I wrote about an old flame in Part I last week. Here's Part Deux...
My grandparents were born in Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century. They got married in the late 1920s, I believe. And somewhere along the way, my grandmother, Lily, purchased a ceramic bowl for something like 10 pence at Clery's in Dublin. Ten pence would equate to about a dime or a quarter nowadays, but back then it would have been a little more, I imagine. Every Christmas, from the 1930s on, my grandmother made her Christmas pudding in this bowl.
Flash forward to the late 1950s. My father emigrates from Ireland, the first in a family of 10 kids to leave his homeland. He flies to Montreal in the dead of winter. Just imagine you've never experienced snow and you land in Montreal in the fucking winter. Canadian winters, in general, are cold, but Montreal winters are really cold. It can't have been a good first impression of Canada. He must have been thinking, "What the hell am I doing here?" 'Cept my father doesn't really swear at all. He's very devout. He tells the story of how he flies out to Canada with five bucks in his pocket and spends his first night at the YMCA, feeling all sorry for himself, as he always says when he tells the story. (I bet in Montreal, they refer to it as "le ee", as in 'eegreck', the phonetic pronunciation for the letter 'Y' en Français. It's not "the why" in Quebec, it's maybe "le ee". 'Course, I may be completely wrong, but I just like the idea and hope I'm not offending any French Canadians out there, my friends among them.)
The next morning he is leaving "le ee" to meet a man about the job he's flown out to take when he sees some guy begging on the street with no legs. In the middle of winter. That's when my Dad stops feeling sorry for himself. The year is 1957.
The day he leaves Ireland, his entire extended family sees him off at the train station in Dublin. (My Dad's father drove trains all around Ireland and so we carry a gene for loving train travel in our blood.) They all think, as he does, that it's probably the last time they'll ever see each other unless any of them ever fly to Canada themselves. How do you do that? You're in your early 20s and you've got two kids and a third one on the way and you find a job in Canada and so you leave your siblings and your parents, thinking you'll never see them again. You leave your wife for a YEAR. Your little kids. You won't see your new baby until she's six months old. That's the sacrifice you choose to make so that your kids will maybe have a better life, better chances growing up than you had. I can't imagine leaving everything you ever knew behind, never mind your homeland (though sometimes I dream about it.) And you have to have visited Ireland to experience its very intense tidal pull. Seriously, it's an island but it should be its own ocean. I wasn't even born there and I feel it pulling me back everyday.
A funny aside is that my Uncle Robbie is supposed to go with my Dad yet changes his mind at the last minute. But the cake still says, "Bon Voyage, Pat and Robbie". They actually crossed out the "and Robbie" with icing. So as a joke, thirty years later, I order a cake for my father's emigration anniversary that says, "Congrats on 30 years in Canada, Pat and Robbie" and I ask the bakery to cross out the "and Robbie" with icing. That's just 'cause I'm pretty goofy. I've mentioned my quirky sense of humour before.
Anyhow, I'm getting off topic a little (as I am wont to do). A year after my father emigrates to Canada, he makes enough to bring my mum and my three eldest siblings over from Dublin. She arrives in 1958. And the next year, her brother Eamonn follows. He arrives in the winter, too. Close to Christmastime. (You'd think my dad might have suggested the summer instead.) And what he brings with him is this 10 pence bowl with a Christmas pudding in it for my mother from hers, with love.
That was 50 years ago. And every Christmas since, my mother has followed her mother's footsteps and made Christmas pudding from scratch in this bowl. The bowl has been stained by 50 years of fruit. Half a century of plums, figs, raisins, currants, orange peel, and mince, among other ingredients. More than that, since the bowl itself is older than my mum. And each year, when she removes the pudding upside down from the bowl, it's our family's Christmas tradition to light that pudding on fire before it gets served with homemade custard. We pour a little brandy over it, turn out the lights and set it aflame. Then we all sing We Wish You A Merry Christmas and dig in, like wolves.
And after 50 years, that's one pretty old flame.
My wee Irish mum makes the best pudding in the world. She did it again this Christmas, in her late 70s. I've asked her for the recipe. And for the bowl, someday.
But I think my twin sister has dibs or something.
Music: We Wish You A Merry Christmas, The Muppets