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Home For The Christmas

Home For The Christmas – A short story from the pen of Thurles Co. Tipperary, poet and author Tom Ryan.

Home For The Christmas ©

It was just a small town in a small country, but in that town beat ten thousand hearts, each with his own book to write; each unique, with thoughts, feelings, doubts, hopes, frustrations, dreams and dreams shattered. On this Christmas Eve, like many other Irish towns, it was like a picture postcard; with its wide, spacious, traffic-jammed main street, and its monuments to dead heroes, lying covered with a thick mantle of snow and ice.

The bells in the little church were summoning the populace from the Christian community, to a Christmas Carol Service. Last-minute shoppers were slipping and slithering from cosy, brightly lit, damp-floored shops, latter packed with hardy rural folk, almost contemptuous of the weather, and urban townsfolk, all excited and exchanging seasonal greetings with one another.

In the hotel on the main street, there in the cosy bar, one man drank alone.

This worst-case scenario was indeed quite a feat; for just about everybody drinks together or at least in smaller groups, in a small town on Christmas Eve. All troubles and daily problems are generally swept aside, like the icy, slushy snow outside, while that rare, but precious, Christmas warmth and conviviality, takes precedence over all else.

The man who drank alone was in his late sixties, a somewhat medium sized man, wearing silver-rimmed glasses; behind the lens of which were grey misty blue eyes that stared somewhat indifferently at a pint glass of Guinness. It was his first drink since he had alighted from the train that morning. He brushed a few remaining, now melting snowflakes from off his tweed overcoat, on the seat beside him.
He had thought about this trip home only about a week before after he had buried his wife, Biddy, back there in New York city. The loneliness swept over him now again, as he envisioned her as she had been when he had met her at a céili in a rural hall, not many miles from the warm setting, wherein he now sat. He clearly recalled that the year in question was 1944, just before D–Day, and it was around Christmas time, too.

That old man of hers had never approved of his darling daughter, Biddy; her being a farmer’s daughter, wishing to get hitched up with a scallywag of a farm labourer. It was after many rows, that they had decided to run away secretly, in order to get married. He smiled thinly now at the memory, but in that chosen new ‘Land of the free’, they had somehow made it, though never rising to massive heights in the dollars stakes. They continued to warm to one another and even more so, as the years came and went, although they were never blessed with children.

Thirty five years, God, how the old country had changed, he thought. So modern and alive; a modernity that made him feel a little out of touch. He noted the wall-to-wall carpets in the hotel bar, the television blaring and flashing to a heedless audience, and the screaming kids with their folks close-by. So brazen, these kids! You knew your place in his day, and you didn’t talk unless you were spoken to. You may not have had a great education, but in his day, you did learn manners and thanks to the school Master you did learn your three basic Rs.

Oh, what the hell was he doing in this town. It was a strange land to him after all these years, especially without his beloved Biddy. It was just a tale of two cities now that he no longer felt acquainted with. He had left New York to find reminders of a previous world; his and Biddy’s young world, and gardens where it seemed roses grew all year round cottage doors; where they kept on meeting at dances and where they had fallen in love and stormed wildly at the world. God-damn it; he felt suddenly embarrassed at the realisation, and he was now weeping, unable to conceal or hold back his tears.

“You all right, sir?” He became aware that the young voice, which carried the sound of true concern, came from that of a young woman of about twenty five years old and she had placed an arm on his shoulder. For some inexplicable reason, she seemed vaguely familiar to him.
“Oh, I was just remembering, thank you,” he sniffled.
“Yes, it is a time for remembering, isn’t it,” the girl said.

She was dark-haired, with eyes to match, a creamy skin, tall and well cut, wearing a black skirt with white blouse, and looking like a movie star, rather than an Irish small town girl. She carried a bright blue anorak on her arm.

“You from around here?” she asked, though, he felt, not in any idly, inquisitive tone.
He was composed now and grateful for the young woman’s interruption of his feelings and thoughts.
He grinned, “Funny, I’ve been figuring that, I just come in from New York”.
“An American?”, she volunteered.
“Yeah, I guess sort of, although I was born here, outside town. My wife, she was born here too. First time home in thirty five years.” He now found it odd that he should use that word ‘home’.
“Have a drink?” he said.
“No, thanks very much”, she replied, adding “I don’t drink. I’m just waiting for my mother to come out from the interdenominational Carol Service in the local church, so I can drive her home.”
“You’re a good girl.” he said and he meant it.
She laughed. “Try to tell that to my mum. She thinks… ”
The girl considered a moment before continuing, “Well, there’s no work around here, you know and I want to go to the States. I’d like to be a model. But mammy thinks it’s so far away. Kevin, my boyfriend, is not happy about it either; I mean it’s only a few hours away by airplane, but sure you must know that.”
“And what does your daddy think?” he queried.
A shadow came across her face. “He died last year. There’s only mum and me now.”
“You and your mother. You get on all right?” he further queried.
The young woman suddenly shook with laughter. “Oh, yes! Like a house on fire. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she’s the greatest mother in the world. I guess she’s sad after dad. She misses him terribly.”
The elderly man took another sip from his pint before declaring, “Loneliness is a terrible thing.”
“I suppose so, but she’s got so many friends: The ICA, the Drama Group, the Sodality, the Chess Club; she simply knows everybody”, she replied
Again, the elderly man thought there was something so familiar about the young woman’s face. He wished he could place it and then, suddenly in a flash, it came to him and he remembered.

A wild teenager who had got up to devilment everywhere together with his love Biddy. What was her name? Gertie, Gertie McDonald. But she had gone to become a nun above in Dublin, at the time when he had left town. Surely …?”
He addressed the young woman; “I don’t think I got your name, Miss?”
“Margie, Margie Dwyer. No, not O’Dwyer, we o nothing to no one”, she laughed. “But they call me Margie McDonald, because I resemble my mother so much”, she continued.
Just then a stout, rather flushed, fur-coated, vivacious woman came into the bar, entering from the foyer. The years had not so changed her that he didn’t immediately recognise that swaggering, bold stride.
“Why if it isn’t Jack Ryan,” the girl’s mother whooped, after staring briefly at the elderly man in her daughter’s company.
“Gertie, I thought you were a nun in Dublin, a Mother Superior at least by now,” he quipped, as he rose to warmly shake her hand.
“Oh, after two years I discovered I had no vocationI suppose. But, Jack Ryan-after all these years. How are you at all?” she queried. Then, in a lower tone, “I am so sorry, Jack. I heard about poor Biddy.”
“I know,” he acknowledged the sympathy “and you had your own troubles too I’ve just learned”.
She nodded. “And what in God’s name brings you home after all these years. The auld sod must now be strange to you.”
“Oh, not really. I have found a kind, young friend here,” he smiled, patting the young woman’s arm.
“So, you have met Margie. What a coincidence, so where are you staying, Jack?”
“Here in the hotel, Gertie, up in Room 89″ he replied.
“Ah, now, Jack”, Gertie replied. “Not in a hotel room at Christmas. You’ll come out to the farm with Margie and me. At our age there will be no auld talk of scandal. You know me, Jack. Gertie knows her own kind and goes her own way, which or whether. Them that mind don’t matter and them that matter don’t mind.”

There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes. An older Gertie had not changed a bit, he thought. Always, like his Biddy, pure independent. “Sure, we’ll go down memory lane and do some great tracing together. Maybe kill a few whiskies into the bargain.” She winked at him cheekily.
“You’re an awful woman,” he grinned.
“Now, Jack, you’ll be a guest in our home and welcome. Sure, you’re auld stock, an auld townie, one of our own and a neighbour.” She winked again: “And a little more, if you remember rightly, maybe.” He smiled at the recalling of a pleasant night he and Gertie had spent at a cross-roads platform dance one warm summer’s night, before he had first become acquainted with Biddy.

Throughout all this, young Margie Dwyer had remained dutifully silent, but visibly pleased to see her mother come alive again, like she had not been for some long, long time. Her modelling work in New York did not now have that same great urgency for her and she realised possibly for the first time an amazing fact; that work, though paramount, was not the only important thing in life, not when hearts were one, warm, kind and caring.
Right now the girl felt suddenly at home; yes, really at home again, and it was Christmas, and she would think of modelling and New York city at another time. Now where would she find boyfriend Kevin on a Christmas Eve? She wanted to tell him all about this.
Jack looked around him in the bar, as a hundred hands offered to help him with his suitcase.
“I’ll take you up on that offer, Gertie Dwyer, and grateful to you I am for it.” he said
The young woman, cheeks now glowing with great warmth, said: “Merry Christmas, Mr Ryan”.
Jack Ryan put one arm around the young woman’s shoulders and another around her mother’s waist, and, with great joy and a feeling that life was truly wonderful after all, he replied: “Merry Christmas. Merry Christmas.”

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