I got a special kiss this Christmas Eve – and nobody actually touched me.
I travelled to Donegal – my Donegal, my beloved Kilcar – on Friday December 23rd. The second part of the journey was terrifying. Up to about 4pm it was grand – moseying along the M1 with John Kelly on Lyric FM playing the best Christnmas music on the planet, delighted work was over for a week. But once I hit exit 14 for Derry I was in trouble.I normally belt along (within the speed limit of course) from that exit to the Roslea turn – it gets much slower after that as my urban eyes and reflexes adapt to country roads.
It was a squally evening, constant dirty showers of rain - not helped by the fact that my middle-aged varifocalled eyes are particularly challenged by drivers who refuse to dip their headlights. I’ve only driven this road alone perhaps a dozen times and I certainly won’t be doing it again at that time of day and year. Thoughts of a burger from Melly’s Chipshop in Killybegs sustained me from Enniskillen. The flippin’ place had closed an hour early. So I contented myself with a bag of salted peanuts and rang Jemser for directions to the house we had rented. He had travelled up earlier in the day with son #2.
‘When you pass the Haven and come over the brow of the hill, with Kilcar spread under you and Sliabh Liag in front of you, take the first left in Bavin and ‘tis the first new house you’ll see’. And I’m supposed to be the writer in the family.
‘So, first left after the Blue Haven?’ I queried.
The battery in phone died and I faced my bete noir. That bloody road between Killybegs and Kilcar, I’ve claimed since I started driving that it is worst part of this particular journey. I’m used to straight well-lit roads, lots of traffic, traffic lights and roundabouts not these unlit terrifying twists and turns, swoops and dives, dips and climbs of the windiest steepest road in Ireland. And manic young male Northern drivers.
I missed the Blue Haven – a large pub/guesthouse/restaurant. It was closed, unlit and therefore to my urban eyes unremarkable. And before all the Donegal ones start commenting – I have no sense of direction, poor spatial awareness and know no geography! I ended up at the junction for Kilcar and Carrick and knew I had to turn back. I actually turned back twice before I finally found the ‘first left after the Haven’- mainly because to me every house set in off the road looks like a left. I went astray.
I arrived and the ‘how did you do thats’ began – if I knew I wouldn’t have done it in the first place! The house is stunningly beautiful – a new build fitted for comfort and convenience. I was immediately in love and delighted that the economic downturn that makes such a rent accessible to us. Son#2 was thrilled to see me – Christmas could now begin and he had been dying to show off the house to me – to show me all the things he knew I’d love. They had a big fire in the grate and big smiles on their face to greet me. It was like a big warm hug. That coming home feeling.
The house is extraordinarily comfortable and we all slept well; I woke early and thrilled to the view from the window. I was glad later I had savoured it, for the day closed in – as it only can in the wilds of Donegal and all day there have been sheets and gusts of soft fine rain drifting ahead of and whirling with gusts and gales of wind that howl down the chimney; the wind surely knows how to blow up here, but it was housetrained by the warmth and smell of a turf fire. I love that smell.
I decided to make scrambled eggs for brunch. A treat. When I cracked the first egg into the pan I laughed. It was a double yolk. Double yolked eggs always remind me of Mam, and I called son#2 to show him the yolk and to tell him Mam’s story.
One week before Christmas some time in the early Seventies, when in our house there were six children under the age of ten and the family was particularly broke one week. Not our 2011 kind of broke – we almost always have access to credit. Real broke. Suburban weekly waged no land broke. No money in your pocket and no way to get any broke. There was money coming of course – my father was always employed and his wages mercifully arrived every Thursday.
This particular evening- perhaps it was a Wednesday - there were a few slices of bread for our tea but there was nothing to put on it. There were three eggs in the fridge so she decided to do us ‘egg-in-bread’; yummy - a slice of fried bread with a circle removed into which an egg is broken and fried. Half a slice of egg-in-bread would have to do us. She was upset; she wanted to give each of us our own slice of egg-in-bread. But it had been a tough year.
When she cracked the first egg it was a double yolk and it lifted her heart for now there would be four nutritious yolks to share between her six children. She cracked the next and it too was a double yolk. She thanked her God in prayer. But when the third and final egg from the fridge was cracked and it too was a double yolk Mam decided it was a miracle - her God would always provide for her and hers.
Mam wasn’t overly religious, she went to Mass and raised us loosely in accordance with Catholic teaching and after she lost her only sister she certainly became more convinced of a life after death. In the last terrible year of her life her faith gave her comfort and acceptance. I envied her that faith, it is not mine. But when I saw that double yolk this morning it made me smile and think of Mam – feel loved by her, hugged and kissed for Christmas. Welcomed home –many many miles from that house where with Dad she reared us, fed us, dressed us. Loved us.
I cracked the second egg and son#2 and I both roared with delight. Another doubler!
‘Mam, Mam!’ he exclaimed, ‘let me do the next one. Oh Mam! – it’ll be too weird…’ carefully he hit the egg on the side of the pan and yes, it was a third double yolk.
Coincidence? Another miracle? Voices or signs from another dimension? I don’t care what it was. Son#2 and I jumped with delight and hugged each other, he shouted ‘Hiya Nanny!’ with that grin of his that lights up his whole freckly completely Irish little face. I felt my heart and soul well with a wave of love; that emotion most of us only ever feel on a couple of occasions every year – and always to do with family.
The day meandered on and Mam has never left me – everything I did seemed blessed with the feeling of love, putting up a few Christmas baubles and lights, chatting with Jemser and son #2, laughing at the dog’s antics – I even got a snooze on the couch! I haven’t had a snooze on the couch on Christmas Eve since…well, never! And now son#1 is about to arrive and although the girls can’t be here physically I certainly feel very close to them emotionally.
We will gather in Drimreagh for ‘the feast’ in a little while - a Christmas Eve tradition started many moons ago by our beloved Teresa Cunningham. And the kisses and hugs, teasing laughter and song will go on - and family will continue to arrive – in one way or another.
A Happy Christmas to all - and to all, a good night.