Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A summer in the country - part eight.

Post 573 - One aspect of spending time in the country that I still remember was the apparent absence of time. Time seemed endless - and very few people ever seemed to be in a hurry. My grandfather used to yoke up the pony and cart and meander off into the village of Campile to do some shopping about every other week. I would usually go along with him. As we went along the road, coming and going, he would stop to talk with other farmers who were working in fields near the road or who were coming in the opposite direction. There seemed to be no hurry to these conversations and the shopping trip to the village usually took the best part of the day to complete. Time in general was viewed as an outcome, as a measure of what had happened, rather than as a criteria for what should happen. Everyone seemed to live according to my grandfather's philosophy that "When God made time, he made plenty of it." I never remember there being a clock in the house although grandfather had a pocket watch that he wore on Sundays. We judged time by how bright or dark the days were depending on the seasons of the year.

We listened to the news on the radio most evenings at about six o'clock. Since there was no electricity, the radios of that time used quite large separate wet and dry cell batteries to supply the vacuum tubes with needed voltages. The news was of particular interest to people because my summer visit took place during the early days of second world war and while I wasn't very aware of what was going on, there were rumors of German spies parachuting into the local area from time to time and then escaping to England. I remember my aunt Stasia took me to the seaside at Tramore for a week's holiday towards the end of the summer. This was a special treat, both to spend time with her like a grownup and to be able to play on the sand for a whole uninterrupted week. On the next to last day, I still remember a dog-fight over the beach between a German plane and two British spitfites. After dodging back and forward for some time, the spitfires broke off and the German plane headed inland trailing black smoke from each side. Going home the next day, we stopped to visit some friends in the nearby town of Waterford. He was a policeman there and told us how he had followed the German plane to where it eventually landed and was instrumental in capturing the pilot. He told me the pilot was wounded and had a bullet lodged between the bone of his finger and his wedding ring. Needless to say, this image made a striking impression on me at the time and I stayed awake many nights thinking about it.

Another distinctive feature of country living at that time was the ready acceptance of supernatural events. My mother, who was normally a very down-to-earth woman, always claimed to have seen someone walking on the road from New Ross shortly after he died, although she didn't know he was dead until she got home later on that night. This wasn't considered a terribly strange occurance as I remember - unusual perhaps but certainly not outside the realm of possibility. My grandfather explained to me that there were four kinds of spirits, starting with those who had just died and I presume were spreading the word, so to speak - anyway, they were generally harmless and didn't stay around long. The second class were those spirits who were called away before they were ready and still had unfinished business to attend to - and they seemed to be able to hang around for quite a long time. While they could cause property damage (think of poltergeists), they too were in general harmless to people although they could be quite scary. The third class however, were evil and were usually viewed as some manifestation of the devil. These were always nasty and dangerous, could cause people to go mad and/or commit suicide, and they had to be exorcized to get rid of them. The fourth kind were the fairies and these could be either good or bad - it was difficult to tell which. Anyway, it was wise never to cross them. My grandfather had a field for grazing cows and horses at the top of the lane that was never tilled in my memory. I was told this was the site of an old fairy fort and that breaking the soil could bring all sorts of trouble - so it was left alone. I saw no reason not to believe it.

In general in those days, my relatives and their neighbors seemed to have a much greater tolerance for ambiguity and variance in both people and events and were prepared to be open to a much wider range of behaviors than we are today.

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