My father always had a tractor, ‘The International.’ I’m transported back to a hot summers day. It’s 1983, I’m nine years old and I’m wearing shorts. I’m sitting on my fathers’ tractor, hanging on to the metal frame, as he drives along a road to Aghamore. Feeling all of the bumps and jolts that are unique to a spin in a tractor. We don’t say too much to each other. He is singing ‘The Fields of Athenry’. I later complained to my Mam that he never stopped singing that song, even though I enjoyed hearing him sing. He could hold a tune, my Daddy, his voice not unlike that of Paddy Reilly, who released the song that year.
The children can see that I am crying again and this time, it needs no explaining, because the song reminds them of Grandad John too, ‘even though he didn’t have a JCB’, no flies on this pair.
These are my last big tears for my father this Christmas.
Before he died, I had already planned to spend Christmas Day in my parents’ house. My newly acquired ‘single’ status is taking a bit of getting used to. The thoughts of shopping for Santa on my own felt lonely, but unavoidable. A bit of moral support (and help with the wrapping) for Santa’s big arrival made the situation a whole lot better. Besides, it was lovely to have Santa back in Milltown after all of these years. For my children to open the same door as I did, to see what the Big Man had brought.
My father always said that there was a great sense of calm down in the farm yard on Christmas Eve, that the animals knew something special was happening. Many Christmas mornings brought a new born lamb or two. We often had a shivering little thing in a box, warming in front of the fire, amongst the Santa toys. There was no let up the work on the farm over Christmas and even as a child, I was aware that there was hardship involved here with frozen pipes and sick animals, while other people enjoyed long holidays.
My mother always fretted about having Christmas Dinner at ‘dinner time’ for my father (that’s 1pm sharp, for all of you non-farming folk). This got more difficult as the years went on and as us grown up children found it harder to make the strict 1pm curfew, with small children, Santa and work commitments. My mother bought some time, giving my father roasty bits of meat to keep him going, while he read some of the stock pile of books he received as gifts and half-watching DVDs. He would get an extra big slice of Mam’s black forest gateau later on.
I took a day off work recently to bring my mother Christmas shopping. We had a lovely day – some quality mother and daughter time and we both felt the better for it. When I brought her home, the house was in darkness and it felt unusually cold. No JR sitting there reading the newspaper, lamp on, TV on in the background, raising his head to ask ‘what kept ya ?’ and wondering how we could have spent so long shopping. I felt bad leaving my mother there on her own as I headed back to Kildare. ‘You get used to it’, she said, which offered no consolation whatsoever.
My sister in law Denise (and I suppose my brother Robert helped a bit too) cooked Christmas dinner in their house this year. With four excited children, my brother and his wife home from England and my Mam, there was lots to be done. Cousins, aunts and uncles called in. The usual craic, opinions, gossip and messing. The following day, my mother cooked Christmas Dinner Part II in Milltown. My other brother, his missus and their four kids arrived. The flock all around. Such fun. My Boy sat in ‘Grandad’s chair’ for dinner and no one passed much remarks.I don’t feel sad because my father never seems too far away.