All our lives, before we even understood the words we were saying, we prayed for the Holy Souls.
Shoes were the things that popped into my early imagination – shoes with holey soles. I had seen piles of them sitting on the cobbler’s bench with brown luggage labels attached and assumed they were on their way to Purgatory. I don’t remember when exactly the image changed from shoes to actual insoles but it must have been around the time of my First Confession. I knew a great many answers to the Catechism questions by that time, from:
WHO MADE YOU? God made me.
WHY DID GOD MAKE YOU? God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world so that I may be happy with him forever in the next.
IN WHOSE IMAGE AND LIKENESS DID GOD MAKE YOU? God made me in his own image and likeness.
IS THIS LIKENESS TO GOD IN YOUR BODY OR IN YOUR SOUL? This likeness to God is chiefly in my soul.
HOW IS YOUR SOUL LIKE TO GOD? My soul is like God because it is a spirit and is immortal.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN WHEN YOU SAY THAT YOUR SOUL IS IMMORTAL? When I say that my soul is immortal I mean that my soul can never die.
OF WHICH MUST YOU TAKE MORE CARE, OF YOUR BODY OR OF YOUR SOUL? I must take more care of my soul for Christ has said,’What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world yet suffers the loss of his own soul .
So you see, by the time I was seven, I had an insole safely tucked away inside my body – that way I wouldn’t lose it -and it only remained for me to keep it stain free, that is, sinless. God’s Grace, I was told, would help me to do this.
Now Grace was the cashier over in our branch of the Cooperative (11496 -our Co.,number!)….. Grace of the Marcel Wave and the crystal beads. She certainly held a very elevated position, enthroned as she was on a platform behind an expansive desk on which rested a very large book containing the names of everyone in the whole world in alphabetical order. She needed both of her blue-veined hands to turn nearly all of the dog-eared pages to the W’s in order to locate our name, selecting eventually the ‘right’ one with the aid of an extremely fast moving middle finger which flew from her mouth to the pages at alarming speed……and all this without having to ask who we were. I can still see her little round spectacles perched on the end of her very long nose scratching entries into the columns of the enormous ledger with ‘real’ ink and mopping up the excess with curiously patterned blotting paper. What was she writing? All the things we had done wrong? Could she see through me ….like my mum? As I stood with my big sisters waiting to be served, I would speculate about what Grace might be wearing on her legs and feet or indeed if she had any legs and feet at all since I never once saw her approach or alight from her throne…..the throne of Grace. She was probably a lot younger than I am now but to a child of seven she looked very old indeed. Unlike the white-coated serving staff, Grace’s overall was quietly colourful, flowery and fragrant and was worn over a crisp, white blouse fastened at the neck with a gold rimmed cameo brooch.
She was different. She was important. She was placed higher than everyone else. She was
You can tell from the last paragraph that we obviously had an eternity to wait before being served ……in actual fact, when it was busy, which was always, we youngsters
found the Co-op., more confusing than convenient…… were the assistants shouting ‘Right? meaning okay… or ‘Wright!’ meaning us? We were too polite to ask and the assistants too busy to waste time. Someone would eventually notice that we seemed to be standing for a very, very long time…………it was usually Sanctifying Grace from above ……. ‘Oh you poor wee souls!!!’…….
I gaze out from my bedroom window into the gathering gloom of the November night, trying to recall the faces and names of all the dear departed souls for whom I now pray. I think of Patrick, a childhood friend – killed by a bus as he was coming from the local library.The school had encouraged us to go there in our own time. It was, though, small comfort for me to be told by our devastated teacher that Patrick would have gone straight to heaven, as he had ‘made the Nine First Fridays’……….what hope for those of us who lived so far away from the church………….
I think of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers…….. friends……….friends and relations of friends……… colleagues……young people I have taught….. Sheila’s fourth daughter, Baby Margaret, her husband Jim, our parents and parents-in -law……..dear sister-in -law, Marie….. my sister Martha……..my precious husband…….Their faces swim around inside my head as I pray for their eternal rest. I try to imagine their names writ large in ‘real’ ink ……in gold……in The Ultimate Book. Souls waiting and hoping and longing to be called. …
Dear God, I pray that Hugh will be able to hear his name amidst the noise and clamour of other poor souls who are also waiting and straining to hear the voice that will call them to their special place where every tear will be wiped away, every furrowed brow smoothed, every fear relieved, every anxiety calmed. Where pain is no longer and joy is forever. Listen with your eyes Hugh and believe that Grace is at hand……….
‘WHAT IS PURGATORY? Purgatory is a place where souls suffer for a time after death on account of their sins.’………..
And what about the souls who suffer before death……… the starving, the destitute, the sick, the disabled, the abused, the terrorised, the bullied, the neglected….. the lonely. Isn’t there a purgatory here on earth too?……I sigh heavily as I reach to pull down the blind on the encroaching darkness. A small brushstroke of vivid red standing out against the dense tone of an evergreen tree catches my attention. I peer out curiously as the robin returns my gaze from the shelter of the tree’s thick, verdant branches. In the wink of an eye my murky, grey thoughts are obliterated by the vibrancy of this simple, little masterpiece…….
What does this say to you, Mosie? Is it a glimpse of Eden ?…..a corner of God’s garden ?….. Is it saying ‘the eye has not seen nor the ear heard nor has it entered into the heart of man what God has prepared for those who love him’………and I am completely taken aback at recalling the excerpt about Heaven. Two of Hugh’s favourite hymns swell softly in my head. They both begin with the words ‘Be still’ and for a few moments I try to do just that……try to listen……wait to hear……..
‘Be still and know that I am God’………‘Be still and know I am with you’……..I have sung them so many times ……….but I sing them silently again …..and listen . I can see Hugh as he plays a soundless accompaniment for me…..willing me to sing. I smile helplessly at the message received. I just wish so desperately, that I understood……
It was becoming too busy in the nursery. I was tired and wanted to go home.‘You are going to put up the Christmas tree Mum, aren’t you?…….oh you can’t not put up the tree …..we’ll all help…….it wouldn’t be the same without the tree…..I know it’ll never be the same anyway……… but ……’ Anne’s voice was bright with a forced enthusiasm that fooled neither of us. We wandered along the glittering pathways of baubles and tinsel and festive fare that heralded the Christmas Season. Dull and leaden and hopeless, I felt so out of place in these surroundings. Nothing attracted me, nothing tempted me, nothing penetrated the clogged pores which had sealed my grieving soul inside my miserable body. I had never in my whole life not wanted it to be Christmas…..until now…….
I didn’t like it when the chimney sweep came. We couldn’t have a fire lit and everything had to be covered with old sheets. Pictures were taken down, rugs were rolled up and ornaments removed. Mum was ‘up to her eyes’ so we knew to keep well out of the way. We played outside. Yes, we played outside …..we didn’t just ‘hang around’. It depended of course on who else was out to play and what equipment was available but there was a huge choice and there was a recognised hierarchy.
If we had only one ball then we could play at ‘Donkey’ or ‘Red Rover’ or ‘Piggy -in-the- Middle’. Two balls and a decent wall meant ‘Mrs Dunlop she had a wee shop’ or ‘One, two, three a wallie’ where slick moves like Stottie, Big Birlie and Joobie could be executed in front of the quietly impatient queue of potential jugglers. A Cherry Blossom or Mansion Polish tin packed with just the right amount of quality dirt meant that Peever was a possibility, a decision having to be made between Aeroplane-Beds, Flower-Beds or Ninesy.
Whips, peeries and tins of coloured chalk saw a rash of intensely focused children spill off the pavement and spread out over the road expertly wielding the whips that kept their colourful tops humming and spinning the length and breadth of the street.
A lot depended on the weather and the season. There was a time for tennis, for rounders, for ‘big’ ropes (Two and Out !) wee ropes (doublers : ‘Murder in the gallery, murder in the pit’..’Maypole butter, Maypole tea’……) and if you had a friend who had a bike (and we had!) then ‘Shots Each!’ could see you set off on a solo adventure ‘round the scheme’ if you had the courage and the stamina. It was even better if you could ‘go’ the bike………… I never made it round the scheme for that was where the bad boys lived and they could run faster than I could pedal. Patsy loved being on a bike. She loved it so much that when she discovered that the owner of ‘the bike’ was unwell and couldn’t come out to play, she was emboldened to ask if her bike could come out instead!
Hunts, Dusty Bluebells, ‘Queen Mary, Queen Mary has lost her gold ring’, Tig, ‘What’s the Time, Mr Wolf?’……none of these needed equipment at all just generally agreed ways of appointing who was ‘het’ or ‘out’ or ‘first’, like ‘One potato, two potato…..’or ‘Eeny meeny makaraky’….So many rhythms and rhymes, skills and concepts, so much order and discipline all learned through fun and play. Everyone knew the rules as well as knowing their place. Most of us had an older sibling to keep an eye on us or a younger sibling to look after.Of course there were disagreements and ‘fallings out’. Looks would be drawn, huffs would be gotten into, doors would be slammed and the game would be ‘a bogey’.
‘What are you doing inside ?’ mum would ask unsympathetically. And before having a chance to reply,‘Well, if you’re staying in, there are tatties to be scraped’……..
As if by magic a mountain became a molehill, humble pie the dish of the day and ‘falling back in’ became much more ‘appealing’ than a huge bag of potatoes. I made a song and dance coming in the front door but, held my breath as I sneaked noiselessly out the back way. No one could possibly hear me…….
‘Don’t forget to shut the door properly!’………. Mum!!!
On rainier days we would sit in the porch or just inside the door to swap scraps or design glamorous frocks for our paper dolls. We might look through our collection of Royal Family photographs, carefully cut out from ‘The Woman’s Own’, ‘The Peoples Friend’ or the ‘Illustrated’ and painstakingly arrange and glue them into the special scrapbook with the Royal Coat-of-Arms on the royal blue cover. As the years progressed photos of film stars taken from the sepia tinted ‘Picturegoer’ or the more technicoloured ‘Photoplay’ would be bartered for, exchanged and slipped reverently between the dull pages of an unread book…….two Gary Coopers for a Cary Grant(sigh)….. Nobody swapped their ‘real’ photos which came autographed and at a price. Those were retained in their brown envelopes with ‘DO NOT BEND’ stamped on the front.
I loved the movies, particularly the musicals and especially Doris Day. I wanted to be Doris Day but most of all I wanted to sing and tap dance. I instinctively knew not to ask, though. You didn’t ask for things like that. It seemed to be possible if you were an only child or maybe one of two in a family……but not one of six. No one in our street went to dancing classes so I didn’t feel at the time that I was deprived. But it was a place I would go to in my head………the only place where dreams were possible. No one ever told me otherwise. I didn’t know about reaching for the stars. I only knew that I had to work hard at school (or else!)……. I’d end up in the local brickwork or fire-lighter factory……..
…. to be continued….