There was a whole pile of us there outside the big church in Youghal. Parents and their children. Many children. I was eight and the eldest. My mother was run ragged from the two younger ones and the baby, I could see it on her face, her tight lips, the notch between her eyebrows that only appeared when she was particularly cross. She rolled her eyes a lot at her sister and her friends, all surrounded by their own children, some crying, some pulling, some just snivelling in anticipation of the hour and a half of torture coming up.
My father was with the menfolk, all off to one side, all smoking Gold Flake and Players. No filters then. You could hardly see the men's heads with all the smoke. I loved to be downwind of this, hearing the strike of the match on the pink sandpaper of the box, the smell of the sulphur, the first expulsion of smoke from my father's mouth. I would breath it in like perfume.
It was an impressive church. About ten wide shallow limestone steps leading up to a large apron in front of the huge main doors which now stood open, waiting for the faithful and the High Mass celebrated at 10 o'clock every Sunday morning.
We had arrived in a series of pony and traps from our rented seaside cottages off to the east of us. Now with that novelty over, all the children were restless.
'Would you hold your brother's hand?' my mother snapped at me. My brother was tumbling cartwheels on the top of the steps. It was a new found skill he had learned on the strand the day before from an older lad. He couldn't stop. One hand down, second hand down, legs in the air wide apart, drop first foot on the ground, then the second, then the hands, he was delighted with himself. He had the envious attention of all the other kids on the top of the steps. Until I raced up and grabbed hold of his hand on one of his downturns and yanked him down the steps and over to my mother. He fought me like the devil, screamed to our mother I was hurting him, I was the meanest sister in the world. Mummy turned on me, told me to: stop whatever I was doing just stop it how was she always telling me to stop it just stop it where was my father he would straighten me out in a hurry.
My oblivious father and his friends carried on smoking, roared laughing, clapped each other on the back chortling about the match they would all be going to on the local hurling pitch later on in the afternoon, their backs to the womenfolk and their childish concerns.
Now as if choreographed, they all crunched their cigarette butts under their brightly polished shoes and doffed their caps and hats as they headed up the steps and into the huge golden cavern of the church.
The mothers struggled and tugged and dragged the pushchairs up the steps of the church, wrangling their other children together in one untidy meandering uncontrollable mess.
At the top of the steps my mother dove into her handbag and threw a bit of black lace on my head.
'There now,” she said, “You're old enough.”
See part 2 here.
A mantilla! Gosh, that brings back memories. I could never understand why I was allowed wear a mantilla, when I was sent back upstairs to remove a headscarf and replace it with a hat before joining the family in the car for the drive to mass!ReplyDelete
Being slow on the uptake, and not catholic, it took me a while to figure out why your mother dropped a black shoe lace on your head. I was even thinking a licorice lace.ReplyDelete
What a beautiful church. The fancy brickwork and windows. I'd love to see inside. It is so different now when you go to mass. Not having to wear anything on our heads or wear our Sunday best. Your writing had me feeling right being there.ReplyDelete
My only childhood memories of church services are the ones I had to attend at boarding school. They were so dreary I couldn't wait for them to finish. The only time my parents entered a church was when they married (or someone else did). As you can gather, religion never made much impression on my family!ReplyDelete
Ponies and traps? This posting seems about someone much older than you! LxReplyDelete
Ah, fathers doing what fathers did in the day. Ignoring their multitude of offspring while mother herded the cat-like herd of kids, pushed a pram loaded with the two youngest and tried to hide the fact that her belly was swelling with yet another bairn.ReplyDelete
Oh, to be a good Catholic wife in the 40s. Let's hope Heaven is all about hot baths, bon-bons and reading movie magazines for them, because they sure had hell on earth.
A mantilla meant no frivolity, head scarves could have souvenir pictures or foolish flowers on them :)
Wait till you read Part 2.
Apparently our glorious hair (even at 8!!) could lead a man astray or with sinful thoughts in church so had to be covered.
It always has been the female's problem.
I find it hard to believe myself that all change happened in my lifetime!!
I've often thought that if there is a god (dess) (s)he must be laughing themselves silly at all these outlandish rituals and money collections to sustain them.
In the town of Youghal, way back then, cars were scarce and also the petrol to feed them, it was the last era (maybe even year) of horse travel. I am glad I witnessed it. I remember distinctly the seat itching my bum :)
My mother had a particular hell with very difficult pregnancies about which I've written.
I remember the pony and trap from my granny's and how the horses would be tied to posts outside the church. God be with the days!(Though not the Fella we were made to fear so much!)ReplyDelete
You made me snort at "snivelling at the hours of torture ahead!"
How can we ever forget Molly? It was a terrible torture in one sense but in another I know it helped my great imagination to flourish. I had to amuse myself. Internally. I remember (in my inagination only) putting purple underwear on the holy priests and confessing it as "impure thoughts". If they had frolicked on the altar in their undies it would have been far more entertaining and - ahem -more in tune with their true natures.ReplyDelete