So the Priest was coming to visit me Granny. The front room was all tidied and polished for him. This was the only room in the house with a matching sofa and chair. The rug was tucked up real close to the fireplace on the blue linoleum. This was to hide the holes where the hot coal had jumped out and melted it.

We had drawn the curtains so the neighbors wouldn’t see me Granny and the Priest doing Confession and receiving of the Sacrament. You see living in the Protestant end of town Father Donnelly took his life in his hands coming down this way at all and he always emphasized this to me Granny and anyone else who chose to listen.

Granda didn’t give a stick one way or the other. He was Methodist or Presbyterian or one of them other many protestant varieties .He loved me Granny enough to get married in the Catholic church, learning the Catechism and all, then promptly went his own way when the wedding was over. Sure he was polite enough to the Priest when he came in, peering over his glasses and nodding respectfully. Then he would light his cigarette and bury his head behind the paper.

Granny was all a flutter in the morning. She wore her clean white sweater. Bless her it didn’t stay clean long with her nearly blind with cataracts, she often had something dribbled down her front.

The night before we all sat in front of the telly with our silver cloths and polished the Blessed Vessels so they shone in the firelight, our fingers turning black with the stain. The fire was laid neatly in the front room and it would be lit early enough in the morning to be glowing cheerily when the Priest came. The Blessed vessels were set out on a little table with a cloth crocheted by me Granny.

I helped me Granny wash her hair the night before and on the morning she would take the metal wave out of her hair so her fringe would fall in soft ripples, just like the movie stars.

So Saturday morning came. Granny’s once a month visit from the Priest was here. The taxi would toot outside. Father Donnelly liked to be announced, you see. Granny would stub out her cigarette quickly and rush out to meet him, clasping his waxen hand in her gnarly one. What is it about Priests and Nuns that makes them so ethereal? Are they not allowed to sit in the sun? Or is it the constant longing to be with the Lord that the spirit has nearly left them already? But I digress.

Granny told me to hide the tambourine that Hughie Oliver brought from his sister’s house in exchange for a piece and jam. Granny said Father Donnelly would think I was a pagan, if he knew I was dancing with the heathens at the Salvation Army.

irish fireplace

Anyway, Father Donnelly would come into the house, bringing in the cold air and his holy aura about him. So us three kids had to sit in the back room and read. What we really wanted to do was watch cowboy movies on telly.  But Father Donnelly probably thought it was a sin to do that. We all heard the front room door click shut and then the soft murmur of voices. I imagine he heard confession first. I always wondered what me Granny told him. I mean how many sins could one blind old lady commit in one month?

In the meantime me Mammy was setting out the best cups on the tray with little triangle sandwiches and some sliced Jamaican Ginger Cake. We didn’t have anything as posh as a sugar bowl, so we always put Father Donnelly’s sugar in for him and stirred it really well until a bubble spiraled on top.

I had gone to the corner shop first thing that morning for a fresh loaf and a ½ pound of sliced cooked ham. Mrs. Andrews always knew to cut it on the thinnest setting. Boy it was so thin that if you held it up you could see through it. A couple of tomatoes would fill the sandwich up a bit and there you go. So they sat, the sandwiches, with their ends softly curling. No such thing as cling film or zip locks bags back then, and we waited for the front room door to open. Us kids were always hungry and this was the only time we got to eat cooked ham. We prayed that Father Donnelly wasn’t too hungry that day and that some sandwiches would be left.

At last the door opened and the soft murmuring became the normal lilt of voices. This was our cue to appear and say hello to the Priest. Mammy had spit on her hand and soothed down any cow-licks. Straightened our socks and told us sternly to behave ourselves. Now we were to go in and pretend we were rational human beings, and not to show her up.

Father Donnelly always appraised us in turn as if he knew exactly what was going on in our minds. I mean God gave him the power to recognize sin when it stood before him, right?

Anyway Mammy came in with the Carlsberg Beer tray with a tea towel over it to hide the logo. I followed with mugs of steaming tea and the plate with thinly sliced Ginger cake. The ham and tomato sandwiches were also on the tray with their crusts cut off. I had already thrown the crusts in the yard for the pigeons.

Once Father Donnelly had addressed us in person and asked us a question pertinent to our lives he reached out for a sandwich. Then we were allowed to help ourselves, as genteelly as possible. My tongue longed to taste the flavor of the meat. But with one razor thin slice between two slices of bread I knew it was futile. I turned sideways to the fire, carefully peeled open the bread, scooped up the tomato. Then, God forgive me, I peeled the ham off the bread, rolled it up and popped it into my mouth. The salty, fatty flavor of the ham was an explosion on my tongue. Pretending to rake the coals in the fire, I threw the buttery triangles within. To my horror one side missed, bounced off the grate and landed butter side down on Father Donnelly’s polished shoe.

There was an ominous pause, tempered by the crackling of the matching slice of bread frying in the flames.

“Deirdre Graham, do ye not know that there are poor, starving, black babies all over the world that that piece of bread would keep alive for a week?”

Mammy came and stood at the back of my chair positioning her hand on my shoulder. She slid it down and surreptitiously nipped my arm, making me squirm in pain.

“So ye should squirm, ye wasteful child. Now go get your Rosary beads and say a decade of the Rosary while we sit here. Go on, now. Do yer penance. For the Lord is deeply sorrowed by your greed.”

My brother and sister both looked up, merriment in their eyes. Then as quickly they turned to the Priest and agreed with every word he said. As I said my decade of the Rosary Father Donnelly in his extreme agitation proceeded to eat all the ham sandwiches and most of the Ginger cake by himself. Greedy old Bugger, I mouthed between my Hail Mary’s. I know I was going straight to hell. ….