Life

Nuala McCann: My sister took the turkey's liver into biology class to examine it for fluke. I'm still reaching for the puke bucket

I remember my mother cooking and baking and scrubbing and running madly about to make Christmas special. So special that she forgot she left the pressure cooker on and spent all of Midnight Mass praying it hadn't exploded

'I remember the softness of my father’s hand as he led us out for a December walk after the Christmas dinner'

WHEN Iris Dement sings about her town, she puts so much heart in that I want to wail for home... a lone Irish wolf in a forest deep.

I put Iris singing Our Town on in the gym when I’m walking my victory walk, one long stride after another, as the man on the rowing machine huffs and puffs.

How cruel age is, letting our flesh hang loose on our arms, robbing our eyes of light. At least he’s still trying. At least I’m still trying.

Iris makes the gym more bearable. But Christmas is no time for moving staircases and men in too-tight lycra, for beautiful young women who complain about a pot belly that is in their dreams.

It is no time for the yoga man who couldn’t tell me what kind of yoga he teaches, only that it doesn’t involve lying about and falling asleep in the corner. I soon put him right, that yoga man. He destroyed my nidra soul.

But Iris haunts my dreams. Hers is a song about love and loss that takes me down the back roads of home – finds me, a small child on a long street, scurrying home from school to the warmth of my mother’s kitchen, the pot of soup on the stove, the old black and white television in the corner, dinner at a blue formica table.

And Christmas Eve was always a rush and a bustle. There were 100 things to do, and in the middle of it all, out in the garage, the big dead turkey dangled from a hook, looking at you from its beady eye as you snuck out to meet your friends.

“There’s a girl off to do some badness,” scolded the turkey who still had his feathers.

It was hard to eat him.

My sister remembers things differently. That was a she turkey, she tells me, because inside was an egg. Even now, nearly 50 years down the line, that makes me feel worse.

Dad had to gut the bird himself. He saved up the heart and the kidneys especially for my sister. She took out her little dissection kit and her sharp silver blade glittered like the Christmas star. She got busy. That’s why she ended up a doctor.

Meanwhile I swooned in the corner. I don’t like blood, even turkey blood. But my sister doesn’t remember it as grizzly. She recalls taking the turkey’s liver into biology class in school and how they all had a go at dissecting it.

She remembers an exciting hunt for liver fluke. It proved disappointing – “There was none,” she sighed.

I’m still reaching for the puke bucket. Not for me the little chemistry lab or the big Gray’s Anatomy – my Christmas gifts included a toy typewriter, a sewing machine and the girl doll from Thunder Birds, hooray.

They are probably still in the attic at home. My little sister says I kept everything. She, on the other hand, tended towards catastrophe. Her big orange space hopper burst when she bounced on a nail and her precious new doll came a cropper after she washed dolly’s hair on Christmas night and left her – very lovingly – too close to the fire to dry. Plastic melts.

It was so long ago now. What I remember was the business of it all. I remember my baby brother sitting on a huge catering-size tin of creamed rice that Santa brought for him... that cured his love affair with rice.

I remember my middle brother telling us that he had crept down and seen Santa putting out the presents in the living room. We hung on every word.

And I remember my mother cooking and baking and scrubbing and cleaning and running madly about to make Christmas special.

So special that she forgot she left the pressure cooker on one Christmas Eve and spent all of Midnight Mass praying that it hadn’t exploded, landing the kitchen sink in next door’s garden – God was good that year.

But most of all I remember the softness of my father’s hand as he led us out for a December walk after the Christmas dinner. How still is the world on Christmas Day – there is hardly a whisper.

Up the new dual carriageway we went and round past the fairy hill. The silence whispered peace to all mankind, in faraway cities, on high sky scrapers, on the sides of lonely hills... and in our town too.

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