It's sorted then...presents for the children next door wrapped and labelled...food in the cupboard and more in the 'fridge...cards have been sent and received and we have fuel to last and hay and food for the donkeys, rabbit, cats and dogs.
The weather is indescribably foul...high blustery winds and constant heavy rain...the water races down the street to disappear into everyone's drive ways where it makes sludgy muddy puddles...the river at the bottom of our garden is angry, sending up plumes of froth and rattling over the stones down to the Lough and the old trees around our little field creak and groan as their branches sway in the winds...
The old barn roof lifts and crashes down with every gust and Himself stands out in the yard watching it with trepidation...the little sheds are safe enough...they have stout wires attached to hefty stones slung over the tops to keep them secure but the big barn is old and frail and the roof quite fragile.
We are warm and safe enough indoors with the range lit and the supper almost ready...the dogs are fast asleep after their tea but the kitchen roof leaks still and I can hear the endless plop of water hitting the strategically placed bowl...
Mums house leaked like a sieve...every time it rained we'd be dashing about with buckets and bowls to catch the worst of the drips...it was four storeys high so the water would be a muddy brown by the time it reached the ground floor...we'd sort through the watery drips and find grains of ancient wheat from the days long past that the house was a warehouse for grain. If you were to walk firmly across the upper landings grains would pop out under your feet...that was way back in the 1600's when the river Severn was a trading route with barges taking goods across the country.
So I ought not grumble much about rain seeping through my little kitchen roof I suppose...but I do tend to have nightmares about the entire kitchen ceiling collapsing in the middle of a dark and windswept night.
I haven't heard from my childhood friend this year. For the past fifty years we've sent each other a card at Christmas...back and forth with hastily scribbled notes inside...but this year there hasn't been a card and I'm sad about it because I think she might have died. She was awful ill at the beginning of last year...
Morva lived in a an ancient house...all rickety rooms and narrow stairways...there was a priests hole too...you could reach it by going into the cupboard next to the open fire and squeezing through a narrow door which led to even more narrow stairs...at the top of the stairs was the smallest room where the family hid the priest in the days when they were persecuted for practising their religion...
Her Father used a yoke...an old-fashioned wooden contraption which went across the shoulders so you could carry buckets of milk or feed with relative ease ...and he wore a heavily embroidered linen smock as he went about the farm work...
The farm was sold after Morvas parents died and was bought by a young man who I have known since the day of his birth...we came home from school that frosty snowy afternoon to find a carefully wrapped up baby in a drawer in front of the open fire...Mrs Alviti...that is how we knew her...a big lady with a cloud of bright red hair was making hot tea and slicing fruit cake...her fruit cake had a thick layer of crunchy sugar on the top...the new baby slept...the fire glowed...the very ancient Granny dozed on the settle surrounded by dozens of plump cats and dear Alviti...a small fiery Italian who was known to everyone as simply Alviti...came into the warm and comfortable kitchen with its ticking clock on the mantle and the smell of fresh cooked cake and hugged Morva and me until we thought we'd burst...'I have a son'...! After four daughters Alviti was thrilled to bits to have a son...
Little Frankie was loved to bits...my brother was his bestest friend and my Mother loathed the entire family ...some of the very best of times was spent in that vast farmhouse kitchen with soft furry cats and rich fruit cakes...Granny dozing and small terrier dogs waiting expectantly under the table for any scraps...we'd linger Morva and I...we'd take another cup of sweet strong tea and hold baby Frankie for just a while longer...we'd giggle when Alviti burst in, tickling us until we almost cried and he'd show us a tiny field mouse he'd put in his pocket or take us to the top barn where there was a Barn Owl sitting motionless on a beam high overhead...he'd lead us into the cow house where patient cows stood waiting to be milked...oil lamps lighting the space and that sweet scent of clean straw and animal...all of Alviti cows had names...Bluebell and Buttercup and Dandelion...his English was awful even after thirty odd years...but he could pronounce the names of his cows.
We loved the Alviti's...we loved their rambling old house...we loved the story of Alviti being an Italian prisoner of war berthed out with Mrs Alviti's parents to work on their farm and his falling hopelessly in love with the sturdy farmers daughter and her bright red hair...we knew we were much loved there. We understood we could sit at the big table and be privy to the family life neither of us knew in our own homes...we'd linger long after it was dark and we still had two miles to walk before we reached our own places...
We loved those fat lazy cats and the little squabbly dogs...and that fruit cake covered in a layer of crunchy sugar...we loved holding baby Frankie and marvelling at his tiny grasping fingers and were over-awed by Mrs Alviti feeding him from blue veined breasts...
They'd not ever imagine the space they filled in our lives...to them family was all.