Thursday, January 05, 2006

An Irish country Christmas

Well, darnit, aren't they just the sweetest people down there in Offaly! My friend and I took the train out on Christmas Eve. His sister picked us up at the train station, and we squished into her car, along with her 5-month-old and her 5-year-old, who went all shy and quiet as soon as he saw me. This apparently classifies as a Christmas miracle, 'cause I was told that, usually, you can't shut up him up. Went to visit another sister, who was in the hospital (she's fine, just in for a scheduled operation), then along home to meet the parents, who were just the nicest people on earth.

My friend's parents are in their '70s and his father was a dairy farmer. When it became clear none of the sons was going to take over the lifestyle, they sold the farm when he retired and used some of the money to build a new house to retire in. They kept some of the land around the new house, for a large garden and a field that they rent out to their neighbors as grazing land. The new house is large and on one floor, and one whole half of it is taken up by the huge kitchen and open dining room. Though they have a sitting room as well, all the day-to-day living is done in this huge space. There was always a fire in the fireplace, and the mother liked to sit in one of the comfy chairs next to it. Although she's not sitting still very often. They are both quite active, still, and as soon as one of them sits down, the other will get up to make some tea or get more wood from the entryway, or to wrap up some scraps for the neighbor's dog and cats who come calling to the back door (they have already figured out that no one uses the front door). The neighbors, as well as assorted children and grandchildren, also call often at the back door although they aren't given scraps.

His mother had apparently said, "Oh, God!" when informed earlier on the phone that I was a quasi-vegetarian. Her plea of, "Won't she have even a little turkey?" was answered in the negative. So when I arrived, I found that the father had gone out to the greenhouse, picked some lettuce and herbs, washed them, and had put a huge plate of it in the fridge for me. They cooked a fry-up for dinner, making me an extra egg and offering me enough toast for half a dozen people. After dinner, my friend and his father went off to midnight mass (at 9; I don't know either). His mother had been feeling poorly that day, so she stayed in to listen to the mass on the radio and said she would go to the Christmas morning service. They did not expect that I would go with them. They showed me where the DVD player was, and where the various foodstuffs were kept and told me to make myself at home if they were gone to mass when I got up the next morning. I was relieved and disappointed. Relieved because I didn't have to go to a Catholic service I knew nothing about and would have to sit through awkwardly; but disappointed 'cause it would have been an interesting thing to see. I've never been in any kind of a church service before.

The parents were great. They just mostly liked to sit about and talk and they've lived together so long and it totally shows. She does the cooking; she takes her time, moseys about, does a bit here, a bit there. He does the dishes, and sometimes she'll join him at the sink to dry. On Christmas Eve, they made the Christmas dinner dessert, which was a fruit, cake and sherry trifle. They'd done this so many times that it was like a cozy, choreographed dance. He opened the can of fruit, she cut the cake into slices and they both put their respective ingredients into the bowl, then he pours in the sherry and jelly while she stirs. It was so cute. Plus, the dessert smelled great while they were making it. They're totally cool. I asked about the service after they came back from mass, and she was saying how everyone loved the new priest, 'cause the old one was all fire and damnation and everything was sin sin sin, and this new one is totally more upbeat and happy and was really good with the kids and young people.

Christmas day was spent at the house of one of the sisters. Another sister came by for Christmas dinner while we all sat around and played with the kids' toys. The 5-year-old had gotten a robot that shoots out these foam rings; it was cool. Dinner was turkey (here, and in the UK, Christmas dinner means turkey and brussels sprouts), goose (which I stole a little bite of, as I'd never had goose), mashed potatoes, yams, brussels sprouts, and two kinds of (veggie) stuffing. One of the sisters had already started cooking me some fish before I could stop her and say that the veggies would be more than enough.

The next morning, I sat around a bit, the father showed me the paintings he'd done since he took up the hobby when he had hip surgery and couldn't work, ate some more salad, at lunch (salmon for me, turkey leftovers for them) and then they drove me to the bus station so I could get home to feed the cat.

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