Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Summer in the country - part ten.

Post 589 – Undoubtedly, the greatest event of the summer was the threshing season, which I think of as the 'Thanksgiving' of its day. Here, the neighbors always gathered to help each other. The young and the old worked in harmony to the rhythmic drone of the threshing machine that was driven by a long leather belt harnessed to a steam engine. My grandfather’s threshing was a one-day event but for some others, like my cousins, the Harts, the threshing took two or three days to complete. I particularly remember having lunch with the men in Hart’s kitchen, the turf fire blazing, the fresh baked soda-bread, the thick slices of crispy fried bacon, the big mound of boiled potatoes laid out on a sack in the middle of the table, the jugs of buttermilk, and of course, the storytelling. I always felt very big and grownup to be included. Orange squash and bottles of stout were in abundance at the end of the day.

My father was a “machine man” when he was young. He went about the country in the 1920s with his family’s threshing machine, renting it out for a day here, a few days there. All he had to do was to make sure the machine arrived on time in good working order and collect the money (sometimes in gold sovereigns!) when the engagement was finished. He said the machine man was always treated with great respect and he seldom was allowed to do any actual physical work. Instead, he was plied with food and drink and, if he was to be believed, had frequent adventures with the daughters of the farmers he was working with – an ideal job for a good-looking young man who hadn’t as yet any thoughts of settling down. In those days, the threshing was often followed by a barn dance to celebrate another successful harvest – a custom that had largely died out by the time I came along. Probably just as well, as my mother used to talk about some local lads who came to these dances wearing hob-nailed boots with the sole intention of breaking through the barn floor with their “dancing.”

Once the threshing was over, the hay barns were full of loosely packed straw that had just come off the conveyor belt and hadn’t yet had time to settle. I loved to climb up to the top of the barn and then somersault from the rafters, disappearing into the fresh straw like diving into the ocean. It was usually quite a challenge to claw my way out so I could do it over again. The threshing season was usually the end of my summer stay as my parents arrived shortly afterwards to drive me back to Kilkenny, where we lived at that time.

I remember it all as a very free and happy time. Life was good and I hope the same is true for you and yours this holiday season. I wish you all good health, the joy of family, the gift of friends this Christmas, and the best of everything in 2011.

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