I can’t believe winter has not officially begun. We had our first real snow of the season this morning with just enough white on the ground to linger for a few hours. The winds are whipping too; Free and I were settling into a snuggle on the couch when our front door was literally blown open by the wind. I can’t think too much about winter, or it depresses me; the cold and dark just go on too long this far north. It does help set the mood for my writing today though. I asked my mother and sisters to give me some Ireland prompts, and they sent me ideas. I’ve decided to freewrite about the cold climate in Ireland.
It’s always cold here. It rains almost all the time, and everything is damp. The wet hangs in the air like sheets on the clothesline, limp and stretched at the same time, a long barrier threatening to swallow me, to wrap me up in its cold, wet fingers. The moss grows all over walls and trees and the cement; my mother tells me it’s from the wet everywhere, and we take shovels and scrape, scrape, scrape the puffy green growth from the concrete steps and paths around our schoolhouse home. If we don’t drag it away, it will take over and make everything slippery when it rains, and I have already fallen on these steps too often.
We are cold when we get into our beds, and we are cold when we get out of them. My mother puts woolen blankets on top of us and tucks us in, but it takes a long time for the radiators to work, and we use our water bottles and each other to stay warm until then. The floors are cold tiles, and the long schoolhouse windows make our rooms hard to heat. The Stanley stove in the kitchen keeps it warm, and the French stove keeps the fancy room warm when it’s on, but the radiators aren’t turned on until we make our way to bed, with just our socks and Mom’s stories to cosy us to sleep.
In the morning we know it will be cold again because our noses are cold outside the covers. Mom makes hot chocolate sometimes, but I don’t like the slimy threads of milk that form on the top of the glass cups and snake their way down the side of the glass. I stay close to the gas heater Mom brings out on the coldest mornings, and I slide my legs into long woolen tights before slipping on my blue school uniform. We always wear tights; when it’s warmer, we wear the thinner kind, even when we start putting on the bright orange ankle socks our American relatives sent us. We like the way it looks, the neon against the brown of our tights, “pantyhose” as the Yanks call them, and the girls at school like it too. My sister’s friends at the secondary school copy her, and we like the way it feels to start a trend. In the winter when snow comes, Mom makes us put plastic bags around our feet before our wellies go on our feet and our duffels go on over our jumpers. We know all about layers and know, too, that if your feet get wet, you might as well be naked as you’ll never get warm.
My sister knits mittens and gloves and hats and scarves, red and blue and green and with stray bad stitches here and there, but no less warm for that. I try to knit a bit but don’t have the patience to make as many as she does. There are already lots of knitted things for us to wear outside when it’s cold, and the pile grows larger over time. When I don’t wear wellies, I have thick heavy brown leather school shoes with straps that buckle at the side. When I am old enough, my mother lets me get a pair of Clark’s desert boots, and these are the shoes I wear with everything, everywhere, for they are comfortable and stylish and warm too. My mother buys me runners for summer playing, but I’m not to wear them for running in the fields where it is wet and mucky. I keep my shoes dry and run barefoot, but we don’t run in the winter except in the community center where we gather for traditional Irish dances and discos and tae kwon do classes. I like to hear the clap clap clap of my new runners hitting the floor of the community center as I run from side to side. The room is huge, big enough for everyone in town to gather and talk and dance and play.
I wear hand-me-down jeans and jumpers after school and on the weekends, except for church where my blue woolen dress is itchy and too big so when I grow it will still fit. It’s new for me because my sister still fits into her church dress, but I don’t like it and wish I didn’t have to wear it. At least the hand-me-downs are soft and worn in all the right places. I can’t wait to change out of it when we come home. We all get baths once a week on Saturday, and that is lovely because it’s wet but warm, and I can stay in for ages.
It’s always cold outside, and the damp hangs in the corners of the house. Dad puts Damp Away tubs in the closet he built in his and Mom’s bedroom and in the closet where we keep the coats and baseball gloves and golf-clubs from the States. It’s to absorb the wetness and keep things from getting moldy, but the tubs fill with water too quickly. What keeps us warm is our motion, our roller skating on the marble floor where schoolchildren used to gather before going to classrooms where we now sleep and eat. We tumble and kick and run and roam, bumping into each other and gathering close to where the grownups are, sitting at our father’s feet as he reads his magazine or trooping into the kitchen to see what Mom’s making at the stove. We dance and sway on the threadbare carpet, laughing and picking at each other until someone falls onto the gray flannel covered couch, and then there is a fight to claim couch space. We fill our bellies with spaghetti sauce on bread and fill ourselves with stories and songs. When we are not moving and making spaces for ourselves, we curl and cuddle and comb ourselves into each other, finding our way to warm through the frayed edges of a worn blanket and the weathered welcome of our mother’s embrace.