Sunday, Bloody Sunday
Those of you that have already read some of Father Tom's exploits, would be forgiven for believing that his life was idyllic. Perhaps it is the survivalist in us humans, which makes us remember the enjoyable moments in life, while quickly dispatching the more sinister ones, to the annals of time best forgotten.
One such moment occurred not long after Father Tom first moved to the parish, and of all places, it happened in the post office. Father Tom had a few letters to send to Dublin, so he made good use of the fine spring weather, and walked to the post office at the far end of the village. The walk took longer than he anticipated, because he was stopped by nearly everyone he came across, to wish him well in his new posting.
When he finally reached the post office door, he found it painted in the green livery of "An Post", the national postal agency. High on the wall was the small tin sign, confirming he was at the right place. What gave him cause to pause, was not the colour of the door, but the size of it. Standing fully erect, Father Tom towered over the tiny door by a full foot. You may remember that Father Tom was quite the man mountain, but he found most doors accommodated him quite well. However, this one seemed to be designed for Hobbit-size clientele. With little option, he opened the door and wiggled his way inside. The answer to the unusual size of the door lay within, the floor of the Post Office was a good foot and a half below street level, and clearly, the door had been hung from the inside.
"Lord, Father. Mind your head," said the postmistress, dashing from behind the counter to help the nearly wedged customer.
"Thanks, thanks," said Father Tom, fending off the helping hands that seemed to spring from everywhere. When he had himself straightened out again, he found himself standing in tiny little room, packed with people. Father Tom went bright red, when he realised just how many people had watched him limbo dancing his way under the tiny door.
"I think Jane has been feeding me too well," he said, causing the collected people to giggle politely.
"Well now, you must be the new priest. Tis great to meet you," said the postmistress, holding out her hand. Father Tom took her dainty fingers in his huge bear paw, and shook it gently.
"Tom," he said.
"Father Tom, ain't that just grand," she said, beaming. Then like any good hostess, she began introducing everyone in the post office by name, each one coming forward to shake Tom's gigantic mitt, in turn. One craggy little man seemed to keep himself back from the hubbub of greetings, and the post mistress glanced over him as if he didn't exist. When everyone had said hello, Tom turned to the little man and held out his hand. The small man positively bristled with aggression.
Undeterred, Father Tom held his ground and said, "It's nice to meet you, sir."
"I won't be shaking hands with no holy Joe," snarled the little man, backing farther into the corner. Father Tom was shocked, and his hand floated in vacant space for a moment, until the shrill voice of the postmistress broke the spell.
"Mr Baxter! How dare you speak to Father Tom like that!"
"And you can belt up, too!" Mr Baxter said, pushing past Father Tom, and scuttling through the tiny door without the least difficulty.
"I'm so sorry, Father. What must you think of us?" said the postmistress, clearly embarrassed. Father Tom regained his composure and laughed, which thankfully got everyone else laughing too.
"I seem to have my work cut out, there," Father Tom said.
Later that night, Father Tom mentioned the incident to Jane, as she was dishing up his dinner.
"Mr Baxter? That would be Vincent Baxter, a small scruffy man, about fifty?"
"That sounds like him," said Tom, taking a seat at the table. "Why do you think he reacted like that?"
"Couldn't say for sure, Father. He's not from around here, you see, he's a Limerick man, I think, and a right nasty one at that," said Jane, landing a scoop of steaming mash potato beside an inch thick slice of beef, swimming in a lake of gravy.
"Has he only moved here, so?" asked Father Tom, eyeing the plate like a hungry dog.
"God, no. Been living up on Kerrigan's mountain for nearly twenty-five years now. Himself, the missus, and six kids, God bless them," said Jane, adding some assorted veg to the plate. Only in the countryside, could you live in a place for twenty-five years and still be a blow in. Time has a different meaning in a place like this.
Jane turned to the table, holding the heaped plate with a tea towel. "Enough about him, Father, and eat your dinner," she said, laying the meal before him with a smile. Jane's plate looked like a child's portion in comparison to Father Tom’s. They bowed their heads and said Grace, before Father Tom demolished the meal, in seconds flat.
"My word, Father. You seem to like your beef?"
"It's my favourite meat in the whole world, you can't beat a slice of rare beef."
"Would you like another piece?"
"Oh, yes please, Jane. One from the middle, if you can manage it." Jane added a slice of slightly pink meat to his plate, which Father Tom tucked into with gusto. This particular meal gave rise to one of Father Tom's most treasured traditions, Sunday dinner with Jane, always beef, and always rare. Jane soon began calling it, ‘Sunday, bloody Sunday’, when she and Father Tom were alone.
Over the weeks which followed, Father Tom learned that Vincent Baxter had indeed come from Limerick, a Limerick work house, to be exact. That explained a lot to Father Tom. The work houses were horrible places, ruled by priests with fists of iron. It’s little wonder that the man reacted the way he did when they first met. Father Tom was looking forward to his next chance to talk with Mr Baxter, so he could show him that he was nothing like those priests, they only shared a uniform. However, chances to talk to Mr Baxter came few and far between. It was nearly eight months later when Father Tom and Mr Baxter exchanged their next words, and they were far from pleasant.
It was early December, and Father Tom had arranged with the school headmaster, for the sixth class children to hold a carol recital in the run up to Christmas. The whole class was in the parish hall, doing rehearsals after school had finished, when the main door burst open. Mr Baxter stormed up the middle of the hall and grabbed his youngest lad, Jamie, from the midst of the shocked children. He dragged the child by the scruff of the neck towards a shocked Father Tom and school master.
"Who told you that you could keep my lad after school?" yelled an enraged Mr Baxter.
"This is a school activity, Mr Baxter, kindly control you voice," stammered the Headmaster. Young Jamie began crying, and Mr Baxter shook the child roughly.
"There is no need of that!" said Father Tom, moving forward a step. Instead of shying away, the little man glared and moved towards Father Tom, not many men have ever done that.
"So, ‘twas you, you bible bashing shirt lifter!" spat the little man.
"Mr Baxter!" said the Headmaster, shocked.
Poking his finger savagely in the two bigger men's faces, Vincent Baxter said, “Neither of you will ever keep my boy after school again! Got it!" Then he stormed out of the hall, dragging a crying Jamie in his wake, and leaving a hall full of terrified children and shocked men behind.
Sadly, Mr Baxter was to continue to hold Father Tom in contempt, whether justified or not, for the rest of his days in the parish. After a few years, Father Tom had to concede that Vincent Baxter was a lost cause. The real tragedy of the situation was, Mr Baxter insisted in punishing his long suffering wife and children, along with himself, for whatever wrongs the world had laid at his door. They barely eked out an existence from the acres of scrub-land which made up the Baxter farm. The children were kept back from school to labour on the land. The few helping hands that were offered were slapped away by Mr Baxter, as unwanted charity. It was ten years after Father Tom became parish priest that the Baxter family sold up, and moved away. It was one of Father Tom’s biggest regrets that he never managed to get through Baxter's hatred.
On the plus side, Bloody Sunday had become a rock solid tradition in Father Tom's household. A prime beef joint was one of his few extravagances he regularly indulged in, that and a few pints down the pub. Each week, Jane would do the weekly shop on a Thursday, getting all that Father Tom might require, in the coming days. Tom always left the housekeeping money in a biscuit tin over the cooker, and Jane spent whatever she needed. There was always plenty in the tin, and he never asked for a receipt. Jane would buy everything, except for the Sunday roast, Tom took care of that, himself. He would visit Maher's Butchers on a Friday, to pick out his own joint of meat. Jane would drop by to pick it up, last thing Saturday evening. Mr Maher would have it waiting for her, seasoned and rolled, ready for the oven.
One particular Sunday, Father Tom was finishing off his third plate of seconds, when Jane asked an unexpected question. "Do you remember Mr Baxter, Father?"
"I do," said Tom, laying down his fork.
"Apparently he moved to Cavan, after leaving here."
"Is that so, he went far enough."
"True enough. The reason I mentioned it, is that Mrs Ryan heard from her sister, who happens to live in the same town. He died, yesterday." Father Tom just stared at his plate for long time, before shoving it away from him.
"Are you alright, Father?" she asked, taken back by his reaction.
"I am, it’s just a shock is all."
"He was well into his sixties, Father and not a very nice man, at that."
A frown crossed Father Tom's face, "Let he without sin, Jane."
She looked at her plate, saying, "You're right, Father. That was unkind."
Father Tom was out of sorts for the rest of the evening, and by the time Jane was ready to go home, he was nowhere to be found. His car was missing, so she assumed he had gone for a drive. It was close to eleven when Mrs Baxter heard a gentle knock on her door, in Virginia, County Cavan. The heavens had opened and rain was thundering down. At first, Mrs Baxter didn't recognise the huge bearded man standing on her doorstep, wearing jeans and a jumper. It wasn't until he said "Hello" that she knew it was Father Tom.
"Jesus, Father Tom. You’re drowned, come in."
"It's just Tom today, Mrs Baxter. I won't come in, if that's okay, I don't think Vincent would have liked it. I just come to extend my condolences."
Mrs Baxter looked at Father Tom deeply, and after a few moments, she smiled. "My Vincent was a difficult man, with troubles none knew. But I believe, if he were here tonight, Tom, he would gladly have done this." Mrs Baxter extended her hand, and in the cold Cavan downpour, they exchanged their first handshake.
"I'll be going now," said Father Tom, but before leaving, he held out a biscuit tin, and handed it to Mrs Baxter. "I thought you might make use of this," he said, then walked away.
On the following Thursday, Jane went to get the housekeeping money from the biscuit tin as always, but couldn't find it. When she found Father Tom, she asked him where the tin had got to. He just said, "A better home." Father Tom rummaged in his pocket, and pulled out two crumpled twenty Euro notes.
"I'll not get much for that, Father," Jane said.
"Whatever you manage, will be enough."
"But what about the roast? It’s a tradition."
Father Tom turned to Jane, and smiled, "You know, Jane, a man can sometimes have too much of a good thing. I quite fancy beans on toast this week. What do you say?" And then, he winked that naughty boy wink of his.