My Christmas Childhood

Our Shop on Christmas Eve

My father died when I was very young. He was a very successful businessman who had four butcher shops and was a commercial traveler who went as far as County Clare, where, he met, fell in love with and married my mother. After his untimely death my mother closed the butcher shops and turned our shop into a toy shop. This being her only source of income so Christmas Eve was vital for her. She trained us in the shop and had no other help.

Donie was the eldest of five children at the time I was second at about seven years of age. Then came Chris and the two girls Jo and Ann.

The following poem reflects my memories of Christmas in the town when I was young.

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Our Shop Christmas Eve

I remember Christmas Eve
In our shop
My mother a young Widow
We her helpers
The shelves laden with toys
Boxes of snakes and ladders
Cowboy sets of Derango and the Cisco Kid
Prams dolls nurses outfits
Sweets lemonade caps guns
And the long Christmas stocking
Filled with adventure

The shop door opened with a prayer
To Saint Martin and our dead father Christy
The hum of Christmas Eve
The till ringing
My mothers voice shrill with business
Outside the ice wind burned the cobwebs
People muffled
Their breaths whitened the morning air
All day they came into our shop
Young servers my brothers and sisters
At their position
I at the till
Knew my shop mathematics
As Einstein knew his formulas

Towards evening spaces oened in the shelves
My mothers instinct for selling
We remained at our places all day
Only glimpsed the town
This was our Christmas Eve
The joy of my mother
Darting here and there
Excited with selling
At twelve o'clock and six o'clock
The Angelus bell came into out shop
The selling was stopped
With a special novena
That the big doll
She had taken a chance on would sell
Soon it too was gone
The she let out her famous Clare roar
And we cheered the young woman

At eight in the night I took a break
And went up town
Fairy lights in the shop windows
Filled the pavement with stars
Lighted candels
Welcomed the Holy Family

Paddy Hacket teasing his steps
Taking two forward and one back
Balancing himself against the wall
Then laughing loudly
A lone balladeer on the pavement
Singing - Down by the Glenside
Through a paper cone
Totally ignored
Tommy Lewis danced wild steps
To a Tinkers accordion

Then collapsed in a drunken state
Jack Walsh filled a small group
with laugher
Telling a story he told a million times
And they laughed to his laughing
Tom Brien
Just holding the head below the water
He said
Just holding the head below the water
Cheap Joe up in the square
Selling an alarm clock
Not for ten bob seven and six
Five bob
But for two
With a rope thrown in
To tie up your missus
A a mouse trap
To tittle her toe

When the bell rang for Mid Night Mass
The boor of our shop was closed
The light in the window turned off
and the counting began

A desperate knock to the window
My mothers best clients
Just made it he said
Just made it
He wished my mother happy Christmas
And his wife giggled
As she warbled on the shop floor
And we wrapped their parcels
They both attempted Adeste Fidelis
But my mother called them to be quiet
And Chris my brother sang it beautifully
The shop filled with good byes
As the two staggered into the dark street
Pushing Mass goers aside

Again the door was bolted
And the counting recommenced
The notes put to one side
The coins packed into small bags
donie and my mother counted
And the Christmas ritual began
Chris and I were quiet
Jo and Ann n bed waiting for Santa
The scratch from her pencil
Suddenly the wait was over
And she called out
Two hundred and fifty pounds
Three shillings and four pence
Our cheers filled the few vacant spaces
Again the prayers
Thank you Christy

And our Christmas celebrations began