When Angels go Home for Christmas
long time no blog…here’s a Christmas story in 2 parts…enjoy!!
When Angels go Home for Christmas
The blizzard stopped late on Christmas night and St. Stephen’s Day woke under two feet of snow. There was peace on earth: Hawkins felt it from the gentle white rolling hills and the black skeletal bushes, he smelled it in the cold thin air coming through the crack in his bedroom window. In all his seventeen years this was his first white Christmas.
Up stairs in the same cottage, the Missing Postman stared at the same scenery but it made no impression on him. He had a savage hangover, his stomach was cramping and his head hurt. On top of everything, his brain was addled and he wasn’t sure what day it was. But knew he had been here since the day before Christmas Eve, when he came to deliver a parcel from America. Snowed in and drunk ever since, he was miles away from base with a sack of undelivered mail. The snow hurt his eyes and he moved from the window and sat on the bed. Voices sounded below and he put on his cap, straightened his tie and descended the ladder from the loft to the kitchen.
”God Bless ye!” he announced.
“And God bless you, M.P.” Nan and Dado said in unison.
They appeared busy and he wasn’t sure if they were ignoring him or not. He didn’t give it any more thought, and stood in front of the fire. Dado was getting dressed for the Mummers and wore an overcoat turned inside out, polka dot lining exposed. He was the postman’s age, sixty-two or three, but twice his size. Nan was as big as her husband and fussed around him, crisscrossing ribbons of green and gold over his shoulders and around his waist.
Hawkins came from the room behind the fireplace. He was responsible for dragging the postman eight miles or more into the back of beyond with a Christmas parcel from America. An innocent-eyed lanky fellow with wild dark hair, he was the couple’s grandson. Known as The Healer, he could cure certain disorders and took after Nan in that way. He was wearing a woman’s dress and a tattered black coat.
”Good morning M.P.” he mumbled.
“God bless you,” hailed the postman.
Hawkins blew notes on a penny whistle while Nan wrapped green and gold ribbons around him. Dado took up a two-row melodeon and vamped a couple of chords that segued into a reel. When the music built up steam, the Missing Postman’s feet tapped and he swirled like a clockwork ballerina and danced sparks from the flagstones. The little man with the snipe legs, bloodshot face and elfin ears, hopped high as popcorn, and stopped in mid-air when the music ended. The old couple and their grandson clapped.
“Come with us,” encouraged Dado, “you’ve great steps.”
”And you might be able to get rid of a few letters on the way,” said The Healer,
“And the fresh air will do you good,” Nan added.
He felt they were psyching him out of the house. Tiny silver stars danced and zinged around his head. He sighed and turned his coat inside out like Dado, an assurance against going astray.
“And maybe I could wear your cap,” suggested the Healer.
“God knows but I don’t know.” he muttered, staring at the head gear Dado offered him: a soldier’s helmet from the revolution.
The Healer pulled a Charlie Chaplin mask over his head and gave an Al Capone one to his grandfather. These were in the parcel that came from America, the youth told the postman. Nan fixed a goose quill to the Missing Postman’s helmet and stepped back to look at them.
“No wan will know ye!” she declared.
Muttering a prayer in Irish, she sprinkled blessed water on them, and sent them on their way to rhyme and roam.
They set off by pony and cart for the Hand, a flat slab of rock where the five roads of the parish met. It was a brisk ride, the pony trotting through the snow to keep warm and the three charioteers sharing a bottle of poitín to shorten the journey. Barren bog land was white and snow capped stonewalls looked like iced scones. The sky was a happy blue and The Healer declared that the world was different today. Dado said you’d know well that all the angels were gone home to heaven for Christmas because the fairies were everywhere.
When they reached The Hand, several musicians were already there. A kettle drummer and a cymbal player beat the daylights from their percussion to welcome them. Bacchus Tobin, robed as a woman with red petticoat and black shawl, waved a holly bush and a money-box. Nylon stockings pulled over their faces, like terrorists with fiddles, the Softwood brothers and Úaigneas Gallagher tuned their instruments and sounded like a swarm of bees. Under rouged faces and British bowler hats, Ocras Burke and a hunchback called Awful Sound, danced sean nós on the road. The Hand hummed like a Tibetan temple and young Hawkins’s mind took flight and he burst into an uncontrollable fit of yelling and yahooing.
The racket stopped when G’way Bawn arrived. Tiny and wizened, he was a piper and rode a small grey pony. Dark and dour as Napoleon, he wore no disguise and looked like a bird crow, with his beaked nose and backcombed hair. G’way Bawn circled them without a word. For a few minutes there was silence and the winter sounds were heard again—cold crow caws, the curlew’s cry and the lonesome lowing of faraway cattle. G’way Bawn raised his right arm and led the troupe west towards the sea.
After a mile or so the mummers came to their first stop—a cluster of thatched cottages at the butt of the Knocknashee hills. To the sound of the kettledrum, G’way Bawn called out:
“They killed the Wran to carry the can,
Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
Give us a penny to bury the Wran.”
Before he had finished, children rushed from houses shouting,
“Mummers! Mummers! The mummers are here!”
The batch trooped through the street in single file— fiddles, flutes, pipes, whistles and melodeons pumping notes, drums and cymbals lashing, holly bush dancing. It was a kaleidoscope of colour, music and mayhem. Children marched behind them and adults clapped and shouted encouragement. Ocras Burke and Awful Sound danced with wives and daughters, sometimes wheeling them from one house to another. The postman trailed behind, delivering letters and Christmas blessings, consuming whatever he was offered.
The mummers were hailed with drink and thanked with copper and silver coins. Before they departed, G’way Bawn enticed a tall white haired woman with singing eyes to accompany them. She bundled together a few possessions, shut the door of her cottage and mounted his pony to a rowdy cheer.
to be continued….