Saturday, 18 January 2014
Mog & Mrs Pat
In the 1950's, life in rural Ireland was much different than today. The work was hard and neighbours looked out for each other. Horse-power on the roads could normally be measured in ones and ran on grass. The single greatest power in the land was not government but the church.
The church and the priests were figures of near absolute power, only eclipsed by the saints which watched over the faithful from their marble plinths.
During this time, two elderly sisters called Mog and Mrs Pat, lived down the road from my Grandmother. Mog was short for Margaret -we think. Mrs Pat's husband was long dead but the sisters managed to keep a farm running between them. The land was coarse and massive lumps of limestone made any sort of tilling a fearsome task. In this time of hardship migrant labourers followed the seasons and worked in exchange for a night's lodgings, a hot meal and a few coins for their pockets. Francie was one such man and he called on the sisters one spring day and just forgot to leave. Over the years that followed the three became inseparable.
Nancy, my mom, was only a child herself at this time and was often sent to the sisters farm on errands. Nancy hated going there, the place was always caked in dust and cobwebs. The kitchen floor was hard packed dirt, mixed with ash and what ever fell off Francies wellies. Nancy would often be sent with a bag of groceries from the village, or to get a pail of warm creamy milk. One afternoon my Granny sent Nancy over to Mog so she could help bring the shopping back up from the village. Nancy pushed open the door to the dingy little kitchen and found Mog scribbling on a sheet of writing paper.
"Come in girl and leave the cold outside," called Mog, not looking up from her task. Nancy took a stool by the fire and waited patiently.
"Can you spell sincerely," Mog asked, and Nancy did her best but got the word wrong. "What in Gods name is that headmaster teaching you all week," snapped the old lady as she tried to rub out the pencil marks she had made. Nancy wanted to tell her that she was only eight and not in the headmasters class, but she held her tongue. Mog folded the paper and put it in a little white envelope along with a coin from her purse. She wrote St Anthony across the front.
Mog threw on a thick black coat that swept down to her ankles and wrapped a scarf around her head. Nancy took the basket from behind the door and they struck out for the village. It was nearly all downhill to the village but you paid for it on the way back. When they got there, Mog turned for the church, which was unusual as it was the middle of a working day.
Nancy watched as Mog went inside and stood before a statue of St Anthony. She keeled before it and said some prayers. When she was finished Nancy saw Mog slip the envelope under the corner of the statue before she blessed herself and came out of the church once more.
Later, when the shopping was done and the hill home climbed, the secret envelope still was on Nancy's mind and she longed to find out what Mog had scribbled on the piece of paper inside.
On Sunday, the Begley clan filled one church bench, all wearing their best clothes. Nancy couldn't help glancing at the statue of St Anthony and wondered if the envelope was still there. Once Mass was over the church emptied quickly and Nancy made an excuse to slip back inside. She fished under the statue with her slim little girl fingers and retrieved the envelope. She looked around to make sure she was alone before opening the letter. A brand new penny and a slip of paper fell into her hand. She excitedly read Mog's shaky writing.
Dear St Anthony,
Could you see you'r way clear to having a few days fine weather for Francie towards the end of next week. He wants to plant the barley in the top field, it would be a great help. Mrs Pat also said that one of the hens is laying out in a ditch and she need's help finding the nest. We'll say a rosary each night this week.
Mog, Mrs Pat and Francie
Nancy pocketed the letter along with the penny, delighted with herself at having found out Mog's secret and she giggled at the silliness of the old woman. Later Nancy got a huge slab of toffee in the shop with Mog's penny. Every Sunday after that, Nancy would check under the statue for messages. Most of the time there was nothing but every now and again she found letter with the all important penny.
A few months later Nancy was about to buy her slab of toffy with a penny from Mog when Mr Power, the shopkeeper, told her the toffy had gone up to two pence.
Nancy looked at her penny in despair, "But why has it gone up, Mr Power, I only got one penny."
"That's inflation Nancy, what can we do," said Mr Power.
A few weeks after that, Mog got the fright of her life. She had gone to pray to St Anthony and when she got there she found a note with her name on it.
Dear Mog, Mrs Pat and Francie,
I hope you were happy with finding the eggs in the ditch, and all the fine weather I have been able to get. I want to say thanks for the pennies but next time can you leave two as the price of good weather is going up. It is the enflation, what can I do.
As Mog told Granny Begley the story she kept blessing herself and looking up to heaven. Nancy sat quietly in the corner saying nothing but when Granny pointed at the note and said, "Well, would you look at that! Didn't St Anthony spell sincerely wrong, and him an educated man!" Nancy slipped out as quietly as she could and vowed never to play tricks on Mog or St Anthony again.