and the general lie of the land… Martine goes on say:
I can see the oilcloth on the table.
I can smell that particular smell of granny’s house.
I can feel the warmth and weight of the mug of tea in my hand.
But most of all I can feel the love I always felt in her company.
There was a very large table against the wall and all who entered the warm kitchen sat down to dine. The table was bedecked with oil-cloth that had a plethora of horse riders on the pattern. I never failed to admire it. They were horse lovers to their very core, with proud trophy collections on display in the parlour. I could find myself wrapped up in conversations with farm workers – whilst sipping away at the large hot mug of tea – who’d tell whether there had been a good yield of crops or not in the tillage fields. They’d talk about being blessed with some good days that gave them the chance to gather in the round bales of barley straw so that there was plenty of winter bedding for the animals. They’d compare the beet fields to other years and hope and pray that the rain didn’t hang about, as there was nothing worse than ploughing through sodden wet beet fields. James Sn. would talk about the poitin that needed to be rubbed into the animals who were in pain. He swore by this medicine. I know he was also partial to a drop himself – and why ever not, wasn’t he entitled after giving his whole life to farming. He also delighted in telling the captive kitchen table audience about the time he brought a Massey Ferguson massive combine harvester all the way from Co. Carlow to Clonroche, and stipulating quite strongly that he was no longer a spring chicken at nearly 80 years old. He would regale so many cheerful stories whilst slicing his much loved pears. He was a pear addict, and let it be known that he was, with a big grin on his face. He talked a lot about Michael – who was a horse trainer in England, and about the serious injuries he received whilst riding at a big race at Cheltenham, that instantly cut his riding career dead. There was an outlying farm, comprising of a hundred acres that was going to be his, I think, if he should come home permanently. I don’t think that was ever going to be the case. JS always had a smile and showed huge warmth towards me, and I loved being in his company along with the rest of the family. I felt like one of them. They had a deep concern for my welfare. Young James was such a gentle person. He would talk a lot about his sister – who had been a senior nurse at Wexford General hospital – and who had gone off to Australia to nurse. It had been her intention to get Australian citizenship. They were devastated about her having gone so far away. They would show me hundreds of photos of Australia, and I would be in a trance-like state seeing all the beautiful landscape. They missed Caroline so much – it ached. Eileen tried to remain pragmatic, as the mere thought of her only daughter having gone to the world down under would bring on deep sadness. She rather felt guilty too as Caroline had originally wanted to become a trained farmerette, but her mother encouraged her to go into nursing, as she felt could fall back on it, if times changed in farming. [I can vouch for it that Caroline would have made a brilliant farmer, as we spent a lot of time out in the fields, with the sheep, and she was as strong as a horse, as she pinned them down to tag same. She’s spent time in New Zealand on a sheep farm and was expertise in handling them. I had to help her, and she would go into fits, as I stumbled and fell flat on my face. It was at times like this that I knew the environment I should have rightly grown up. I fitted in like a neat glove. I was chez nous] An aside: Another time the two of of cycled down a very narrow hilly boreen road that led to the main New Ross /Enniscorthy dual carriageway. I was used to cycling with dipped rounded handle-bars, and not straight ones, and felt rather uncomfortable. The boreen was full of pot-holes. I suddenly lost my pedal bearings and the bike just took on a life of its own and fled at great speed down the rest of the boreen and right across the dual carriageway. I landed in a stack of hay that was the food belonging to a lone donkey, who lived all alone in a tiny old derelict barn with windowless windows. Luckily there was no oncoming traffic, as I would not be here writing this tale about Eileen and James in their cosy kitchen. Whenever the Eileen and the two James’ encountered me the first thing they would recount would be the story of me and the bike. Whenever caroline was on the phone to them, there would be howls of laughter about the incident.] Besides, Eileen had planned to give a separate homestead of 100 acres that she’d inherited from her brother, to son Pat upon marriage. [Between relatives, and themselves there was over a 1,000 acres of fine tillage, land, which would be equivalent to 1,000s of American acres of less yielding land.] Eilleen could be seen putting new-born rabbits into the lower part of the Aga to keep them at the proper temperature in order to survive. Young James could also be seen outside the kitchen door bent over a bucket feeding beestings to a calf. The wind would also be blasting the rain at the long wide kitchen window that looked out directly onto the farm courtyard, that was the central viewing outpost to everything that came and went via the entrance of the long avenue. The view also looked on to the haggard, and all the red-painted outhouses that lined the whole courtyard. Cars, tractors, horses, people, dogs, cats, chickens,  postman, workers friends, visitors could be seen com in and going, nothing went amiss from this kitchen window vantage point. The kitchen was the hub of the home. Young James let me drive his old Mercedes car. Martine concludes:
I can feel the way stress would unwind and time would stop running and rushing by. The quiet and calm of her… And I can look into my heart and see that what she gave me is woven in to every fibre of my being. And I can feel that peace again.
I too felt that time stopped running, and I was where I wanted to be – at home and at one with members of relatives of mine. I did not have to explain my presence, I did not feel like a stranger, I did not pine because a door would not be opened to me. I felt safe, really safe, just like the velveteen rabbit felt when all his hair fell off and he was accepted by the skin horse. No pleading. No wishing that they would accept me, because I already was accepted, not because of what they could get out of me, but because I was one of them. I never thought when I was living in Medway St. that I would ever experience the feeling of belonging. I always wished that there was a family for me like there was for most of the other residents. I envied those who had families, not because I was a jealous or selfish person, I did not understand why life had thus far been so cruel and why I was so bereft of the one thing i yearned for throughout my whole childhood in Goldenbridge.
However, as I said up above I stopped in my tracks, and decided that I was going on too much about Eileen’s kitchen, etc, and not really answering what Martine was saying at her place about her wonderful loving granny. So hence the tale above being related in full here.
I want to side-trackfor a moment to draw an analogy.

I rather notice in a lot of situations in real life, and in some quarters of the blogosphere that whenever some people talk about a recent death, [or other seriously emotional subject matters…feel free to replace same] that people can automatically be triggered by experiences of their own, and can strongly have the propensity to express their own grief. Notwithstanding the current grief of the blog poster and not earnestly taking into consideration the fact that there is a time and place for suchlike telling of one’s own personal stories. Some people just seem, or so it appears to me, to pile on their own stuff; giving, sometimes, just an afterthought to the grieving person’s lament. Misplaced sympathy? I know it’s hard not to stop the conjuring up of one’s own grief. I feel very strongly that people should not be opportunistic where there is a vulnerable opening to pour their hearts out about their own grief, yes; perhaps a little can be talked about, but surely not to the point of drowning out what the post is all about. One must stick to the facts that are laid out before one, and not go off on a tangent and make the post about them. Besides, it’s not really empathising with the person on a deep level; all it’s doing is reflecting back ones own sorrow. Usually grieving people are not able to take on board other people’s sorrow, as they’re too intensely distraught and suffering immensely. I know this from my own experience.

To be continued: Am tired, and don’t want to run through too many themes in the post. One must stick to the theme laid out. That was drummed in to me by my tutor. It’s hard work staying on track.

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