The Bay Window Christmas Tree.

The bay window Christmas tree. I blame Annabella Terrace.

1953, the year that my mother built the bay window. I was 8.

For the building of the Bay window I blame posh Annabella Terrace all bursting with bay windows like a self-important row of Mallow potbellied shopkeepers. I blame Annabella   for planting such an idea in my mother’s mind .I am sure plenty of her friends tried to dissuade her, what in the name of God do you want a bay window for, far from bay windows you were reared but once my mother got an idea in her mind she became a heroic figure, fit for a  motivational speech on single mindedness. In other words that Bay window was going to be built as she would say “even if it is over my dead body”. It was built and she lived. The bay window however had an unforeseen effect, her future choice of a Christmas tree.

This story is about how I came to save my mother’s dream of Christmas.

This is how I remembered it. My father did not play a significant  role in the day to day running of the house but anything he did inside the house, like the wash-up  or for the house was in the pursuit of what he called” the quiet life”.

Outside he passed life as the tall bespectacled man cycling 3 miles back and forth to the offices of the Beet Factory twice a day. Spectacles, height and a certain sense of his own importance reminded people of DeValera, the long fellow, the Chief and so my father was known to his work colleagues as the Chief. My mother however had a less elevated view of my father’s organisational skills. This view was well founded,    based on his many failed forays into the world on her behalf.

This is what happened that Christmas. He was asked by her, well more ordered by her, to get a Christmas tree fit for the new importance of her new bay window. This was a task, I even knew at 8 was  way above my father’s domestic abilities and may I say far beneath his Chief like dignity and like many a boss he shared his dilemma with one of his clerical colleagues, one Mikey Cronin, yes a relation to a certain person here. Mikey was a part time farmer who on hearing of his Chief’s dilemma volunteered immediately to cut a Christmas tree down on his own farm for my father. At lunch hour my father after his cycle in from the Factory announced the good news to my mother.

“Where is it growing now” she asked bluntly?” suspecting it might be a stray conifer blow in on a ditch.

She was indeed a woman defined by her own bluntness.

“Ah leave that to Mikey” my father said “and would I insult the man by asking him where it was growing and he doing us a favour”.

In other words my father was telling my mother to butt out and leave it to the men.

On one of those dismal December Saturday’s Mikey Cronin appeared at our front door with the Christmas tree. The signs were not good. He held it in one grasp of his fist. The tree was set aside. It even seemed to vanish into a corner in the front room while the farmer-clerk was brought in for the traditional Christmas drink and lapped up my father’s blandishments, god you are a great man Mikey and you going out and you cutting down a Christmas tree just for us, as if it was a forest tree, trying all the while to warm my now staring mother up into some sweet feminine appreciation, she who was not into undeserving praise even if it was deserved.

She said nothing. She bided her time. Mikey Cronin eventually left, my   father shouting eternal gratitude after him as the farmer ambled down the garden path and closed the front gate.

Before I was just the nosey  onlooker but I was now enlisted by my mother for the lesson, the lesson of shame for my father. I was instructed to place the tree in the good bucket, the special one used for holding up Christmas trees, firm it straight with my father’s books, the penguin paperbacks of Evelyn Waugh, Tom Barry’s “My Guerrilla Days” and there it stood, not in all its naked glory in the space of the bay window, but an embarrassment gradually shrinking before my mother’s stare. I swear it practically shivered and shed the last of its few needles, getting smaller and smaller by the second in the ever vast expanses of her Bay window.

“God isn’t it a grand specimen” said my father making one last attempt at exaggeration, followed by a desperate won’t it do, his powers of rhetoric, logic and persuasion disappearing by the millisecond before the scalded eye of my mother.

“You call that a Christmas tree” she woundingly said, her mind probably full of the platonic ideal of what a real man was, a somebody from Annabella terrace   and what a real Christmas tree should be   a huge elegant tree filling her bay window and with a customary nod of her head to me she damned the imposter to the hell of the outhouse coal shed where it would be stripped to provide the blaze for the Christmas morning fire.

There was an ambivalence to a woman’s view of the purpose of a Christmas tree in those days. There was the inward Victorian ideal of a happy family gathered around its branches exchanging gifts and there was the second outward view, the importance of display. That damn tree had to be seen to fill that huge bay window and bloody well impress the neighbours. Even at the tender age of 8 I knew that.

And so it happened that my mother passed her Christmas tree ideal to the next generation. I became throughout the 1950’s her eyes and ears for the perfect Christmas tree. From early December on I consulted with shopkeepers, kept an ear out for Christmas tree deliveries and my eye was trained and zoned in on any Christmas tree that loitered for sale outside the doors of grocery shops, Mortell’s the fishmonger, and the three hardware shops in the town. I was quick to reject the scraggy, the short stumpy, the tall skinny arboreal giants pretending to be specimen Christmas trees. They were all dismissed by an eye trained by the expansive arrogance of that bay window. This tree had to be as wide as it was tall. Like an ample matron.

At the age of 8 I became a Christmas tree aesthete.

At the age of 8 I learnt the psychological needs of a woman.

At the age of 8, I became a counsellor to the soul of my parent’s marriage.

So in those distant 50’s every December the people of the Spa would witness a walking tree heading to the only house with a bay window, enveloping the legs of a boy.

When the correctly proportioned tree   filled the bay window I knew my mother’s secret desire for ostentatious display was satisfied. On the way home from midnight Mass she would take pride in its luminous presence shining down the whole street through the frosted bay window. My father was assured of his “quiet life” for Christmas and my sisters were indeed happy playing with their prams and dolls under the shadow of the tree on Christmas morning. All absolutely content! As content as that colossal lit-up Christmas tree in that vast Bay window! As content as my mother in her kitchen, cooking up a storm.

P.S. The reject was spotted by one of my playmates and ended up living out its Christmas tree dream in his family’s much more modest window!

All was well with the world. I had done well for an 8 year old.

Happy Christmas!

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The competing myths of a stone. — Site Title

I am the woman of Beara Foul am I that was fair; Gold-embroidered smocks I had, Now in rags am scarcely clad. From the Lament of the Hag of Beara, translated By Stephen Gwynn. The rest of my day’s travels was a strange personal odyssey into mist and myth beginning with a short spin […]

via The competing myths of a stone. — Site Title

After the climb.

My descent from the mountain was exhilarating, taking the direct route, balancing like a trapeze artist on a narrow sloping fin of red sandstone until it petered out and I found myself searching through the thick grass with my feet, hoping not to slip in to an underground stream and I would land once more on the next slice of exposed red rock and I would tiptoe downward on its smooth pavement until it also ran out and slipped into another trough of green sedge. Like a memory from the year before I assumed the practised skills of traversing this kind of red sandstone topography. Sadly that first Sunday climb up little Knockatee would remain my only single walking victory in the Caha mountains for the whole week.
I was back to the security of the motor car and all its lack of intrepid ambition. My one fix of being alone in nature and “silent upon a peak” would remain just that, my one fix of exalted solitude for the rest of the day. I drove back down to the Sunday swelling traffic on the R571now congregating like bees at the junction of Lauragh even though my alpine descent to the tropical vegetation beneath me was a vertiginous pleasure that I only experienced ,as no vehicle followed or confronted me in my 2nd gear downhill plunge. I sped through the cross roads of Lauragh and I then crawled along the flat 4km twisting narrow lane to “Josie’s” restaurant, a place that promised on Trip Advisor “a healthy afternoon lunch overlooking a scenic view of Glenmore Lake”. As I drove into the restaurant’s gravelled car park filled with parents shouting at their gambolling children I felt a deep sense of betrayal within my breast like an elite mountaineer being forced to eat fish and chips at a flat popular seaside resort.
“Josie’s” establishment was a flash to the past. It was made up of a bungalow built fifty years previously on a rise affording a view 400metres back from the lake. It still looked like the bungalow it once was with a myriad of extensions that could revert easily to domestic use when the summer season was over. It also had an empty barn. The galvanised roof was painted green. The dining room was small and pokey but was relieved by a sunroom, the sunroom with the view. The sunroom was filled with assorted small tables surrounded with chairs, all clinging to the edge of the room close to the small surrounding sunlit windows. The bigger table was occupied by a day tripping family, happily with no small children so I sat at the other modest table. Under the table cloth I almost expected that it was made of Formica. It was fish and chips with salad that I chose from the hand written menu. It was adequate. The bream was fresh. The chips were freshly cooked and the salad was healthy even though I longed for a sauce but the whole meal reminded me of a meal that my mother might have cooked for me over fifty years ago. The bespectacled waitress in jeans was young and friendly, probably a local girl, working for summer here before she headed back to a third level college in Limerick or Cork in September. “Josie” the middle aged proprietor presumably, and who probably cooked the meals came intermittently, looking around the room and speaking quietly to the waitress.
The other table was so close that it brought back all those cringing experiences of adolescence when you sat in an overcrowded caff hoping that you didn’t spill the tea from the metal teapot all over the tablecloth. You invariably did, your face turning to the colour of the tea. There was today indeed one young representative teenager there at this table coolly checking his phone so he played no part in the conversation. There was a very old lady at the table who seemed to be the centre of attention as if this was her treat, like a day out, a Sunday drive ending with lunch at “Josie’s”. Sitting beside her was a chattering happy woman whom I thought must have been the old lady’s daughter. The two other women were younger, late twenties or early thirties so they were the next generation, the children of the chattering woman.
While this might have been cringing for me as an adolescent but as an old man it was all quite charming. I was left alone to eat my meal. The party barely acknowledged my presence even though the chattering mother kept on as a kind of slogan that she wished she had a man.
“Oh I would love to have a man.” She would sigh at the end of each anecdote.
After one particular repeat of this quip I mischievously raised my hand above my downturned head as if responding like a bold child in a classroom looking for attention.
“Present!” I called.
I saw her smiling over at me. One of the younger women, the dark haired physically strong individual exuding a sense of muscular athleticism joined in with her mother’s theme of finding a mate when she related an incident that in her cycle over the Healy Pass that day, a local scenic attraction, that she was stopped at the side of the road by an old farmer who spoke of his loneliness and wished to God that the young woman would be down living with him in his little houseen.
She laughed at the memory of it and her mother asked her what she said to the old farmer.
“Oh I told him that he could go to the Philippines where he could come home with a young attractive wife.”
“What did he say to that?” Her mother laughing at the thought of the strange proposal to her daughter.
“Oh do you know you are right there girl, for there are many farmers around here who have taken that particular journey but it is not for me, girl. I would rather have one of the homespun variety like yourself. “The party, except the silent adolescent, all chuckled at the thought of it.
I paid for the meal, standing up at the door of the dining room leading into the kitchen.
To exit with some grace as a gentleman and not to be thought of as the stuck-up diner at the other table I turned to them and enquired from the cyclist , the one nearest in likeminded philosophic endeavour to me , as to why she was cycling over the Healy Pass that day.
“It was a way of preparing the ground for I am involved in a charity cycle run in October over The Healy Pass. I am halfway through my cycle route today and I arranged to meet my family here”. She explained.
I congratulated her and wished her well on her upcoming charity cycle and in a spirit of the sharing that had now broken out amongst us I spoke of my own afternoon’s climb up Knockatee Mountain.
“Oh you are a climber! “The mother suddenly shouted. “I am from Wicklow town and oh I would have loved to have been with you”.
The group did not seem to be embarrassed. I smiled, bowed to the table and left.

A

In the 1800’s romantic poets like William Wordsworth, landscape painters like William Turner captured the awe experienced by high places. After all the well-marked fields, the metalled roads, the passing traffic, the barking dogs, the cows, the tractors driving in and out you find you are alone in the mountains and you seem to step back into something primordial and you may as well be a terrified animist or a wary hunter seeking great antlered deer as the clouds open on beetling cliffs and the sun rewards you in a miraculous shaft of light, secret shining lakes. Those are the views when you pause, they are like rare rewards given to you after all your constant trudging through bog and your tip toeing on sedge mounds and stones , a pleasure you remind yourself few others would aspire to or experience. You are really alone .These are wild places where you could get lost and if you sprain or twist an ankle all that alone vulnerability impresses upon you, concentrates your mind and your eyes on those white stakes tracing the way ethereally ahead of you over these blank spaces. I have my map constantly at hand to realise that, that inviting track to the left is not to be climbed as it leads to a cul-de–sac mountain that is off my track. My track is marked on the map in dashed red lines as heading to and crossing a traverse of the Caha ridge leading southward onto the outward cliffs of the Sugarloaf. It is a clear day and I have the reassurance of matching the ground with my mental construct on the map. I stop just below the junction of my ascending ridge with the Caha ridge. It is the same ridge that I have been with ever since I left Glengarriff at noon. It is just before you reach the apex of the top that often the greatest view is to be realised and one half of all that was close and incomprehensible at the foot of the mountain now is revealed and one half of all that you can possibly see, everything north, the enfolding circle of the Caha mountains back around to where Glengarriff is hidden below and the pale blue sea is block ended by the enfolding rocky ribs of the Sugar loaf’s cliffs.
My stop has one of those awe inspiring views favoured by hill walking books and magazines where the lonely hillwalker, stick in support is pictured beside a great promontory gazing at the beetling cliffs of a mountain beyond. Edmund Burke named that feeling in the 18thc for the first time as the Sublime. It will be my highlight for the day, what Wordsworth I remember from my school day poetry book called
“A sense sublime…..
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns?
And the round ocean and the living air…

A lover of the meadows and the woods
And mountains; ……
The guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my moral being.”
It is good you feel that someone has captured that unique emotion in great rolling iambic metre, capturing a time and movement back then when a whole pilgrimage of back to nature was launched and preached to the city dwellers. Yet it is an aspirational, even bourgeois call, a call that motivates men and women to seek out unique eye framing scenes of the countryside, each remembered view to be carried home and pondered on like a trophy. The trophy in this digital age can be captured in a million pixels on the viewer’s mobile phone.
“They flash upon the inward eye which is the bliss of solitude”.