Monday, January 4, 2010

Old Flame (Part Deux)

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


Brian Miller said...


what a cool tale...i dunno if we have anything that old laying around, other than a patch of tartan in a frame...but i dont have sucha tal to go with mine. i imagine it was hard to leave his family, but it is what he had to do. so cool you still have the bowl. perhaps one day it shall be yours.



johnny said... know how to spin a yarn girl....

...I had totally forgotten that we did the x-mas pudding in our family when I was younger...also torched in the dark...I can still remember the taste....My mom (she's german...but lived in the UK when younger...) says she made it, but the only one I remember was the ones that cam in a big squat tin can like crab meat comes in....perfectly cylindrical like cranberry sauce....great story

ps.: I think I mentioned WINGS OF DESIRE in my post because I had glimpsed it in your favorite movies thing...all of them are favorites of mine...all my sibs and I LOVED WINGS OF DESIRE when it came out...and we all listened to the soundtrack obsessively...the NICK CAVE tune about the carny can still take me back...awesome...

...still waiting to hear about yer experience in the Irish fogg.....

Cabo said...

That was a great story. Loved the pics. We're custard connoisseurs as well!

the b in subtle said...

thanks Brian and Michael - i want to hear about that patch of tartan sometime, Brian. or did you already write about it in a past blog? love homemade custard and homemade pudding. homemade anything is the best. i still make pies with my mother's recipe for dough from scratch and it's fabulous.

jonny - i forgot i even filled out that stuff on here. LOL. i have a funny story about the soundtrack to that film. i spent three years looking for it and i even tried ordering it from some specialty shop and they told me they couldn't get it. and then i was on campus and went to the basement of the student centre to buy a CD and there it was, hanging on the wall. just like that. jurgen knieper is a genius. yes, the fog. i'm getting to that...i'll get right on that when the fog in my HEAD clears from the holly days.

Ciara said...

Nancy, I actually shed a tear reading this. Every single family in Ireland has a similar story of family members leaving for foreign shores at that time. Possibly forever. And I too have distant relatives scattered all over the US in particular.

It's an amazing thing, this common bond, this web, that these people and their decendants have created around this globe of ours. I have been in the most unlikely and bizarre places and met someone who has a bloodline from this little island of ours. And you are right, it truly doen't let you go. And as you know, in a recent post I have said how grateful I am I never had to leave.

And now my only, dear sister is living in the US and every year my Mum sends over a Christmas pudding to her. Because just wouldn't be the same without it...

Thank you for sharing such a moving and poignant story. Beautifully told, as always.

the b in subtle said...

ah Ciara, you lovely cailín. s'true. we are spread out all over the globe. my mother claims she has never forgiven him for taking her from her homeland. it's an ongoing "joke" in our family. yes, Ireland has quite a pull. i haven't been "home" in 10 years and i hope to bring Lochie over before my mat leave ends just to travel with him a little bit. see relatives i've not seen in a decade. i miss it terribly. thanks for your lovely comment and compliment. there's more where that came from. i'm sure you'll be readin 'em when they happen. thanks again for becoming a 'follower' of stuff i write. it means a lot (thanks to all of you out there).

Mimi said...

Hi there, I've come over from Milkmoon's, cos I liked a comment that you left there.
This is a lovely account of your parents' emigration - you're a lovely writer, and drew me in so I couldn't leave until I got to the end. A bit like the island of Ireland!