• TaraShannon

Whole Bunches & Whole Batches

Another snow day here in Ontario-ari-ari-o. What do I do... a few things that need doing and this...


Based on long ago bedtime stories, anytime tales and rituals from when I was little. Now, so important to remember.


Yes, my dad would carry me like a sack of potatoes, a baby or an airplane if I wanted and... he would say, he loved me (my sisters too) whole bunches and whole batches. It was our family thing <3

***


Whole Bunches & Whole Batches


T. Shannon



Home again. How I long to go home again.


The daylight sun fades softly into the night sky as the moon and stars begin to shine.

My thoughts wander to when I was a child.



It seems so long ago…


I travel back across time and the ocean, far away to a little Irish town on the coast of the Irish Sea. There the waves beat a soft rhythm that slowly lulls me to sleep. I was just a small girl of only 7 or so, fighting my heavy eyes. Thinking of all of the things I might miss by going to bed.


My family would be gathered around the kitchen table late into the night, telling stories, laughing and singing songs while the whole of the small town was knocking down the door to take part in the festivities. I would be perched upon my grandmother’s lap. “She has to be part fairy.” She would often remark because of my blonde hair, fair skin and light eyes. My grandmother would fill my head with stories and warnings meant to protect me from the “little people” who must have wanted to carry me away. “Don’t go standing in fairy circles or go wandering into the woods alone. Certainly, do not go into the sea without your father, or else the Selkies may steal you away!” She would tickle my nose and It seemed a game but at the same time serious. So, I avoided the Fairy Rings and I dared not wander into the woods on my own, even though they seemed inviting.


But the sea. I couldn’t help but paddle my feet in the water whenever I had the chance. “Oh no, now Pet!” Granny would call out. “Get her away from there, she’s gone in far enough!” My Dad would come in after me, but instead of bringing me back, he would take me further out for a swim. All the while my granny and mom would be panicking at the shore. I knew I was safe and so had no fear. I dared the Selkies to come for me. If only to see one up close.


It was magic -- All of it. How could I possibly go to bed at the end of every wonderful day? And, so I fought, as only a small child could.



“A glass of water please?”


“Just half an hour more?”


“Another story granny, another cuddle?” More, more, more!


Peeking through the rail at the top of the stairs I listened to the happy voices from below. I watched their shadows dance along the floor and up the wall of the stairs. Eventually I’d be caught and ushered back to bed, where at some point I would give in and sleep would take me away. My dreams filled with fairytales.


One night as the bedtime ritual began, my father presented me with a question. How did I want to be taken to bed? Did I want to be carried like a baby, like a sack of potatoes, like an airplane or did I simply want to hold his hand?



“Whatever way you choose,” he said. “I will tell you a story. Then you must promise to go to sleep.”


I thought over my choices as my mother helped me brush my teeth and climb into my pajamas.

“Like a baby.” I said as I met him in the kitchen before saying my goodnights to all who were there.

“Aww, a little baby.” My sisters teased, pinching my cheek and tossing my hair.

“Now, now.” Dad said, “Like a baby it is.” And he whisked me up into his arms, and the story began.


***


“Once upon a time,” Dad began, and as one does when they tell a story to a child. “Far, far away, there lived a little girl who was the baby of the family, just like you. She was a lucky little girl. In fact her birthday was all sevens. She had parents and a family who loved her, a house with a room in it all her own. Anything she wanted she could pretty well have. There are not many children around the world who can say that.” Dad said and I agreed.



“When I was a little boy, I was the baby like you. But.” his voice trailed off as he looked around my room, “I had to share a room with my brothers and my Dad wasn’t often home. When he was, I wasn’t sure that he loved us. My brothers and I found magic and happiness where we could, just the same. You see, even when things don’t seem very good, if you try, you can find happiness and beauty. You just need to look.” My Dad wiped a tear from his eye. “We didn’t have money for toys like you have but we had fun anyways. Fishing, running through the fields and mountains and eating apples when the trees in the orchard were ripe. Can you imagine that? An apple was a treat for me and my brothers. And oranges and chocolate!” he exclaimed. “I didn’t eat an orange or have chocolate until I was about five -- not much younger than you are now.”



I gasped. We always had oranges and apples and chocolate in the house.



“You see, how very lucky we both are?” Dad said as he lay me down in bed and tucked the covers up under my arms. “Now imagine, as you fall asleep, what life would be like if you had never had an orange. Imagine that you’d never ever eaten chocolate and you had no room to call your own. And… you had no mom or dad to tuck you in at night. How different life would be? How the simplest of things, like this orange, could be so – beautiful.” He placed an orange in my hands and kissed my forehead goodnight. I stared at the orange and I felt a bit sad. “Always remember.” Dad said before he shut off the light and went back downstairs, “You are my baby and I love you whole bunches and whole batches. I will always keep you safe and you will always have everything you need and most of what you want. Remember, not every child is as lucky as you.”



The light from the moon was just enough that I could still make out the orange in my hands. I smoothed over its dimpled skin with my fingers. I thought of all the lovely things I had and how lucky I was. I didn’t think to get back out of bed and I didn’t think of all I might be missing. It would all still be there waiting for me the next day. Content and holding onto my orange, I fell asleep.


The next morning, I ate that orange for breakfast and it was the best orange I had ever had. My mom cut it up with apples and cooked them with a touch of cinnamon and brown sugar. Then she presented them to me on a fresh baked scone topped with butter and shavings of chocolate. I never looked at oranges or apples or chocolate the same way again.


***



When nighttime came around the next night, Dad once again asked how I wanted to be taken off to bed. This time though, being carried like a baby was not an option. I could be carried over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, like an airplane or I could walk holding his hand.


I chose to go as a sack of potatoes. And what fun that was!


Dad hoisted me up over his shoulder as my head and arms dangled behind his back. I giggled and laughed all the way up the stairs and into bed where he once again tucked me in. This time, instead of an orange, he presented me with a potato. I made a face, to which my father laughed. “Ah now, to an Irish child many, many years ago, that potato would have been just as remarkable as that orange I gave you last night!”

I was hooked and the story began…


“Once upon a time, long ago and not so far away there lived a child your age who had never seen an orange. He hadn’t even heard of one. But a potato! Now that was something. A good big hearty potato could keep him feeling full all day.”

“Just a potato?” I asked.

“Just a potato. With maybe a sneaky little pad of butter on it if he were very lucky.” I stared at the potato, even more mesmerized with it than I had been with the orange the night before. I couldn’t imagine eating just a potato and being thankful for it. I thought about the day I had just had and of all the wonderful things I’d eaten; my breakfast, lunch -- the dinner! Not to mention the cookies and cakes and many other treats too.


“When your great-grandfather was a little boy, the potato was all that he and many other little boys and girls had to eat here in Ireland. One day, they all went rotten in the ground.”

“Then what did they do?” I asked.

“For many of them, there wasn’t anything they could do.” Dad said plainly and I struggled to know what that meant. “Those little boys and girls and their mams and dad’s went hungry. Some of them died. Others had to move far, far away and some, like your great-grandfather learned how to live without the potato. You see,” Dad continued.” There were no grocery stores back then like there are now. If you didn’t grow your own food, or hunt for it, you simply would not eat. Can you imagine that?”


I could not.


“Close your eyes and imagine with me.” And so I did. “The fields are black with rot, everywhere. All you could do was hope that if you had animals like chickens and cows that they would stay healthy enough to keep providing eggs and milk. But if you were starving, they would be too. Off into the forest you would have to go, or down by the seaside hunting and foraging for food. Banding together with his neighbors, your great-grandfather and his family were able to survive. But, they had to be careful. The authorities were not nice and if they found you with food, they might just take it away for themselves. Everything was done in secret, especially at night, under the cover of the moon. It was a dangerous and sad time here in Ireland.”


Again, dad kissed my forehead and told me how he loved me, whole bunches and whole batches. He shut the light and I lay there, holding onto the potato. I listened to the waves outside as they lapped against the shore. I imagined men, women and little girls and boys sneaking out to take a Curragh out to sea in hopes of quietly catching some fish to eat in secret. Maybe they would gather some other things along the shore that they could eat and share with others. Yet, here I lay holding tight to one potato. One of many more that lay stored in the kitchen downstairs. I hugged that potato and thought about all of those who weren’t as lucky as me.

I never looked at a potato the same way again.


The next day we had fried potatoes with our breakfast, French fries with lunch and colcannon with dinner. I watched my granny make the colcannon over the aga, where a hot peat fire burned inside. All the smells hit my nose and my tummy began to rumble. First, Granny peeled and boiled the potatoes and cabbage with a bit of salt. Then in a heavy pot she seared some thick cut bacon and onion. The potatoes and cabbage were strained and mashed with lots of butter and the onion and bacon were mixed in with salt and pepper to taste. She held a spoon out for me to try. I smiled, trying again to imagine life without potatoes. Granny placed the whole pot into the oven to keep warm while she, my mom and my aunts finished making the rest of the dinner. There was fish and beef and lamb -- the table was filled with delights and with people busily passing plates, bowls and trays this way and that! For me, the best was still the colcannon and I enjoyed every bite and then asked for more.



***


When bedtime came around again, my options for going to bed were only two – like an airplane or holding my dad’s hand. I chose to be carried to bed like an airplane.



Sweeping me up into his arms once more, my dad placed me face down with one arm wrapped tight just above my knees and the other secured just under my arms. My instructions were to keep my arms outstretched and my legs straight. “Close your eyes now.” Dad said. “and imagine that you’re flying up above the clouds. The land below is falling away, making all the buildings and people almost too distant to see. Imagine that among all of those people are your family and you wave goodbye to them, not knowing if you will ever see them again. Soon, all you can make out is the patchwork of green that is Ireland and, in the distance, the ocean. And, beyond the ocean... you don’t know.” My Dad set me down on my bed.


“Is that the whole story?” I asked. “That seems very sad, to fly away and maybe never see your family again?”


“It does seem sad, doesn’t it?” Dad said matter of fact. “But, that’s my story. And you know of course that I did get to see my family again. For a little while though, I wasn’t sure. You see, when I was barely a grown man – I had just turned 18 – I decided that my best future lay in Canada. Ireland was in hard times and if I were going to make my mark on the world, I decided that I had to leave.”


“Was it hard to go? Were you afraid?” I couldn’t imagine leaving and traveling far away from home. The thought of never seeing my parents again was almost too much. I could feel tears start to form in the corners of my eyes.


“It was very hard, and I cried many nights on my own, calling home once or twice just to hear a familiar voice or two.” My dad wiped a tear of his own away. “But, I had to do it. Imagine if I hadn’t? I wouldn't have found my way to you, to your sisters or to your mom…” my father trailed off in thought for a moment. “I had to be brave. We all have to do that at some point. Be brave and take a chance. We need to spread our wings and fly, taking all that our parents have taught us and go off into the world and live the best life we can. Your great-grandparents did it, your grandparents… myself and your mom. Each generation tries to make things better for the next generation to come. One day it will be your turn.” My dad smiled. “What will your story be?”


What would my story be?


That’s what my father left me with that night. A thought.

Just a thought and as always, “I love you whole bunches and whole batches.” Those two things together made me feel strong. I was loved and I was free to choose my own story.

I thought of how brave and strong my dad had to have been to go so far away from home all alone. I thought of my granny and how she must have worried. I thought, “Could I be so brave and strong one day, if I had to be?”


I said thank you for the waves lapping outside and for all the life that lived inside too; For the oranges and apples and potatoes and for the many generations that came before me.



When I woke the next morning, no one else was up. I gathered jam, bread and butter to the table and set each place with a cup for tea, a small plate for bread, a napkin and a spoon for stirring. When my Granny and parents arrived on the scene, they marveled at what a good job I had done and how very grown-up I was. I smiled, and when we were all done with breakfast I helped tidy up.


It was a new day and new adventures were waiting.


***



That night I didn’t wait for my Dad to find me for bed. I stood strongly beside him at his chair at the kitchen table. I held out my hand. “Right, then.” He said with a smile. “You do realize that tonight, it’s you who will tell the story?”

I did and I was ready.

Taking my Dad’s hand in mine we began our journey.



“Once upon a time, in the future.” I looked up at my father with a cheeky grin on my face as I thought myself very clever for having come up with that on my own. “There lives a young girl who is almost all grown-up. She decided when she was still quite small that she would grow up to make herself and her parents and their parents, very proud. She would do that by sharing stories with children about how hard things used to be a long time ago, and how they still are for some.

The girl would grow to become strong and brave. She would fly across the ocean and not be afraid because she knew that back home, her parents would be waiting for her. She wouldn’t need her Dad to carry her to bed or hold her hand anymore.” I sat down onto my bed and placed my legs under the covers and lay down. My Dad tucked the blankets in around me to finish the job.



“I hope.” He said, looking a little bit sad. “That even though the girl doesn’t need to hold her dads' hand anymore that she will still want to, from time to time?”


“Of course!” I said -- and I did.



Growing up there were many times when there was nothing better than to see my father’s arm outstretched, his hand there waiting for me to hold.


As long as my Dad’s hand was there – I was invincible.


But one day, my Dad’s hand was gone.



That’s when I learned my father’s final lesson.



Love.



To have love and to give love.



Whole bunches and whole batches.



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