“Why don’t you ever listen?” She was always saying these words. Perhaps if she had taken a little more time to explain in the first place we would not have had such difficulty. Her tone of voice, always dogmatic, certainly didn’t help. My Aunty Peg lived alone and her house reflected this in its tidiness. She was a very talented and organised person and when she put something away it stayed there until she next required using it. Our house was so very different. “Legs everywhere” I often heard my mother say. It was no exaggeration because there were eight of us in a three bed-roomed semi-detached house. The saving grace was the long back garden and a field behind it where in fine weather during the long summer days we spent our time inventing new games and playing the old ones for hours on end. Calls to meals, prayer and bedtime were the only reason we came indoors.
So why was I supposed to be listening? There I go again already I have forgotten what she was saying. Maybe it was the voices and laughter in the room next door that seemed more interesting than the chore I was learning about. My brothers were never expected to spend this length of time learning to do household things, so why me? Sometimes I wished that I had been born a boy! They had such an easy life. Girls were expected to do things like washing clothes, cooking, baking, mending and ironing.
Today I was supposed to learn how to darn a sock! Why would anyone want to wear darned socks, I ask you? Surely a lumpy bit at the toe or heel of a sock would prove uncomfortable and rub on the skin. “If it’s done properly it should not be lumpy” I am told! “Well I can’t do it any better” I say through my tears. “If it’s not good enough do it yourself! Anyway you can get socks for half nothing in Guiney’s” The real problem for my aunt was that the scissors was missing when we started on this lesson. I searched high and low but could not find it. I know that one of my brothers used it to cut wire a few days before and probably left it in the shed at the bottom of the garden. I dared not tell her this or we would have had World War 3 for the remainder of her holidays.
“Where was the chocolate box that I gave you for a Needlework Box last year? Everything should have a place and be put back there when it is finished with”! The box was gone long ago. We were more used to shoving the packet of needles and whatever thread we had, back into the clutter of the top drawer of the side board. The scissors was usually left out to be used later for whatever task was next. It could be to cut the rind off bacon, cut a piece of string, a dress pattern or the wire I mentioned earlier. The one scissors did for everything. That was mammy’s way so it was good enough for us.
Yesterday it was a “Master Class” in bed making. In those days we had sheets, blankets and quilts. My Aunt insisted that the bottom sheet was tucked well in all around the mattress. The corners were folded like pleats and tucked in very neatly leaving no bulk. The same method was used for the top sheet and the blankets. Mind you it was only the bottom corners and the sides that were now tucked in, the top part of the upper sheet and blankets were flattened out and folded back in a large fold leaving the sheet uppermost for about 18 inches. The pillows were then puffed up and placed back on the top of the bed. Next we had the quilt. It was a cover that often matched the curtains and it was again tucked in at the bottom and the sides hung down to the floor while the top portion covered the pillows.
The bed may have looked neat when it was made up but it was not comfortable for sleeping in. My aunt was a nurse and learned this method of bed making during her training. The bedclothes were so tight that it was impossible to move ones feet and I have since learned it was a major cause of the medical complaint called ‘dropped foot’ (think Inspector Morse). As beds in those days had head and tail boards making beds played havoc with a young lady’s fingernails. There was no chance of them ever growing.
My Aunt lived and worked in England and returned for her annual Sabbatical to our house each year. The novelty of her visit soon dissolved with the packets of Spangles and Mars Bars. Each year she had at least half a dozen things for me to learn. Why is it that some people can tell you a story and in doing so leave you with a memory and a love for doing a particular task while others almost demand that you learn and turn you away from something that might have become a hobby or a business in future years? I am glad I had more than one aunt!