Patsy Porco

Chimney Sweeps, Assigned Nipples, and St. Stephen’s Day

In Humor, Ireland on October 28, 2018 at 4:45 pm

I have a neighbor, Mike, who is closing in on 90 years of age. He was born in Ireland and emigrated to the U.S. when he was a young man.

One thing that I discovered during my visits to him is that he’s very secretive about his age. Naturally, I became determined to figure out how old he is. It’s just human nature. Anytime someone tries to hide his or her age, deducing it becomes imperative for people who know the person.

During one visit to his house, I made it a point to ask him how old he was when he came to the U.S. He told me he was 21. The next time I saw him, I asked him what year he arrived here. He said it was in 1949. Last week, I asked him when his birthday was and he said November 18. Then I did the math. By my calculations, he should be celebrating his 90th birthday soon. Unless he lied. He’s very quick-witted, so I’m sure he figured out why I was asking him all of those date-related questions.

Another thing I learned about Mike is that he’s very interesting to talk to, or I should say listen to. He can talk for hours about the old days in Ireland. He can’t hear very well, so I only ask my most pressing questions because I have to yell to be heard by him. And then I usually have to repeat my question at top volume, because he still doesn’t always hear what I’ve asked. Sometimes he pretends to hear, or I hope he’s pretending. Today, he asked how I was. I said, “I have a headache.” He said, “That’s good.”

During my visit today, he told me many stories. My favorites involved chimney sweeps, a nursing sow, and St. Stephen’s Day.

Mike told me that, right before Christmas, everyone in Ireland cleaned their chimneys so that Santa wouldn’t get dirty when he entered and exited their homes. How it was done was: one male member of the family would climb up on the roof with three or four small fir trees tied to a thick rope. Another male family member would stand in the house by the fireplace. The man on the roof would lower the fir trees down the chimney to the man by the fireplace. When the trees hit the floor, the man on the ground would yell, “Up, up!” The man on the roof would then pull the trees back up. Once the trees reached the top of the chimney, the man on the ground would call, “Down, down!” This went on until the chimney was clean and both men were covered with soot. I asked him how they knew when to stop. He said, “When they decided it was clean enough.”

Then he told me about a sow that his family owned. The sow had 12 piglets and when it was feeding time, each piglet attached itself to one of the sow’s teats. At the next feeding time, they all went back to the nipple they had used before. God help the piglet who tried to take a different nipple. He or she got knocked down by the piglet who “owned” that particular nipple.

The last story involved birds. Mike said that the wrens (he pronounced it “rins”) in Ireland—he couldn’t speak for wrens in other countries—built nests with a roof and a little door, and the mother wren always laid 18 tiny speckled eggs, the size of grapes. He said that they were told that wrens were an endangered species that needed to be protected. So, on St. Stephen’s Day, December 26 (the Day of the Wren in Ireland), little kids would knock on doors and collect money to protect the wrens. Mike said that the kids usually went in pairs, but sometimes three or more children made up a group. The children all wore wooden clogs, which was their everyday footwear. One of the kids in each group would bring a tin whistle, harmonica, or another small instrument. When the homeowner answered the door, the kids would go into the kitchen. Together, they would recite:

“The wren, the wren, the king of all birds, on St. Stephen’s Day got caught in the firs. She is little, but her family is great. So give us some money to keep her safe.”

Then, one kid would play his whistle and the other would dance in his wooden clogs on the flagstone floor. Mike said they made such a racket that any dogs in the house would go for their throats. After the performance, they would be given a “coppers,” i.e., pennies or half pennies. Mike said they never got silver. Then they would proceed to the next house. Mike said there would be hell to pay if they missed a house. Surprisingly, people looked forward to the kids’ visits.

The collection territories were very distinct, so each group of kids could only go to certain neighborhoods or they’d face the wrath of the kids whose area they invaded. Mike said he always only had one partner, and they went to three villages. After Mike and his friend were finished collecting for the wrens, they went to his house and sat on the stone wall in front of it. Because there wasn’t actually any charity that they knew of that was dedicated to saving the wrens, he and his partner would divide up the coins. Mike said that was why he only allowed one other kid in his group, to maximize their profits.

After filling their pockets with coppers, they’d head down to the two stores in their village to buy school supplies, candy … and cigarettes. There were two brands of cigarettes available for purchase at their stores, but the best one was Players, he said. He and his partner would each buy a pack of cigarettes and, if their take was especially profitable, they’d spring for Players. Then they would go and smoke a few behind a barn. Any leftover cigarettes would be hidden from their parents to be smoked at another time.

I’m sure the wrens approved of how their money was spent. What would they do with coppers, anyway?

Screen Shot 2018-10-28 at 4.37.10 PM

 

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My Dog is Playing Me

In dogs, Humor on October 21, 2018 at 1:20 am

I spent the day trying to determine whether our dog, Duke, is deaf. It never occurred to me that he might be until today. I had opened the back door to let him in. He was stretched out by the door and facing away from me. I called his name over and over with no reaction from him. Then I nudged him with my foot and he jumped up and came right in.

“I think Duke is deaf,” I told my husband.

“Wow,” my husband said.

I told him what had just happened and he said, “Huh.”

To prove that I was right, I followed Duke around and called his name when he was looking away from me. No response.

After dinner, I saw him stretched out under the dining table, facing away from me. I called his name and he didn’t move. Then I said, “Cookie!”

He immediately stood up, turned around, walked into the kitchen, and sat in front of the jar where I keep his dog cookies.

“He’s not deaf,” I said to my husband who was also in the kitchen.

“What?” he asked.

“I said that Duke’s not deaf,” I said.

“Who said he was dead?”

“Never mind,” I said.

It turns out I was following the wrong family member around.

Duke

A Mouse in the House and My Hub in the Tub

In Humor on September 24, 2018 at 2:52 am

My husband was recently in the hospital with pneumonia. He was in the ICU for five days and in a regular room for another three. During his time there, he wasn’t able to bathe, so when he got home he really wanted to take a shower.

The problem with taking a shower was that he couldn’t stand for too long because he was still weak and a little short of breath. I immediately ran out and bought him a shower chair. I presented it to him with the fanfare deserved of a 65-inch television. My excitement died with him. He told me that he wasn’t go to use it. In truth, I was relieved; those things seem unsanitary.

Since he couldn’t take a shower, I told him I’d draw him a bath. So, I drew him a bath. When I handed him the picture of a bath, he indulged me with a laugh. This is an old, tired joke in our family, so it was nice of him to humor me. I took back the picture and said I’d fill the tub.

He said to hold off on that for a minute.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because while you were out buying me a shower chair, I saw a mouse come up the steps from the basement.”

“A mouse!” I said. “It’s not even cold out. They never come inside before fall!” It was the end of summer, but the outside temperature was still very warm and I wasn’t ready for this fight yet. This was a fall battle, not a summer one. How dare that mouse not follow the seasonal rules.

In truth, we had just experienced two rodent-less falls because our son had taken an insulation gun and had filled in every crack and crevice in the basement. But this summer, we had a new Bilco door installed and I suspect the installer left some gaps between the cement and the door.

“Did you see where it went?” I asked.

“I think it’s under the fridge,” my husband said.

I responded with a word that I promised myself I wouldn’t write in my blog posts, so use your imagination. Then I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall. A tiny little black mouse ran out, around the corner of the kitchen, and into my son’s bedroom. Great. Just great.

After pushing the fridge back against the wall, I ventured into my son’s bedroom. The mouse wasn’t in the room, so it had to be in the closet. Of course the closet floor contained a mountain of clothes and shoes, so I pulled them all out and, thinking ahead, put them into a laundry basket so that the mouse wouldn’t run out and get lost in the pile. Finally, as I took out the last shoe, the little thing came running out.

I was kneeling on the floor and, in its panic, it ran over, under, through my legs before racing back into the closet. I think I was as freaked out as the mouse was, but I had to persevere. I leaned into the closet and tried to trap it under a Yankees cap, but it kept slithering out. Finally, it ran out of the closet and out of the room, probably back downstairs. I put the basket of shoes and clothes back into the closet and vowed to buy mousetraps. I had given the mouse a chance at life and it had thrown it away.

In the meantime, my husband still needed to bathe. I went into the bathroom, which is across the hall from my son’s bedroom and next to the family room where my husband was, and filled the tub with water. My husband came into the bathroom and got into the tub. I told him to let me know when he was finished.

After his bath, I went back to help him out of the tub. He was sitting cross-legged and told me he was stuck. He tried to push himself out, to no avail. I tugged on his arms, with the same result. We tried everything we could think of but nothing worked.

“Should I call Mike?” I asked. Mike is a family friend who is unfailingly loyal and especially helpful during crises. While this wasn’t a crisis, it wasn’t something I could manage by myself, and our son was at work.

“No!” he said. ” I do not want him seeing me naked!”

So, we tried again to get him out of the tub. As the water receded, my husband was able to gain more traction with his hands, but he couldn’t unfold his legs. Finally he said, “Okay, call Mike.”

I called Mike’s house and his wife answered. I explained why we needed him. There was silence for a second and then she said, “You have got to be kidding me.” I assured her that I was not. She said that Mike was at work but she would call him. She hung up and called back a few minutes later.

“Mike was just about to leave work so he’s going to come home and get his mover’s belt. He’ll be right over.” I didn’t ask her why an accountant had a mover’s belt. That was a question for another time.

I told my husband that Mike was on his way. Then I went into the kitchen. A few minutes later, my husband announced, “I’m out!”

“How did you get out?” I asked.

“Once the water was gone, it was easier to push myself out,” he said.

While that probably helped, I also think the idea of his friend seeing him undressed provided additional impetus.

“I’ll call Mike,” I said. When Mike answered, I told him that Frank had managed to get out of the bathtub. Mike laughed. “Okay, I’ll turn around. But at least I’ll have a good story for our next poker game.” He laughed again.

I relayed Mike’s message to my husband. “Oh, great,” he said. “I guess I won’t be playing poker for awhile.”

Once he was dressed and settled on the couch, I told him I was going to the store to buy mousetraps.

“Don’t forget to return the shower chair,” he said.

“Oh, sure,” I answered.

Then I left and bought the mousetraps. I did not return the shower chair. They might be unsanitary, but I’ll take unsanitary any day over a husband wedged into a bathtub.

 

bathtub pic

 

 

 

 

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