Monday, September 13, 2010

A summer in the country - part three.

Post 559 - As I mentioned before, my grandfather was a blacksmith as well as a farmer, the same as his brother, and sometimes worked in a forge beside the house. Here, he put shoes on horses or made iron gates or put iron rings on cartwheels for the local farmers. It was always very dark in the forge, except for the light of the fire. Pieces of iron were thrust into the fire until they were glowing red hot and ready to be worked on. Then they were beaten into shape with a hammer on an anvil. Men came by during the day with their horses and carts and spent many hours sitting around talking together as my grandfather took care of their needs. Much of the talk was about the crops and the weather, as I recall, and about the prospects and exploits of the local hurling and football teams.

There was another similar blacksmith about five miles away, and as a matter of professional courtesy, he and my grandfather put shoes on each other’s horses every year. That summer, I was responsible for taking the black mare to the other blacksmith to be shod. This turned out to be a scary trip because, riding bareback, half way there I slipped off her back. I wasn’t hurt, but the mare was so big that I couldn’t climb back on again. When I tried to position her near a gate where I could climb up and remount her, she stepped on one of my feet and wouldn’t move. She stayed standing on my foot for the longest time and no amount of hitting and screaming would persuade her to move. Eventually, in her own good time, she changed her position and freed me to continue my journey. This was especially painful as I wasn’t wearing shoes at the time it happened. Like most young people in the country, I usually went without shoes all during the summer months. Initially, the soles of my feet were soft and I had to walk very carefully to avoid sharp stones and thorns. But after a couple of months, my feet became as hard as leather and by the end of the summer, I could walk across the stubble of a freshly mowed cornfield without any discomfort. I was treated like royalty at the Flaherty’s forge while they put new shoes the mare. Each blacksmith did their very best work in these circumstances, as they knew another professional would carefully evaluate their efforts.

My aunt Stasia was still in her thirties and single at that time. She'd spent most of her life at home looking after my grandmother, except for the time she went to England to train as a midwife. She practiced as such for many years, serving the people in the surrounding area. In those days in the country, women usually had their babies at home and a doctor would only be called in if something didn’t appear normal or went wrong during the birth. Women seemed to go into labor only in the middle of the night, seldom in the daytime, at least that’s how I remember it. Many’s the night when a bicycle would arrive in the front yard at two or three in the morning and a knock on the door would announce the arrival of a weary husband asking Stasia to come back with him. Stasia never took kindly to being woken up in the middle of the night, especially if it was windy and raining, as it often was, even in summer. So she usually gave the poor man “a piece of her tongue” for getting her out of bed as she got her bicycle ready to journey back with him - sometimes a journey of up to 10 miles in the driving rain. Usually she was back the next day, but on occasion, she could be gone for a few days in the case of a difficult delivery. Even though she was widely known for her outbreaks of temper and especially for her sharp tongue, she was greatly respected for her skill and was widely liked in the local community. Years later, when she finally got a car, she never really learned to drive properly. People said they were afraid to meet her in the middle of the night, barreling along, usually in the center of the road and unlikely to give way to any man or beast that crossed her path. Miraculously, she never hit anything that was alive although the car did collect a very interesting collection of dings and scrapes over the years.

More about our summer rituals next week......

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