Chapter 14 - Thorny Subjects
The time came when the increasing O'Hara family moved into a larger house on the Culloville Road. Kathleen was sorry to leave The Square but when she saw her new home with its airy bedrooms and big garden, she knew she was going to be happy there. There were just three houses with the O'Hara one in the middle. It was certainly a healthy and elevated spot from which they could see Dundalk, twelve miles away in the distance.
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At night, the children spent hours watching the Lighthouse in Dundalk Bay winking on and off. It was a house of sound that became more noticeable with the years. In the summer the wind on the front door was just a whisper and the telegraph wires on their tall poles gave a melodious sound. In the winter, the wind howled and cried like a banshee. Its tragic note troubled Kathleen. It whistled through the keyhole seeking refuge, shouting as if in pain and screeching for admittance. Was it the cry of despair of some lost soul seeking its loved one? She never knew. This house was built to withstand the gales of winter and in summer it opened its windows and door to sunlight and laughing children's voices.
From now on, school days were very much to the fore. The O'Hara children rarely used the Culloville Road, preferring the short cut across the fields. Each morning Mrs. O'Hara said goodbye to her flock and watched them open the garden gate into the field. From there it was a race down to the dell where a two feet wide stream meandered through the meadow, banked on the far side by a four feet rise of ground into the School Playing Field. Of course they all jumped the stream with great agility and climbed the bank. This short cut was also taken by local and country boys. They surprised Kathleen with feats she could rarely muster though she was a willing pupil.
When the boys decided to run across the Playing Field and jump across the stream from the high bank into the next field, she was eager to try too. Inwardly, she had her fears about flying through the air with a drop of four feet across the stream to the other field but she managed to do it. Patsy Morgan was the leader in all these adventures and a fine boy at that she told herself. One evening he decided to jump the river from the high side but first he would clear the three foot high thorn bush on top of the high bank all in one jump. She stood and watched as they came running across the field at great speed to clear the thorn bush and the stream below. Pat did it first time but some of the boys were not so lucky. They rushed up to the bush and then stopped. Whether they feared the prickly bush or didn't get up enough speed she didn't know. The boys did manage to jump over the bush only to land right in the middle of the stream below. There was great bantering as the two emerged from the water with dripping pants and embarrassed faces, but anxious to try again.
Kathleen didn't try that day but as she trudged home she told herself,
"I'll do it. I'll have the batin' of those boys yet".
The next day after school, she didn't wait for anyone as she raced across the Playing Fields towards the thorn bush. She took a hurried look over her shoulder to make sure she was alone, then took a running leap at the bush. Three times she stopped short of it, her heart thumping in her chest.
"What's the matter with me? Either I'm losin' me nerve or that bush has grown overnight".
The sound of distant voices brought her to he senses and at the fourth attempt she did jump only to land right in the middle of the bush where she was firmly stuck. Her sudden contact with the thorns made her scream with pain. She daren't move and those thorns had ripped part of her cotton frock right off and her underclothes were covered with bloodstains.
First on the scene was Patsy Morgan with his young friends taking up the rear. She was in too much pain and discomfort to care if they laughed derisively or just said,
"What would you expect from a girl".
Her only care was,
"Get me out quickly before I bleed to death".
She was in pain and they stood solemnly around eager to help. Patsy was gentleness itself. He lifted the sobbing Kathleen, carried her over the stream and all the way home.
"I declare to God, you'd tax the divil himself", was all Pat would say, "This is one time your cure won't work. You'll probably need the Doctor".
If her bottom hurt for days afterwards she didn't mention it but one thing did bother her. That bush had stood there for a long time but overnight it was gone. She was never able to find out what happened to it and when she mentioned the subject to the boys all she got was blank stares.
Apparently Patsy had heard that she was supposed to have the cure for a sty of the eye but all the talk about this occurred before they move to the Culloville Road. It came as a shock to Kathleen when her mother informed her,
"Did you know Kathleen, you have the gift of a cure for a sty in the eye?"
"That's the first I've heard of it Mammy".
"Well now Kathleen, you have a patient waitin' on you and the sooner you call in the better".
"For God's sake mammy, what are you talking about? Sure I don't know how to cure people".
"Well Dolly Martin has the sty and you're not going past their door without calling in an enquiring about her health. You know the good friends they've been to us over the years. Their kindness and generosity we can never repay. Who'd have the patience to put up with you lot?"
Kathleen looked very solemn.
"And how do I cure her?"
"Very easy indeed. Go down the garden and pick nine gooseberry thorns each day for nine days".
"What about school? You'll have me thrown out. I've lost enough time at school already. Anyway, what do I do with them Mammy?"
"Starting tomorrow and before you go to school you will call to see Martins with the cure."
There she was at the front door of their house adjoining the shop and Pub the next morning. She was well received by the sisters, who drew a chair up to the fire for her to sit on with great reverence like she was Dr. O'Brien himself.
"Can we give you a drink or a wee cup of tea? We know you don't care for the fresh milk like your brother".
"No thank you. Let's get down to business".
She felt like her father now, issuing orders. Suddenly she felt very important. She carried the thorns in a small bag.
"Can I have a saucer please?"
"Of course Kathleen".
Cissie rushed to the dresser all hustle and bustle. Kathleen asked Dolly to sit on a chair while she counted the nine gooseberry thorns. She faced Dolly, picked up a thorn, pointed it towards the sty on her eye and made the sign of the cross with it.
"In the name of the Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost, Amen".
She did this with each of the nine thorns in turn throwing each one over her left shoulder as she finished each recital. At the end of nine days the sty was gone.
She left the Martin's house each morning carrying a bun, a scone or a jam tart.
"Well worth the effort", she thought; and they were most grateful for her help.
"If I keep this up I might be givin' some competition to Dr. O'Brien".
That brought a grin to her face.
"God knows Mammy, wouldn't any sty be gone in nine days anyway without the cure?"
But no one was willing to hear that point of view.
The lady who lived next door to the School had the cure for the Whooping Cough and Kathleen found herself knocking regularly at her door as her Mammy had great faith in her. She was a fine looking woman with a head of thick wavy auburn hair and for the life of her Kathleen couldn't understand why she wasn't married. On one visit she brought up the subject.
"Tell me Agnes. Why aren't you married? Sure you've a good house here and no one to share it with."
"So well you might ask Kathleen. I've never seen the man yet I'd like to share me auld age with".
"Don't you like children then?"
"Well I wouldn't be spending the best part of me life making cures for them if I didn't like them. I did get a proposal once".
"And what did you say Agnes?"
"He asked if I'd like to be buried with his people. What do you think of that now for a romantic proposal? Ah sure they're all the same - just boys at heart".
She had a quick wit alright and Kathleen couldn't see any of the local lads coming up to her standards.
Kathleen's glance followed her around the kitchen as she opened drawers and cupboards, lifting tins from the top of the dresser and put her ingredients on the table. She eyed it and a very mixed concoction it was too.
"You know Agnes, you have a very cosy kitchen and it's as clean as a new pin".
"Well it keeps me out of mischief and I was always one for a good fire".
Right enough it was blazing away and she detected a faint aroma around it. Hanging down each side of the fireplaces were bunches of dried herbs. They were mainly tied with string and their heads hanging down. There must have been at least a dozen varieties and they were obviously tended with care and gentleness as though they were young children.
"What on earth are you drying all those weeds and grasses for Agnes? This is the only house I've been in with such unusual decorations".
She had chosen her words with care and was surprised to see a hurt look cross Agnes' face.
After a few thoughtful moments, she startled Kathleen with her next remark,
"Well it's plain to see you're no walking encyclopaedia and know nothing about herbs or herbal treatments. What do you think your mother sends you down here for every time one of the children is sickening for the Whooping Cough? That's my medicine", pointing to the precious herbs. "It was handed down to me by my mother and from her mother's mother before her. We understand herbs and their sweet healing power. It's part of my living you might say, helping to cure people. So I walk the roads, the fields and the bogs and keep my eyes open for nature's healing plants. Then I take them home and dry them out. And that's what you're looking at now".
Kathleen got quite interested and would have touched them if it wasn't for Agnes; restraining hand. She might as well have put up a notice "DO NOT TOUCH".
Agnes studied Kathleen for a few moments, half-closing her eyes and stroking her chin with her index finger.
"By the way, Kathleen, I hear tell it's yourself has the cure for the sty".
Kathleen straightened up to her full height. Now she had something in common with Agnes.
"I have indeed, and if you're unfortunate enough to have the sty don't be afraid to call on me".
She was beginning to feel she really could give Dr. O'Brien a run for his money".
Agnes' cure was a real mystery as she used so many ingredients. Apart from the herbs, she put some oaten meal in the bag along with some brown sugar. Handing the bag to Kathleen she said,
"Now Kathleen, tell your mother to add a teaspoon of black treacle to it and the wee one will be well before the week is out. You know it's the cure that's keeping me poor, but sure I'm a contented woman anyway".
As she walked home, Kathleen pondered on how Agnes' cure worked so much faster than hers. She was more like a miracle healer. Faith maybe in time she'd learn a thing or too from Agnes though she had an idea it would be hard to wheedle information out of her if she had acquired it from her forebears. Agnes might want it to remain her secret. Kathleen had a mind to start reading about herbs and their curing qualities. In the meantime she would discuss it with her mother.