Aunty Agnes always came to visit after mass on a Sunday. However on this particular Sunday it was of the utmost inconvenience despite the foreknowledge of her arrival. An abscess had reached its final volume on the back of my neck and with it a great explosion had erupted culminating in the most excruciating agony and discomfort for the rest of the morning.
My pain was soon forgotten however with the arrival of Agnes and the news which had just come from America. Her sister Rita (her real name was Margaret and had changed to Rita to conform with her new country of origin) who was also my aunt, had sent news home. She had married an American and was making a visit home the following week. This was all well and grand and should have been a cause for great celebration but Aunty Agnes was always a woman who liked to be prepared, and this was one eventuality that would not fall into that category. With this crisis in mind she had called to my door in a much excited manner and in need of some assistance. With post haste I proceeded to the kettle as a show of my utmost assistance and concentration in this matter. I laid the options afforded to her out in plain text. I cut to the chase as it were and asked her which of two roads would she rather go down.
“Tea or Coffee, Agnes?” I asked giving her as limited choice as there was available.
She decided on tea as she felt it was more calming. And indeed she had a point as I recalled drinking copious amounts of the liquid on the night Martin Mulgraney’s ewe was giving birth in the shed in the lower fields on the night after Stephens’s day last year. If it wasn’t for the tea it is doubtful that the lamb would ever have seen the light of day. A beautiful lamb it was too and Martin gifted me with the animal the following afternoon. We had weeks of pleasure with the beautiful woolly creature as it danced gleefully in the spring sun. We had even greater pleasure as we found the lamb went very well with the mint sauce that Kitty Whelan had sold at the spring fair later that month. Martin declined our invitation to dinner and has been very quiet with me lately when I pass him in the village.
As Agnes was drinking her tea she proceeded to tell me that Rita/Margaret had only married the month before. This would have been her third marriage. She had married once in Ireland and when Patrick died all of those years ago at the head of a bull that had gored him she decided to use his inheritance money and move abroad. The bull stayed behind.
Margaret became Rita and formally married an ex priest in Boston six months after her arrival in the United States. Unfortunately for the catholic religion he wasn’t an ex priest at the time and Rita could be accused, wrongly by some it is fair to say, to have cajoled him away from the life that had been set out for him by his holiness the pope. She had met him at a christening and the story goes they fell madly in love with each other across the baptismal font and eloped that very day. It is still unknown whether the child who was being baptised ever was formally inducted into the church. There were stories that some people were strangled in that city years later by an angry type of individual but any link between the two could neither be confirmed nor discounted. In the end the priest also died by accident. He had been cutting the lawn with when the phone rang inside the house. He instructed Rita who was ironing in the kitchen at the time to leave the phone on the windowsill. Margaret always had a problem with her left and right hand and with both hands full with the phone and the iron, she distractedly left the iron on the windowsill instead of the phone. The priest never got to speak to whoever it was that day, because after standing up from taking the grass from the bottom of the mower he reached out to take his call without looking. To save further distress they buried him with the iron intact. It must be said however it was an odd looking coffin and on more than one occasion I had suggested a cremation would have been more appropriate. And now that I come to think of it, a lot cheaper as the job had been half done already.
So this obviously left us to Rita’s more recent nuptial and Aunt Agnes’ visit. After much cajoling on my behalf and a half decent piece of common sense, Agnes agreed that the visit of Rita, formerly known as Margaret would be a good thing. To clarify matters there was a certain method in Agnes’ madness. You see after Rita had been through her two previous marriages she had been alone for many years. Mainly due to the fact that she felt she had put a hex on things and secondly due to the fact that she had emasculated a reputation as a black widow. In other words no man would touch her. This worked well for Agnes because after a long time of internal thought Agnes came to the conclusion that she was the only next of kin that Margaret had and after two marriages, there would be a something at the end of it for her if you catch my drift. As they say where there is a will...there is a hungry relative. It was with this in mind that we had derived a plan to bring the loving couple to Ireland to visit the birthplace but on the return flight to America there would only be one traveller. And he would be male. This, dear reader would ensure that any ensuing inheritance would be kept in the family. Did I mention that Aunty Agnes was eighty two by the way?
The following Tuesday week at approximately twenty minutes to ten I had a movement of the bowel. I was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a car arriving in my driveway to which I completely alerted myself and proceeded out of the lavatory. Exiting from the car were Aunty Agnes, Rita and the aforementioned yank. His name turned out to be Clarke. More Kent than Gable on his appearance. He proceeded to the front door, hands in pockets and a slow controlled look perusing the homestead.
After introductions we made our way into the kitchen where tea and black coffee (for the yank) were produced. The conversation flowed from the visit of JFK to the landing of the first man on the moon and it must be said at times it got heated due to our differing opinions. Neil Armstrong had never visited Wexford.
When Aunt Agnes gave the nod I interjected to give the planned itinerary for the week. Margaret looked a little pleased and a little perturbed as it could be said she was on tenterhooks as to how this meeting would evolve. It was only after that I wondered was she on a visit herself for reasons unknown or to check up on the health of her ageing sister.
The following day I thought it was best that I showed Clark the home base of his good wife when she was living here. Not of course when she was a child but in more recent times than that. The house where she shared with her first husband. There was a lot of nostalgia and can you believe that after all of those years, despite the house being a mere shambles in the field below was the bull. Now if I am completely honest I cannot say it was the same bull but it did have the same mad expression as it’s would be ancestor and when I reminded Clarke of the tale of Rita’s first husband he started to get a bit hot under the collar and wondered why his good wife would want him to visit this spot. I reminded him that bulls, like elephants, were renowned for their good memories and that maybe it might be an idea for him to stay away from this spot...or any spot for that matter that might involve his wife in the vicinity of a bull.
After a few whiskeys’ that did eventually calm his nerves, we had a lovely meal of traditional stew. I told Clarke (he was actually a nice lad) about the time the woman down the road had poisoned her husband with a few drops of arsenic in a stew. The transparency of the gravy was a great decoy I informed him after which he thanked us, put his spoon down, patted his tummy but told us he really had, had enough.
That evening after Clarke had gone to bed Agnes and Margaret had a mighty row about how the latter’s husband was being treated and insisted that this shenanigans stop. It was unfortunate that I had left Clarke’s door open after he went to sleep and he was awoken by the hollers. I couldn’t really console him at that time as I was around the back of the house making bull sounds under his window.
The following few days were quiet and it was not until the Sunday that we went to the chapel and met Father Graham after mass. He was familiar with the story of Rita’s previous husband as we ate tea and cake in the rectory afterwards. The sad part of this was that Clarke was not familiar with the tale as Rita had failed to tell him. Honesty not being one of the stronger attributes to the marriage. I suppose this was the final straw for Clarke and as planned he returned to America on the Monday...but unfortunately or fortunately if you were Aunty Agnes he travelled alone.
Agnes and Margaret got over their differences and within weeks were living back together up the road from my good self and I often tended to them in their final years. It was sad to see them pass within months of each other and as I have said that after all the events these stories usually end with the inheritance going on to the next of kin.
It is a lovely house of which I have much affection for but I do find it hard to divide my time between the two properties. With this in mind I was toying with the idea of getting a guard dog to mind the house and surrounding land. But a dog needs care of which I cannot guarantee my undivided attention. So I decided to get some protection and inserted a more fitting type of animal in the fields around the house.
The bull has settled in nicely.