Tuesday, September 21, 2010

A summer in the country - part four.

Post 560 - Every Saturday night after dinner, my grandfather started his preparations to attend mass the following morning. This was the highlight of the evening and involved a series of rituals where everyone was involved. First, came the shaving ceremony. My grandfather only shaved on special occasions, and Saturday night was usually his only shave of the week. So, a space had to be cleared the pantry and a washbowl and towel provided. Water had to be heated on the fire to just the right temperature and the shaving mirror was hung in just the right spot by the lamp. Then came the sharpening or “stropping” of the razor, using a wide leather belt that was kept in the kitchen specially for that purpose. The open razor was drawn back and forth across the leather until it could cut paper. The final test was a flick of my grandfather’s thumb to sense the quality of the edge. I always wanted to do this part but wasn’t allowed to because it was judged to be too dangerous.

Next, the shaving brush was loaded up with shaving soap and the bristly beard was properly lubricated and lathered. Then came the shaving itself, and I listened with fascination as the razor cut through the bristles - you could hear them being cut, one by one. Any nicks were covered with little pieces of newspaper until the blood dried, but accidents were few and far between.

After the shaving was done, Stasia ironed a blue-and-white striped dress shirt for my grandfather to wear on Sunday. The shirt had a detachable white starched collar, but the collar was seldom worn except on very special occasions such as weddings or funerals. I never remember seeing my grandfather wearing a tie - in fact, I don’t believe he ever owned one. For Sunday mass, a front collar stud sufficed.

Finally, my grandfather’s suit had to be produced from the cardboard box which was stored under his bed during the week. The box was placed on the kitchen table, the suit was unwrapped, carefully inspected, and hung up to air overnight. This dark grey woolen suit had been tailor-made years ago and was always treated as a special possession. During the week, it was kept in the box, wrapped in brown paper - no other kind of paper would do. The box also contained some camphor balls to ward of the moths, so the suit smelled quite strongly when it emerged into the light of day - hence the airing to dissipate the smell somewhat. Better a camphory smell then a suit full of holes.

Finally, my grandfather’s good boots appeared and he carefully polished them until they shone like a drill sergeant’s. This whole process took most of the evening to complete and was treated with great seriousness. I don’t remember anyone else preparing or getting ready for Sunday’s outing. Saturday evening, the whole house revolved around helping my grandfather look his best as he drove the mare to mass on Sunday morning. And, off he went to first mass, which started at 8am every Sunday morning, sick or well, come rain or shine, every Sunday of his life. I don’t remember him as an outwardly religious man. In fact, he was quite bawdy and irreverent at times. But he was devout and disciplined in his own way.

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