Happy Holidays in ‘The Pass’

Christmas Eve, Thursday, 1845
Ballyvoloon, Ireland

           

            The Gorta Mór (the great famine) was in its first year of spreading across Ireland. There had been crop failures before for sure. But this was the first time Keefer would realize how serious it was. His family was lucky, their crops didn’t fail this year.

            Not if Jack O’Connor would have anything to do with it. He was lucky, he knew that. It was only a matter of time before the famine would hit home and it would be his family affected. This coming year he would till the acreage, and God willing, he would plant some beans, peas, and rye to save up enough to go to America. Living in Ballyvoloon, always seemed to come with challenges.

            Jack did not have faith in the schooling system. That was why his wife Riona home schooled Keefer. After his classes, Jack would have him help him in the fields and teach him history as they worked the rest of the work day. He would give Keefer brainteasers all the time.

Keefer was just six years old, and it was his favorite time of the year! It was Yule! The sun would soon set and they would all be in the house,

“Pa, are we goin’ to move to America next year?” he asked his father.

“Well, boyo,” Jack told him. “I am goin’ to try and earn as much as I can so we can buy a nice house there by next year, so the answer is, maybe.”

Keefer beamed at the notion of taking a trip on the high seas. He had always wanted to travel in his short and young life.

“What do you say ta that boyo?” Jack asked him.

“I’ll help any way I can Pa, anything to get away from the Due!” Keefer resounded with glee and happiness!

Jack stopped what he was doing and looked at Keefer. “Do ya still really believe in the Due, Keefer? I thought I taught you better than that!” he stated and went back to work.

Without missing a beat, Keefer told him “I do Pa, and I’ve seen her too.”

“Well ‘tis bout time for ya to stop believin’ in fairy tales, boyo!” he told him. “Now let’s get our work done for the day and get indoors.”

“…and I always wanted to see America Pa!” Keefer said, trying to save face as he looked at his father with a great big grin.

Jack just stood there admiring his son. “Ya be a genius son, now don’t be playin’ dumb with me,” he told him and laughed.

The sun was actually getting low. He guessed it wouldn’t hurt to stop work for the day. Enough had been done today. It was then he heard his wife call “Jack, Keefer!”

Jack stooped down, and put up his forefinger to his lips and said “Shhh,” obviously quite as mischievous as Keefer can be. It was these moments and memories that Jack enjoyed.

“Ma believes in the Due, Pa,” he whispered to his father, but his Pa was obviously playing with Ma, and he would go along with it.

            “C’mon, Keefer, we’ll flank her and talk about the Due later. Your Ma ‘tis not of a scientific mind like we are,” he winked at Keefer as they hunched over to avoid detection and walked around the fairly comfortable thatched house they lived in, slipping around and behind it.

Keefer whispered “We’re gonna flank her from her right side, Pa!”

“That we will, boyo, that we will!” he told him. “Lest we be found out! Be slow and mind yer footing now, boyo!” said Jack and let Keefer take the lead. Jack followed behind slowly.

Riona sighed, and yelled out again, “Jack and Keefer! Family be waitin’, now get ya arses inside!”

When the time was right, Jack grabbed Keefer and stood up yelling “We have the usurper M’lady! What to do with him?”

Riona laughed heartily. “Bring him here, Sir. I shall make sure he is dealt with in the most severe of manners, Sir!”

Keefer was laughing throughout the whole scene. He tried to get away, only to have his father and his Uncle Patrick chase him outside and catch him.

“M’lady,” called out Jack, “It appears that the usurper would be havin’ a confession, he says,” as both Jack and Patrick dragged a giggling child back indoors.

“Kneel before the Queen, Keefer of the O’Connor clan I say this day,” his father told him, laughing.

Keefer knelt, and looked up at his mother. “Well, did you get it, Keefer?” she asked him.

Keefer just nodded. “And it’s bigger this year!” he exclaimed.

“Well go and get it you silly boy, and bring Katherine with you!” his mother told him.

He got up and ran to his cousin Katherine and grabbed her by the hand and they both ran outside giggling.

Jack leaned over and whispered in her ear, “He said it again today, Riona. We can’t keep teachin’ him about the Due.”

She just looked up at him, “Let us all come to the table and get ready for the evenin’s celebration.” Then she added, “Let the children play for a while more.”

Jack, along with his brother Patrick, sat at the main table and Riona began to set the table for dinner yet it was a few hours away.

“Where be Ciara, Patrick?” asked Jack.

            “Oh she’ll be along any moment now, she wanted to finish the puddin’. And she started it in October. It will be just wonderful!” Patrick retorted. “What’s all this about the Due? Let all that be, nothin’ good can come of it!” he asked both Jack and Riona.

Riona spoke up, “Shhh, she came to him a year ago, and he’s been insistent on knowing more about her since. Jack tries to keep him occupied with other things.”

“Aye, that I do Riona. ‘Tis hard with a boy like him, but we’re making progress,” Jack told his brother.

Patrick shook his head. “Ya better have something special planned for that boy this year brother or there’ll be hell to pay I promise ya that!” he told Jack with a smile as he raised a pint.

With those last words, Keefer and Katherine came back into the home. Keefer was beaming with pride because this year he found an entire holly berry bush to bring good luck to the family.

“Looks like he knows ya all need luck,” whispered Patrick to his brother.

            Riona went on how beautiful it was and told the children where to place it. However, it was Keefer that spoke up about it. “Should we not give to the laborers this bush, Ma? Pa says that the problem nowadays is that no one cares about each other.”

As his mother agreed, Jack looked to his brother and stated, “Hell to pay, eh? Look at him, always wanting to give.” He held up a glass of whiskey punch to toast his brother.

            “You Jack, are the single most wealthy, yet dangerous, landowner I believe ever lived in Ballyvoloon. You built a wonderful home for your laborers, and if I didn’t know any better, you’ve invited them and their family to Christmas dinner tonight to eat with us. God bless you, Jack O’Connor. But you’ll get ya family killed with all your new ways! Other landowners will think you’re starting a revolt!”

Jack being a bit tipsy now smiled happily. “Well maybe it’s about time for a revolt little brother!” he said and laughed, as he guzzled down the last of his whiskey punch. There was more to be had!

“Boyo!” he called after Keefer, “…’tis time ye tell our guests to come!”

            Knowing his father was speaking of their laborers, Keefer came running up to him and took the lantern that was handed to him. He then looked towards the door and said “Hi, Aunt Ciara!” as he ran out the door.

“Well ‘tis time you got here, woman!” Patrick told her as he got up and grabbed her around the waist and then kissed her.

Playfully she wriggled out of his arms saying,  “Get off me ya drunkard! You’ll ruin the puddin’!”

Riona came to the rescue. “Ciara, you have my permission on this night of all nights to beat him if you wish in our home. Only if ya wish, that be!”

            The joking and festivities went on as all good holiday festivities do, and when Keefer showed up with the Fargeher family and their children, the cheer was abound. The Fargeher’s knew they were lucky as land workers. No other land owner ever would invite a laborer into their own home, nor had a thought to celebrate the holidays with them. This is why they never told anyone. They always told others Jack O’Connor and his family were just like any other land owner. But knew better.

            After a generous dinner of white fish with potatoes and onion sauce, it was time to put up the small tree. With the three families together, the children put the tree up and then all took turns decorating it with apples, nuts and paper flowers. The holly berry bush now in prominent display, had some starch spread across it, ever so lightly, to represent snow.

            Keefer had overheard a comment from his uncle about how the other landlords treated their laborers. While he was still rolling some silver cigarette paper as a decoration, he went up to the men, “Why do they treat the workers that way, Uncle Patrick? Pa, that be true?”

Jack gave a look at Patrick as if to say ‘I wish you never said anything at all!’

            “Keefer, ‘tis true that some landlords do that, but not us. The family Fargeher be here with us now, ‘tis the holy days and they be our friends. So pay no more attention to Uncle Patrick tonight! Just have fun until it be time to light the candle!”

“So Jack,” Patrick asked.

“I know where ye be going, Pattie, don’t ask,” Jack said seriously, yet laughingly.

“Ya do, eh? So ya did it, did ya?” Patrick said

Jack just nodded as he filled his glass again, “Yup, every family here gets a Christmas Box filled to the maximum!”

“Good Lord Jack! When are you going to learn you can’t heal this nation all alone and with your money?” Patrick responded.

            “Look over there,” Jack responded and pointed to the children and the Fargeher’s. “I not be tryin’ to change the world Pattie, I be tryin’ to show humanity and love to people that deserve it. Don’t they have feelin’s like we do? They get sad, lonely, happy?”

“Well, ya, but Jack, boyo…”

            “Oh Feck off with your boyo, Pattie, This time of year is about love, laughter and being with the ones ya care about. If’n ya not be likin’ that, I would kindly ask ya to leave. But if’n you do be likin’ it, stay and share some more punch with me, and say these words, ‘Feck what other landlords think!’ “

Patrick filled his cup, held it up, and stated emphatically along with his brother for all to hear, “Feck what the other landlords think!”

Riona came by to see how the brothers were. “I see we are toasting what other landlords think, boys?” she asked.

Patrick looked at his sister in law and smiled, “Jacko here, just gave me a lesson on love and light.”

“Oh really, Jack?” She turned her attention to her husband. Jack nodded.

“This happens every year you know, and God forbid someone hears you,” she added.

“Yah?” Jack queried.

            “Well, I think if someone would be within hearin’ distance of ya, and take that to heart. Ya could change someone’s life. If they don’t like it, I’d be proud to yell it with ya! Feck what other landlords think!” she finalized and gave him a hug and a kiss, “Now it’s time to be lightin’ the candle and not be political!”

            The call went out for any child named Mary. There were none. Then the call went out for the youngest child. Katherine was the youngest. She had the great honor to light each candle in the window for Joseph and Mary. This way they would know there would be room for them to stay this night.

            Afterwards, with help from the children, the whole table was re-set for three with a large raisin and caraway seed bread loaf, a pitcher of milk, and a candle to light the meal for the Holy Family. The children were now doubly excited. It was now time for a treat. Jack would first talk about the history of Father Christmas. Keefer was always enthralled.

But the best treat was that Jack had memorized a new story by Charles Dickens. Keefer loved the story. But enjoyed it more when his father was telling it.

Jack sat in the middle of all the families and began.

            “Marley was dead: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner. Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ’Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to. Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail……”

            Jack was wonderful at acting and using different voices. But it was the ending that caught everyone’s attention, and also taught his brother a lesson. As he spoke, he looked around the room, and stared at Patrick on the last verse.

            “Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.

            He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”

Everyone clapped! Especially the Fargeher’s, for they had not heard the story ever before.

“Can anyone tell me the moral of the story?” asked Jack.

Keefer raised his hand.

“What do you think the moral was?” his Pa asked him.

“Love ya neighbor, and be good to each other?”

“I didn’t hear ya, boyo, speak up….!”

Keefer repeated himself.

            “I still can’t hear you, son…  Speak up!” His father’s voice was more faint. No, there was ringing in his own ears Keefer realized, that was drowning his Pa’s words. He knew this sound, it usually happened after he… after he’d used…

            “T’was too much black powder, too much….” Keefer stated before he fainted back into oblivion.  Surely, he was dreaming.  For the next thing he knew, he had seemed to enter a clearing where several skeletons seem to be strewn about the ground.

 

 

 

Happy Holiday’s from everyone at ‘The Pass’ !!