The worshipping of Helena


Part 3

So I took the decision to go and ask her, straight out, if there was ‘any chance.’ You think my antics were bizarre? We had a man in our village who thought he was a steam engine; another who had a bike for forty years and couldn’t ride it, a wife who thought her babies popped in – and out – because she said prayers to St Jude, and a few men who got away completely with murder… so don’t mind or be too disbelieving about a child having big or strange ideas…

Wednesday night was slow in the pub, ‘Devotions’ being on in the chapel. No drink was allowed to be served, but pubs with a shop integrated could sell food.{In those days when the RC Church ran Everything} On the night, I washed my face and slicked my hair with the ‘rack’ – which was just an industrial-size brown comb. I slapped on a slather of robbed {my brothers} Brilliantine – a sickly greasy hair oil – and fancied I could defeat any Casanova in the Pictures!

Down I go, then, to meet my love. I hung around until anyone going to the chapel had gone in. Nobody in the pub, except Helena. In I go, trying to be brave, my heart in my mouth.

“Hello, Neddah,” she go, smiling that breath-stopping smile, and joked – “you’re all done up tonight! Are you meeting a girl?”

This was a great opening for me!

“No, Helena, I think I’ve already met her!” This with a fair old fright on me, in spite of the bravado….

“Well, and who is this very lucky young lady, Neddah?” she said, with her tinkly little laugh.

“Actually, Helena, you know her well!” I thought this was a master-stroke!

“Oh, go on! Is it Kitty O’**** down the road, then?”

“No, Helena.” Suspense filled the air; I knew now how Bogart felt in films.

“Then who on earth can it be, Neddah?” she smiled.

“Actually, Helena – it’s you.” There it was, out, and not that hard, really!

I wasn’t at all sure how she’d react. Would she throw herself into my arms? Would she suggest a meeting up near Hayden’s Gates – {a popular courting spot for some lucky loves} – or maybe on the Glory Bridge, at midnight?

None of those things. She took a glass and polished it, looking serious. Then she came outside the counter, and sat on a high stool, within touching distance of me, and said: “Listen, Neddah, I know you mean all you said, and thanks for thinking such nice things about me. There’s times, Neddah, when I can be very cranky, and not at all the smiley girl you see inside the counter. But I’m too many years ahead of you – and what would my Daddy think?” The very thought of that made her laugh out loud! And me, too – a bit…

I felt then that my love was slipping away from me, but she was so sweet about it that I calmed right down, and was ready for her decision – which I knew, then, would go against me.

“Neddah, you’d have to wait too long for me. If I was your age, I’d say ‘yes’ in a minute! We’d grow up together, like Babes in the Wood!” Now, this was laying it on a bit thick, but sure I was willing to accept any old excuse or tale from her divine self!

“Lads like you don’t grow on the bushes, you know, Neddah”, she go – but sure haven’t I a cousin your age, Joan, who’s coming up here for the summer – and that’ll be your chance to make a name for yourself. She’s beautiful, and would be ideal for a handsome chap like you.”

Well, by the cripes! Bad news – and good!

Still, I had to make one last try. “But, Helena – won’t you just give me one kiss – just one?”

“No, Neddah – Joan would be mad, then – if she found out! And you should keep your kisses for her. I’ll be watching you from now on!” So saying, she put her little hand on my face, for just a second. Magic! Wonder!

“There, Neddah – we’ve got a pact! The crowd’s coming out from Devotions now, so you’d better run. And thanks again for asking me!”

And that was the end of my running round the pub every night. She had acted sweetly, and I felt no rejection. Often afterwards she’d smile and wink at me; wse had our own little secret!

I met the woman recently, first time for over sixty years. She still looked beautiful. We talked of the old days, skirting certain little subjects! When I left her delightful company, I kissed her on the cheek.

Sixty years late, I suppose. But, I did get the chance, in the end, to kiss Helena.

And I remembered her, in the bloom osf her great beauty, all those years ago, putting her hand on my face.

I didn’t wash it for a week.

{ A son of ‘Helena’ still farms east of Dunna village. He read this story, way back, approved.}

Helena passed away a good while ago.. I didn’t know of her demise. Was immensely sad when I heard of it. A true beauty,

I mourned her for being so sweet and good to me when I was rags and bones.

Ned E


The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of The Kilkenny Observer.


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