The Avondhu - By The Fireside
FORGETTING TO POLISH HIS HEELS
in case we fell. When my siblings and I got in trouble with our parents he said, “come in here under my wing as he opened his jacket to hide us”. He also listened to me sing and he taught me how to play the accordion.
A picture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus hung on the back wall of the kitchen, to be seen as you walked in the door. A picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary hung on another wall. A water font full of holy water hung on a wall just inside the door. Each time Gangie went in or out of the house, he put his finger in the holy water font and blessed himself. When it dried up, we went to the chapel to get a new bottle that was blessed by the priest. He blessed the crops with holy water when they were sown and when they were about to be harvested. Everything was blessed by Gangie. He even tipped his hat and genuflected in front of the holy pictures each time he entered the house.
On Saturday nights, Gangie polished his own shoes to wear to Mass on Sunday morning. But he always missed the back of the heels. My mother would say, “he forgot to polish the heels of his shoes again this week”. We both smiled as we reminded him. He walked to Mass every Sunday morning hail, rain or shine. People said he was as fit as a fiddle, from work and walking everywhere. Before he entered the chapel, he removed his hat before he dipped his fingers into the holy water font to bless himself. He even had his own seat in the
THATCHING THE ROOF
I watched Gangie climb a ladder to thatch the roof of our house. As I looked up at him he warned me not to touch the ladder. The straw lengths had to be even and it was held down by u-shaped roof pins. That in itself was a work of art. Sometimes he decorated the thatch with a braided sugán about a foot or two from the edge of the straw. Ireland has a lot of rain, so eventually parts of the thatched roof would have to be redone when it sagged, in case it leaked.
Once my mother cut my long hair and rather than throw it away we rolled it up in a ball and we pushed it under the thatch roof to save it. Two years later there wasn’t a morsel of it left. Birds had made their nests out of it.
On sunny summer days after dinner, which was in the middle of the day, Gangie always took a thirty minute nap outside. He stretched out beside the straw reek where some of it had come loose. He took his hat off and put it over his face to blackout the sun. While he was asleep I played around the reek with little bits of straw, occasionally stopping to watch him sleep and waiting for him to wake up.
As time went on, Gangie was getting older and he was no longer able to do hard work on the farm. But he kept himself busy scouring the edges of the fields to allow the combine harvester or the hay bailer to get in there. Every day he went to the wood to cut sticks for the kitchen fire. Because he was so meticulous, each stick had to be the same length. I watched him cutting the leaves off and measuring each stick to the other. When he had enough cut, he piled them up on each other carefully. Then he wrapped a belt around them and he threw the bart of sticks up on his back.
In time, his steps got a little slower and there was a little forward bend in his shoulders. I followed him along the short boreen and through the yard to the haggart while he stacked the sticks in perfect order. Proud of his day’s work I am sure. When our mother sent us out to bring in some sticks for the fire, we just pulled them out and we didn’t care if they all fell down or not. But Gangie did. Next day when he saw what we had done he would say “Mnnn!” But he stacked them all perfectly again.
SON OF A SEVENTH SON
Once, I overheard Gangie tell my parents that he was very sick in bed and everyone thought he may not make it. But in the height of his sickness he saw seven angels fly across the middle of his bedroom and go in behind a holy picture. And the next day he woke up healed.
I also heard him talk about the time my dad was very sick and his mother appeared at his open bedroom window with her hand held out to take him. Dad’s mother had passed away when he was five years old. Gangie said, “it’s a good thing he didn’t take her hand, if he did he wouldn’t be around today”. He was healed as well. We all believed Gangie had healing powers. As children when we felt sick he made the sign of the cross over our ache or pain and all was well shortly afterwards. I heard him say a few times that the son of the seventh son has healing powers. Maybe his father was a seventh son and he passed his healing powers onto Gangie?
‘MY HEAD IS ADDLED’
As time went on I had eight siblings. I was sixteen when the youngest child was born and we needed more space in our house. My father had the linney that was attached to the gable end of our house taken down. Jerry Twohig built a room for Gangie that was much larger and more private than his original room. I was seventeen years old and Gangie was 85 when I left for America in 1964 and he was still well enough to continue living with my parents.
But six months later Gangie’s health was declining. Because of all the activity and noise going on in the house with his grandchildren he asked my parents to put him in Fermoy hospital, which is more like a nursing home. He said, “my head is addled and if I don’t go in there the children will raise the roof off me head”. My mother said, “they didn’t want to put him in there but he was ready to go”. In fact, he begged my parents to put him in there. He must have wanted to spend the remaining part of his life in peace and tranquility. Perhaps he needed time to reflect on a life well lived because he had said and done it all. Which couldn’t be done in the midst of a house full of people.
Each Sunday my parents brought him out to the house for dinner and to visit for a few hours. And a year and a half later, in January 1967, he passed away peacefully. Two and a half years had gone by since Gangie blessed me with holy water before I left for America. And I am sure he prayed for my safe voyage there and every day afterwards. A few months earlier, I had booked a flight for a visit home the following June and I was looking forward to seeing Gangie as much as everyone else. Then one day I received a letter from my mother, saying “Gangie has passed away”. My heart sank to the ground and I began to cry. He was such an important part of my life and now I was never going to see him again.
When I went home the following June, I felt his absence. Gangie was no longer roaming around outside or sitting on his chair by the fireside. After a day or two my mother told me Gangie’s only wish was that he lived until he saw me in June. But it wasn’t meant to be. The angels had come once more for my Gangie and this time he had to go. He always told us, we come into this world on a certain day and we go out on a certain day. It’s all allotted. Every moment with Gangie was a holy moment, because he knew he walked on sacred ground and everyone and everything he encountered along the way was a blessing.
And I am sure he dazzles the heavens like the night stars that he had us look up at so long ago. And the memory of his love for his grandchildren will live on in our hearts forever. So Gangie, until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.