Were you ever told stuff when you were very young that sort-of messed you up for a while? Some of the things that were told to me were imparted with the best will in the world, but they still set me off out into the world with some curious misapprehensions.
Let’s do two of these. Let's not get too serious, though, it’s only a bit of fun.
In Ireland, the last Sunday of July has always been something of a big deal. I don’t know if that’s true everywhere or not. Here in Mayo, it’s ‘Reek Sunday’ and people come and climb up our local Holy Mountain, Croagh Patrick, in their hoards. Some do it barefoot. Some wear things on their feet; boots and shoes and such. Some, like me, don’t do it at all. Come on, it’s hard.
In Sligo, where I spent my formative years (i.e. lived) it was called ‘Garland Sunday’, and everybody went to the Holy Well where there were food stalls and boat trips and… other things. (I dunno, it was a long time ago.)
I have this memory of one Garland Sunday at the Holy Well and I’ll tell you a something about it. But we have to tread carefully here. If I’m honest (and I do try to be) this memory is little more than a series of dreamlike impressions. It was over fifty years ago, for God’s sake. So, as I try to make a little narrative paragraph about it, there is inevitably a significant quantity of ‘colouring-in’ being done. For instance, when, in a minute, I come to describe my Dad lying back on a tartan blanket eating a ham sandwich, am I remembering that or am I filling-in something I subsequently glimpsed in an old photograph somewhere. I really don’t know.
It doesn’t matter anyway. Just keep in mind that what follows is probably 85% fabrication, which is a bit higher than my usual average.
There we were, on Garland Sunday, up around the Holy Well (it all sounds impressively Irish, doesn’t it?) and we were having sandwiches and tea from a flask and I, being about six years old and a bit bored, set off exploring to the woods up the back. At the edge of the woods, there was a huge black hole that led in among the deep dark trees, and I paused on the edge of this hole and wondered if I should go in or not. Gradually, as I waited there, I became aware of an air of music emanating from the depth of the woods. I stood and let it ease over me for a little while and then I concluded I definitely wasn’t going in there. I ran back to my family and perched on the edge of the tartan blanket. Dad must have sensed that some little thing was amiss, so he asked me what was up. I told him about the music that was coming from inside of the woods.
“Ay yes,” he said, working on getting his pipe lit, “that will be the Faeries. Best not go in there.”
My memory is this: even at the ripe old age of six, I quickly discounted that the music was actually coming from Faeries. That was Dad being mischievous, as he often tended to be. Most likely there were some houses up the back of the woods, which seemed infinite but probably were not. The music was coming from a house back there or maybe even from some kids in the woods with a cassette player.
I worked all that out for myself. Here’s the thing though. I worked it out on a rational conscious level. But, somewhere in some much deeper subliminal level, the idea of there being Faeries in those woods inserted itself into my psyche and lodged there.
It is still there.
If I drive ever drive past those woods, I can’t help but glance up there and mutter in my head that I heard music there once. And even as I mutter it, some deeper quieter voice from another place in my brain will still always intone that some old refrain.
“It was Faeries.”
My second-of-two misapprehensions in this little collection is an altogether more practical one. After my second sister was born, I would have been about ten years old. One day, I asked my mother how my sister had got out of her. For the longest while I had been aware of Mum’s tum and that there was a sibling in there waiting for me. Then, rather suddenly, she was there. I knew where she had been, I knew where she had come from, but how did she get out? Mum sat me down and explained her experience of birthing to me. How my sister had come into the world and my other sister and my two brothers and me. How we had all done it.
“It was easy,” she said, “there was a sort of an opening in the side of my tummy and she came right out, just like you all did.”
Mum was being straight with me, as I subsequently learned. All five of us were born by Caesarian Section. I’m glad she told it like it was, but it did set me off on a temporary misapprehension that all babies came into the world in this particular way. Days at the beach were spent, as a child, peering at bikini-clad ladies, not in any morbid pre-pubescent sexual fascination. Quite the opposite really, I was looking for that discreet exit that all the babies came out of.
I bet we all have little things like this. Things we get over easily but still never quite fully give up.
I’m pretty okay with birthing matters these days and with Faeries too.
If one thing still troubles me a little it is only that I sometimes wonder why, instead of ethereal melodies, the Little People in the woods were listening to ‘Sugar Sugar’ by the Archies.