The Worshipping of Helena


Part 1

It was springtime, back in the far days when you noticed such things. When every dawn gave the hope that the savage frost of the night before might be the last one of a hard pitiless winter. And maybe this day would see the snow start its long slow retreat back up Slievenamon, which loomed, white and clear and Arctic, in our back-window, in the blue light of a late January evening.

In those 1940s days, cold was the blueprint – the template – of our dirt-poor lives, and every winters grasp was bitter and iron hard. The bed at night now had the maximum amount of beet sacks on it: {blankets were something we’d read about in schoolbooks.} Any more sacks and the weight would break our bones; what brainiacs might now call ‘critical mass.’ The small bedroom window glass was cloudy-yellow with ice; just a milky spot left in the middle, which hadn’t quite yet been covered. Yet, I said. And I’m talking about the inside. Our house was a barn with a green-stick feeble fire in one corner.

Later on in the evening, I’d be off on my usual mission. An obsession I’d only noticed when my voice deepened a bit, and body foliage was discovered sprouting in unlikely and hitherto barren spaces. I was a bit more than twelve, can’t be sure how much, maybe a year or two.. The ancient biological scene had crept up on me, somehow, without attracting much of my attention. No one to tell me anything of the body, of course. Same as the girls, who had their own particular problems and misfortunes {which I knew naught of, at the time.} Aye, ‘our land of saints and scholars.’

It was all a bit of a mystery for me. Worse for them. Probably a sin, too. No, definitely a sin. Every event south of the old belly-button {the ‘nable’ as we knew the ‘navel’} was tainted with the feral stink of Hellfire. That, amongst other even less attractive personal aromas…

But the old terrorizing sinny angle didn’t bother me one little bit: I stopped believing in that craic when I was old enough to realise that if anyone who was any good at all lived beyond the clouds, they would sort out this old world a lot better. But they wouldn’t bother their arses coming down this way; ever. What for – for the luvva Jaysus?

Getting on for thirteen or so might have been early or late to set out on the march to manliness – not that I knew what that meant – with all its pitfalls and odd pleasures. I found out, long after, that having a good time in this world had been far easier as a dirty hungry wandering loner of a child, than it was when I became very rich. Maybe that’s why I ‘flewered’ it all away on several occasions. In the years I had it, I wasn’t happy. And whenever without it again, I certainly wasn’t much sadder.

Anyway, back to where I rambled away from – this obsession. Nearly all obsessions worthy of the name involve a female. And mine was no exception. The divine object was the daughter of a local business man, in the ‘drinks retail trade.’ Well, a pub – a ‘grocery pub’. …

Each evening I would walk down to the village – resisting the urge to run, run! I would love to race – gallop – tear – storm – into the small street – like a wild Don Cossack, or one of Genghis Khan’s raiders, all hairy, my horse a-snorting, turban and beard flying, lance glittering and blood-stained with gore! This, might attract favourable glances from the fair object of my {innocent} desire!! A bit extreme, I suppose; slightly over the top… But I read books, maybe believed the Cossack bits more than others might…

Anyway, on foot, in badly holed, over-sized and smelly Welly boots, I arrive when dark has fallen, giving me a good four or five hours to hang about outside the shuttered pub windows, where-within shimmered and soft-shoe’d my rapturous one – my very own secret love – my unknowing love – my darling Dunna Mona Lisa.

The closed shutters didn’t fit flush, and there were many wide gaps at the centre divisions. Through these, I could see half of the lamp-lit bar – and my ‘intended.’ The special relationship was all in my mind, of course – but where else would it be? Ne’er a Parker fountain pen had I – the only instrument sophisticated enough to give appropriate dignity to any script addressed to my love. How could I pen a proper poem, or love words, to my casually indifferent dear, without such a necessary gadget? At the back of my mind, I knew the age difference might be a prob. And not the only one, either. Her riches, beauty, fine clothes, and acceptance as the sweetest ‘belle’ of the area, were also hurdles in my path. But not insurmountable ones!! ‘The course of love never runs smooth!’ So Clark Gable. a lad with a fine ‘tache – had assured us all, in a film at Bill Egan’s Gaeity Cinema, for the princely sum of fourpence.. And who was I to naysay a film star? Who’d know more than that girl-charming fella?

Oh, long wavy auburn {film word} hair my love had, with the most winsome way of tossing it this way and that, and the sweetest little shy smile. An adorable and genuine smile – {not ‘put on’ like those of the other, lesser, local wans!} To my great anger, she bestowed her sweetness on everyone, old or young, rich or poor, even the omadhuns and lutherauns drinking at the bar! Cripes! Aaahh, but her voice was pure golden honey….

The grocery shop tied into the pub was a handy yoke. I’d sometimes scratch and scrape up a coupla pennies, enough to buy a few squares of Cleeres toffee, just to hear the loved voice intone, sweetly: “Thanks, Nedda”…

She had this charming way of cutting words short, of putting a different intonation on them. Nobody else, in all of my derelict, strange, and often dangerous life, ever called me ‘Nedda’ with that same unique inflection. I’m glad they didn’t … I’d be running after them, too, maybe!

Faced with a few of the {aleady-mentioned} snags, I figured that if I made regular money, snaring and lamping rabbits, I’d have enough to make a move in her direction in about seven years’ time, when I’d be twenty or so. At the age I was, everyone from twenty to thirty was ‘grown up,’ and anyone over that was just old. Not finished – just old; and therefore completely out of the market for ‘my Helena’!! Not her real name, but, like all other lovers, I had a ‘pet’ name for my sweetest; so I conferred that on her.

Thus, I could dream my dreams, uninterrupted by any lousy ignorant Culchie butting in and using that exalted name! If he didn’t know her secret name – he was stumped, right off! I alone would have that part of her, all to myself! Or so I reckoned, in all my greenery…………. To be continued

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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