Chapter 12 - A Country Wedding
There were great preparations for Uncle Ned's wedding All the family were rigged out in their best. Kathleen got a new gym frock, blue blouse and black patent leather shoes. Of course, she knew what this outfit was for. It was her new school uniform and her mother remarked,
"Just because we have a wedding in the family doesn't mean throwing away money unnecessarily".
Her young Aunt, who had nursed Patrick, came to stay with them while another Aunt came from America for a month's holiday, accompanied by numerous unknown American cousins.
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The wedding was a big event alright with the people of Crossmaglen turning up in force just as they always did for funerals. The reception was held in her grandparent's house where her grandfather and Ned still lived after losing her grandmother. The house stood at the crossroads one mile south of Crossmaglen and was called Mobane House. The townland was also known as Mobane and was about a mile from the border with the "Irish Free State". It had known many happy nights when the young and not so young came to ceilidhe and relax, An open house you might say. Across the road on a small incline stood the Handball Alley and a Dancing Deck. Sunday afternoons rang with the sound of music and dancing feet.
Their grandfather said there had been a chapel there long before the Ball Alley was built but she could see no evidence of that. He was very knowledgeable and interested in the past and Kathleen had no reason to disbelieve him. He was a fine upstanding big man with a drooping white moustache and a balding head. She never knew if he had been a redhead or a blonde. It didn't matter. He was kind, courteous, thoughtful and patient with an absorbing interest in worldly affairs.
The house itself stood in a sheltered spot at the bottom of a big hill known as "John Aisy's Hill" and at all times it was overlooked and protected by lovely Slieve Gullion. The house had an adjoining shop owned by their Grandfather. It sold everything a country community would require. Tons of coal, hundredweight sacks of flour, groceries, paraffin oil and the potato spray mixture of bluestone and soda to protect the plants from the blight. There were also cans for milk and water, ovenware and Delft crockery. There was an egg station attached to the shop and each day a lorry arrived to take away the fresh crated eggs.
The gardens and fields around were full of fowl, mostly White Leghorns and White Wynandottes and the incubating shelves upstairs in the house were filled in Spring either with eggs or the soft fluffiness of newborn chicks. Whitewashed cottages dotted the fields around. In the distance and up to the Border, birds encircled the small sparkling lake, which was surrounded by turf bogs. The smoke coming from the chimneys smelled of wood and turf. Open doors were an invitation to people and sometimes to animals too. Pigs sauntered across the road at their leisure but when she saw goats Kathleen always beat a hasty retreat.
The goats roamed the rocky hills around, selecting their herbs and pulling on the whin bushes. They even ventured on to the roads where their horns did quite a bit of damage to the skirts and pants of those who came too close. She didn't like goats at all. She'd had a couple of encounters with them when only the steel structures of her Uncle Ned's bike had saved her.
Today with the wedding in progress, all the goats were tethered in the lanes and fields so she could venture forth without too much risk. She loved her grandfather's home and had a still greater love for the shop. Here, if she was lucky, she could stand behind the counter and really come into contact with sticks of liquorice, glass jars filled with aniseed balls, clove flavoured sweets and bars of hard toffee. Usually there were trays of sticky buns under the counter and these were a great temptation at all times. Although it was her Uncle Ned's Wedding Day, she hoped the shop would still be open to customers. She was disappointed. All the shutters were up and the doors locked and barred.
With the rest of the children, she contented herself in the big kitchen while the Wedding Party made merry in the Sitting Room where Uncle Ned kept all his cycling trophies. There must have been great fun with the guests singing, music playing and the strong beat of dancing feet.
"Ha! Why do they always have to leave us out in the cold? What's the point of getting all dressed up?, she thought, "and then spending all the time in the Kitchen. I suppose we're just waiting for the crumbs from the wedding table . We're tethered just like the goats today and I bet some of them have more freedom than we have to run wild through the rocks and the whin bushes. Here we are and we can't even hear ourselves talk with all the noise coming from the Wedding Feast".
All of a sudden the door opened and out stepped their young Aunt with a tray full of Wedding Cake and lemonade.
"Enjoy yourselves children".
They sure did. They gulped it down so quickly you would think they had never seen a piece of cake before.
After a time, bored with inactivity, Kathleen and her elder brother, Patrick, opened the kitchen door leading into the darkened shop. Light trickled through the shutters, enough for them to find the half-door of the counter. When they grew accustomed to the dark, they were dismayed to find almost everything out of reach.
"You'd never think it was a wedding feast, the way we've been treated. Not even a sweet left for us to reach".
Patrick found a small wooden box under the counter and this contained "Victory V" lozenges. They were very hot and potent and were sold only by the ounce but this never occurred to the children. They were three quarters of the way through the box when Brigid, the maid, finally found them. They came out timidly enough, prepared for the worst, but with the party in full swing they were happy to find they got away with a mild reprimand. But within half an hour they were both violently sick.
"Serves you right", said Brigid, "you pair of rascals", and she threw a bucket of water over their vomit. Luckily enough, Brigid had seen the warning signs in time and had got them out of the kitchen into the yard.
As she recovered Kathleen began to ruminate about other weddings.
"I wonder Pat were there any childer invited to the Wedding Feast in Cana?"
"How should I know, I wasn't there".
"Well if our Blessed Lord was there, I bet he took in some unfortunate mites like us".
"Is it mites we are now Kathleen?"
She gave him a look of disdain.
"Well I'm sure they didn't have a big brother who tempted them to try and poison themselves with Victory Vs".
When the Wedding Party broke up and the Guests left, Mrs O'Hara took over the running of the house until the Aunts and cousins arrived back that night.
"Kathleen why don't you take yourself out and get some fresh air into your lungs. You look like you're in need of it".
The evening was warm and pleasant and she walked into the garden, climbed over the rocks in the field, surveyed the landscape and smelled all the wild flowers in bloom. Dusk was falling when she made her way back to the house. Brigid lit the oil lamps and the big fire blazed in the hearth. The flames danced and leaped, casting shadows on the darkened walls. The blackened kettle sang its own lullaby and the Sacred Heart Lamp added its own little warming red glow.
Soon the children became tired and querulous. Kathleen was sitting on the kitchen table, her legs dangling over the edge and feeling a little drowsy. The table was covered by an oil cloth and washed after every meal. It was hard and uncomfortable but her head kept dropping on to her chest. Finally she succumbed and stretched herself out full length on the tabletop. She informed all around her,
"I'm only going to lie down for a little while and rest me eyes. I won't go to sleep".
Her mother placed a rug under her head and she was out light a light.
When she woke it was morning with the sun shining across her face. There was the scent of milking and all the busy noises of a farmyard. Hens cackled, gates slammed and milk churns were heaved out to the waiting carts. She realised she was in a bedroom in her grandfather's house but who was she sleeping with? She was sandwiched between two ladies and around them lingered the aura of some exotic perfume. This disturbed her and she closed her eyes again more tightly.
"If only one of them is Mammy", she thought. "Maybe she used perfume for the wedding too".
She closed her mind to the fact that to the best of her knowledge her mother didn't possess a bottle of perfume, or if she did it was well hidden from her prying eyes. Moreover she did know who used it; her Aunt Julia from America and numerous cousins whose names were unknown to her.
She prayed for the miracle that her Mammy was still there although she knew her brothers and sisters had gone home. Then she heard her Aunt Julia's unmistakable drawl.
"Kathleen, isn't it about we were up?"
She held her breath and her heart thumped as she waited for her mother's voice but what she heard was the nasal reply of one of her American cousins. She steeled herself for the next part of the ordeal, dressing in front of three grown-up ladies. Out of the corner of her eye she could see the satin and lace underwear draped over chairs and some cascading to the floor. All she had was a brief little cotton vest and knickers. Then she set to thinking about the previous night and how she found herself undressed in a strange bed. Who did it? She was too shy to ask and too timid to raise her eyes as she put on her blouse and gym slip.
The morning dragged on and she walked across the road to the Ball Alley carrying an empty bucket. Her instructions were to go to Big Pat's well, which was quite a distance away. There the water was much better. She didn't. She jumped over the next stile on the left hand side of the road into a green field strewn with rocks and boulders. Nestling between the rocks was a little well surrounded by little stones worn down by the years. Here she stooped and filled her bucket. The air tasted like wine and nature wore her greenest mantle. She sat for a while among the rocks communing with nature, then decided to empty the bucket and refill it again, just to pass the time away. She wasn't too keen about returning too soon and she was determined not to have another meal there that day.
It was evening before Kathleen's lonely vigil was rewarded. She stood at the crossroad looking down the road towards Crossmaglen, when out of the distance walked the O'Hara family coming to fetch her. Her excitement knew no bounds. She didn't even want her parents to enter the house, she was so anxious to get home. She could find nothing wrong with her American Aunt, she told her mother, except that she was a bad cook.
"Imagine Mammy being called in to lunch with the table set and all we got was a boiled egg with tea and bread and butter. Not a sight of a boiled potato or a plate of champ. We could have starved for all she cared. She told me it was a Fast Day. You could see she was not used to high falutin' cooking in America and she can't cook over the open fire either".
"That could be said about a lot of people Kathleen".
At lunch time, between coughing and spluttering, she had asked her Aunt,
"Glory Be! What did you put in this egg?"
"Salt and mustard", her Aunt had snapped.
Who ever heard of mustard in a boiled egg? No wonder she was anxious to get home before she was poisoned or starved to death.
"Mammy, me heart was broke for a good feed of champ".
This remark brought hilarious laughter from her mother.
"Don't worry. Tomorrow is a genuine Fast Day. You can have champ to your heart's content".
"Thank you Mammy. Aren't we the lucky ones to have you. Thank God for Irish mothers".