Saturday, 18 January 2014
Mog & Mrs Pat
In the 1950's rural life in Ireland was a much different to what we have today. The work was hard and neighbours looked out for each other. Horse-power on the roads could normally be measured in ones and ran on grass. The single greatest power in the land was not government but the church.
The church and the priests were figures of near absolute power, only eclipsed by the saints which watched over the faithful from their marble pedicels. While most of the farmers bowed their heads in reverence each Sunday, they quietly held on to the "piseoga" (superstitions) from older celtic times. You would often see farmers rising early on the first day of March to "skim the evil" from the surface of a well in preparation for a new season. A slightly more underhand practice was to sneak onto neighbouring farm's and hide hen egg's in the haystacks. This made sure that whatever good luck was coming would avoid the tainted land.
Down the road from the Begley house lived two elderly sisters called Mog and Mrs Pat. Mog was short for Margaret -we think. Mr Pat died twenty years prior to this but the sisters had kept the farm running. The land was coarse, massive lumps of limestone making any sort of tilling a fearsome task. Through the length and breath of the Ireland a tide of migrant labourers followed the seasons and the crops. They slept in spare rooms, kitchen floors or even haylofts. It was a tough life tramping the roads looking for work. Francie had been coming to the sisters for near eight years when they offered him a permanent place on the tiny farm. Francie, who was nearly as old as the sisters, was a hard worker and tough as old boots.
Mog and Mrs Pat were regular visitors to Granny Begley. Nancy, my mom, was often sent to their farm on errands. Nancy hated going there, the place was always caked in dust and cobwebs. The kitchen floor was hard packed dirt, mixed with ash and what ever fell off Francies wellies. Nancy would often be sent with a bag of groceries from the creamery, or to fill the milk pail with warm creamy milk. One afternoon Granny Begley sent Nancy to help bring the sisters shopping back up from the village. When Nancy pushed open the door to the dingy little kitchen, Mog was scribbling on a sheet of writing paper.
"Come in girl and leave the cold outside." called Mog not looking up from her task. Nancy took a stool by the fire and waited patiently while the old lady laboured and tried not to look up at the thatched roof that swarmed with spiders.
"Can you spell sincerely." Mog asked Nancy who tried her best but got it wrong. Mog frowned "What in gods name is that headmaster teaching you all week." Nancy wanted to tell her that she was only eight and not in the head masters class yet but she held her tongue. Mog folded the paper and put it in a little white envelope along with a coin from her purse. She wrote "St Anthony" across the front.
Mog threw on a thick black coat that swept down to her ankles and wrapped a scarf around her head. Nancy took the basket from behind the door and they struck out for the village a little over a mile away. Going was a piece of cake as it was nearly all down hill, you paid for it on the way back. When they reached the tiny village consisting of - four houses, one pub, one shop, the Hall and the Church, Mog turned for the church. It was middle of a working day so the church was completely empty.
Mog ushered Nancy up the church stopping before a statue of St Anthony. Mog keeled on the ground praying silently before the statue. Nancy slipped back a few paces and took a seat on the edge of a bench. After an age Mog blessed herself, she rose, kissing the feet of the statue. Nancy saw her dip into the coat pocket for the envelope. Mog slipped the envelope under the base of the statue, out of sight. Later when the shopping was done and the hill home climbed, the secret envelope still was on Nancy's mind.
That Sunday, the church was packed for mass as always. The whole Begley clan lined out in their Sunday best. All through mass Nancy could not help glancing at the statue of St Anthony and wondering about the envelope Mog had left. Once Mass was over and the church was empty, Nancy made an excuse to slip back inside. She fished under the statue with her slim little girl fingers retrieving the envelope. Nancy opened it and found a brand new penny with a letter. This is what it said.
Dear St Anthony,
If you could see you'r way clear to having a few days fine weather for Francie towards the end of next week. He wants to plant the barley in the top field it would be a great help. Mrs Pat also said that one of the hens is laying out in a ditch and she need's help finding the nest. We will say a rosary each night this week.
Mog, Mrs Pat and Francie
Nancy pocketed the letter along with the penny, delighted with herself. She raced over to the shop and got a huge slap of toffee that she shared with the rest of the kids after the dinner. Each week after that Nancy would check under the statue after mass. Most of the time there was nothing but every now and again she found letter with the all important penny. A few months later Nancy had found another letter under the statue asking for good weather for the cutting of the hay. She race to the shop but she put the penny on the counter for her toffee Mr Power told her it had gone up to 2 pence.
Nancy looked at her penny in despair "But why has it gone up Mr Power, I only got one penny."
"That's inflation Nancy, what can we do." Said Mr Power
A few weeks later Mog got the fright of her life when she went to pray to St Anthony only to find the corner of an envelope sticking out from underneath his feet addressed to "Mog, Mrs Pat and Francie." This was the note she found inside.
Dear Mog, Mrs Pat and Francie,
I hope you were happy with finding the eggs and all the fine weather I have been able to get. I want to say thanks for the pennies but next time can you leave two as the price of good weather is going up. It is the enflation, what can I do.