We have moved to ‘Summer’ time in Ireland today and it got me thinking of long bright evenings as a child.
This swing, which was handmade, was a natural habitat of mine for four years while we lived in Co. Monaghan. Being on the swing was just plain happiness and it also offered to opportunity to do a bit of risk-taking when no one was looking. Swinging really high that there was a danger of going over the top or taking a mad leap off the swing onto the grass from the highest point possible.
Whenever I see a wooden swing these days, I simply have to have a go and rekindle those memories.
I have no idea how I suddenly remembered the excitement of ‘lucky bags’ which were a highlight of my early days. They were so simple and full of sugary things and a little toy.
We lived next door to a sweet shop when I was four years old and I think that’s when I got addicted to them. My big sister used to buy them for me on the quiet. They were kept behind a big tall counter that I could hardly reach on tippy toes. I’d dance off with the bag and savour every single sweet in it.
Maybe it’s yesterday’s trip to the dentist that has brought them back to my mind combined with a card from big sis today.
She was all grown up and into Bournville (dark chocolate) at that point. I couldn’t understand how a bar of any kind of chocolate could be more enticing than a lucky bag. I’m just remembering the sherbet that was in them – all fizzy and powdery – the perfect giveaway on a woolly cardigan…..
I was rummaging in a box of Dad’s old photos, which he had cast aside as ‘poor’ and found this one which brought me back to family holidays in the West of Ireland which was his native heath.
It has me thinking of picnics, buckets and spades, swimming togs, homemade kites, trying to escape sunscreen, Dad’s camera cases and tripods having better seating arrangements than me, colourful deck chairs, word games, donkeys, sandals, running races, local farmers full of chat, hours of sea air, delicious tiredness, falling into bed longing for tomorrow.
Did I ever tell you about my childhood dream of being President of America? Yes, The United States of America because Ireland wasn’t BIG enough with only 3 million or so people.
I used to stand on my bed, use the grip of my tennis racket as a microphone, and seek to persuade thousands and thousands of people at grand rallies to vote for me.
I’ve been chuckling to myself all day today as memories of that phase came flooding back in the current fun reality of trying to garner votes for my precious blog post that has been shortlisted in the Irish Blog Awards.
You’d be amazed at the range of ‘never hide your light behind a bushel’ kind of ideas that have been flooding my imagination.
Helpful school boy comes to my rescue when I drop an empty dog food tin on the pavement as I’m loading up the recycling bin outside our gate just before refuse collection time this morning. Now he could get all his classmates to vote for me; in fact, he could get the whole school, pupils, teachers, parents, sibs, aunts, uncles ….
I’ve to go to the supermarket. While I’m making the list ~ bread, milk, carrots, fish … the aisles open up and I’m flitting along Mary Poppins-style singing: ‘Just one Vottetto, give it to me’ and all the shoppers flock around and pull out their smartphones and start pressing:
I’m in Waterford City at the NCT place for the car (that’s where they check over the car to certify that it’s roadworthy). The waiting room is full with people waiting to get their wheels back. Hey, people waiting! They look bored stiff. Wouldn’t it be a kindness to introduce them to The Irish Blog Awards and get them all voting, voting, voting ….. Annnnnnnnnnnd, there’s people waiting in all sorts of places. Why not rush around and entertain all them too, especially the poor divils in dentists’ waiting rooms!
Do we ever know what’s going on inside people’s heads? (I bet that lovely guy who told me that the car was good to go never imagined that the middle-aged woman with the big smile had such a V in her bonnet!)
Let the world beware of Irish Bloggers on the loose!
It’s on days like this during the school holidays that Mother and I used to go on our ‘little school viewing’ expeditions. I was obsessed with schools, as a kid. Maybe I should make this clearer, I was obsessed with looking in the windows of schools. (When I was at school, I always rather liked looking out the windows and longed for the days to end and the weekends and holidays to come.)
We always seemed to bring a small picnic with us ~ cream crackers, and a bottle of homemade lemonade.
Recently, I was passing Knockmahon School which is just outside the village of Bonmahon on the Copper Coast. I couldn’t resist having a snoop around and those days with Mother came flooding back, including the fear that someone would appear with a cane and ask what the hell I was doing there!
The school is a beauty, built up on a hill:
It was built in 1956 and would have been new by my ‘childhood’ standards.
This style of building with the circular shed was one I knew all too well, having been to four different national schools during my transitory youth. None of the sheds, where we sheltered during wet break/sus/recess times had a mural, though, like this one in Knockmahon has:
The kids obviously still play hopscotch in Knockmahon School but they don’t have to draw out the squares like we used to. (Yes, I did have a little hop around while I was there!)
I did my best to get a good look inside but it wasn’t that easy with the blinds on the windows. However, I caught glimpses of familiar looking tiny chairs from my son’s time in junior schools. I rather miss the old fashioned double wooden desks with the inkwells that were a fundamental part of my experience.
But, how I loved the little posters on the door of Knockmahon School which say so much about its ethos and philosophy and what school should be all about:
Just look at all those things that you are when you enter the school … friend, writer, mathematician, musician, artist, musician, scientist.
Every single school has its own personality and personalities. Every single school has its own history and I suspect, every single school has people like me trespassing looking around with a bagful of memories.
I was eight when our Dalmatian, Beauty, ‘fell pregnant.’ It was either an immaculate conception or a neighbouring dog, randy Brandy, scaled the 15ft wall that lay between them and had his way with her.
Randy Brandy was a big wire haired mixum-gatherum of a dog with a long square head and every conceivable shade of brown in his coat. Beauty was ‘beauty’ personified!
She had four pups, Freckles, Brutus, Tiny and Treasure. I was absolutely thrilled when they arrived but my parents were rather less enthralled and didn’t want Beauty getting worn out by them.
My little heart broke as one by one homes were found for the pups. Treasure was my favourite and I hoped against hope that I would be able to persuade Mother and Father to keep him.
(As I look at the photo of Beauty and Treasure which Father took, the fact that Treasure is a little blurred doesn’t escape me. Beauty was the apple of Father’s eye!)
However, the terrible day dawned when Mother found a woman who wanted a gentle pup to give to her mother. We were living in Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan and the new owner was based in Dublin which seemed to be at the other end of the earth to me.
Collection was arranged for a Friday evening in deepest November and the kind lady, knowing of my upset, handed me a book token for the huge sum of £1 when she arrived to take Treasure away. (At that stage, £1 was worth about a year’s pocket money to me.)
At around 10pm that night, the telephone rang and it was the rather distraught daughter phoning from Dublin to say that Treasure wouldn’t get out of her car and that she would be bringing him straight back. Needless to say, I was thrilled. ( I’ve often wondered what really happened as it couldn’t have been that difficult to get a tiny pup out of the car.)
So, when I woke the next morning, Treasure was back with Beauty, back where he belonged!
A few weeks later, friends of ours who lived just a few miles away said that they would love to have Treasure. I realised, even then, that this was probably the best offer that was open as I would get to see him regularly and I knew he would be very well looked after. Even I could see that he was getting a bit much for Beauty.
Everything worked out great for Treasure and I did get to see him as often as I wanted.
However, I’ve lived with that book token on my conscience all these years. I know I should have given it back. I know, I know, I know … but I couldn’t resist all the Nancy Drew books and the doggy diary that I could buy with it.
I would like to thank Willow for nominating me for this Five Photos/Five Stories Challenge.
Here are the rules for the Challenge:
“Post a photo each day for five consecutive days and attach a story to the photo. It can be fiction or non-fiction, a poem or a short paragraph and each day nominate another blogger for the challenge.
I was listening to BBC Radio Five Live in the early hours of this morning and was really saddened to hear of the death of Waterford-born singer Val Doonican.
Val was a huge part of my growing up and we watched him on his BBC television show for years and years every Saturday night from when it started in 1965. Those were the days of the black and white telly, the roaring fire and the whole family gathered ~ Mother and Dad on their easy chairs and us kids on the sofa ~ me the youngest invariably in the lumpy bit in the middle but feeling all secure and nestled.
In the early 1970s, when we were living in Drogheda, it was like a dream come true when news hit town that Val Doonican was coming to perform in concert. It was the first concert of a ‘big star’ that I ever went to and Mother and I revelled in every moment.
I got Val Doonican’s autograph that night and was stunned with the fact that he took the time to talk with eleven-year-old me as if I was the only person in the world.
So many songs, so many memories associated with a man who hailed from my native Co. Waterford and made such a success of life from tough beginnings.
This contribution to The Festival of Bridges comes from Sandy Penny, a woman I am fortunate have come to know over the last year or so through blogging. I love her way with words and her ability to bring us to unfamiliar places and make them feel like home. Sandy’s website can be found here
Bridge to a Better Life
There are so many ways I could talk about this bridge, but I want to keep it personal.
The McKinley Bridge stretches across the mighty Mississippi River from St. Louis, Missouri to Venice, Illinois. It connected my small town, Venice, with the huge Gateway to the West, St. Louis, where the famous St. Louis Arch was being built as I grew up.
I could see it going up, piece by piece from my second story bedroom window. But I lived across the river in a town of only about 5000 people, and my life was very different from those who lived in the big city.
I went to a small school, only about 500 students through all the grades, Kindergarten through grade 12. I had 28 students in my age-level class. But, we had a great school with lots of things small schools didn’t have back then. We had olympic style gymnastic training equipment, a brand new gymnasium, marble floors, a classical music room, a state of the art language lab, and some of the best teachers in the state. How could we afford all those wonderful perks?
McKinley Bridge belonged to Venice, and it was a toll bridge. All those tolls supported our little town, and most especially the school.
There are other things, like how we would climb the train trestles and dodge into the balconies as the trains roared by a few feet from where we stood. And how traffic had to stop on the bridge if a train needed to cross. And it was an electric bridge, so electric trolleys on rails could cross it too.
Such powerful impact on my childhood, and a bridge to a better life in so many ways. It’s now is disrepair, and has been turned into a bicycle bridge, and that’s still good work for an old bridge.
The Festival of Bridges is running until October 31st. Submissions are welcome in words, image, music about bridges, loosely defined, that have special meaning for you. Email your contributions to me at: email@example.com. I look forward to hearing from you.
December 1st means just one thing to me. It’s my brother’s birthday. He’s almost three years older than me and we’ve always been extremely close, even though this photo which we both love, may suggest otherwise!
I have no idea if other ‘little sisters’ with a ‘big brother’ continue to ‘look up’ to him throughout their lives. Maybe, I’m just lucky in that my brother sort of took me under his wing from the minute I arrived on the scene.
He was the one who cut my hair when I was two and gave me the fringe that I still sport today. He was my mixed doubles partner in tennis for years and years and we never had a cross word, not once! It was amazing how we instinctively knew where the other was on the court and it’s also amazing that even when he was totally and utterly injured I could never beat him when we played singles against each other. All he had to do was say, Ah, you have me this time, and I’d hardly get another ball over the net.
When the going has been tough, he has always been there for me. He is a great listener, has a sense of humour that has never failed to make me laugh, and is just plain ‘wise.’
I think everyone would agree that he was Mother’s pet and she absolutely adored when he came to see her. Even after he got married, he used to come to stay with my parents for the weekend closest to his birthday. I don’t think he ever quite realised how thrilled Mother was when he was around and how despondent when he would set off on the Sunday evening.
We had a long chat on the phone today. He was his usual self and tonight as I write I feel I’m probably the luckiest ‘little sister’ in the world. Thank goodness, he doesn’t read this blog ….. at least, I’m 99% certain he doesn’t! He would be cringing about a billion miles passed the last ‘g’.
So big brothers everywhere, please realise that you may mean the world to your little sister/s. And ‘little sisters,’ I hope you have been even half as fortunate as I have in the ‘big brother stakes.’
There’s times when the rewards of blogging are overwhelming and ignite or re-ignite the apparently impossible. Well today, that’s happened for me!
In short, a second cousin of mine, whom I haven’t seen for about 40 years, responded to my Twitter link on the recent post about Ways of Coping with Winter and my question about how YOU embrace Winter Time http://wp.me/p1ip9d-24y.
She responded with just one word Gingerbread. This had me back on a Sunday of my very early childhood when Dad had brought the others to a circus but left me at home with Mother because I was a bit under the weather. Understanding my bitter disappointment, Mother announced that we would make Gingerbread Men. I had the lovely task of cutting out the men with the ancient tin cutter that she had got from her mother, Jean. I was thrilled to bits that I hadn’t gone to the circus, such was the warmth and comfort in this joint cooking and eating!
I tweeted Cuz back with ‘What about Gingerbread Men?’ and she responded almost immediately with this:
One of my earliest memories is of licking the pot after making (great) Aunt Jean’s ginger bread. I still use the same recipe!
The old scrapbook in which my mother kept her precious family recipes, many of which were written in pencil, has pretty much fallen apart and I thought they were lost forever. But, today Gingerbread has been restored and, I agree with Cousin Johann than it is a great way of embracing Winter! Here’s the recipe that I was so thrilled to see in my Inbox today. Give it a try and think of happy memories, everlasting hope, and family connections while you’re at it!
Great Aunt Jean’s Gingerbread
1 1/2 oz butter
1tbs golden syrup
6oz plain flour
1/2 tsp bread soda
1tsp ground ginger
2oz brown sugar
1 egg beaten
Heat the oven to 170˚C, GM 3 and line a 9 inch square cake tin.
Melt the butter, golden syrup, treacle and milk in a sauce pan. Mix the dry ingredients and add to the saucepan, then the egg. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for half an hour.