By Oliver Stack
A cheerless sort of a morning, I was thinking to myself. It was, in my opinion, everything a morning shouldn’t be. Grey as a badger’s bum, accompanied by a drizzle that given time, would work its way through the hide of a horse. That was supposed to be the best bit. Earlier the weather forecaster, with a toothpaste-white smile, had promised there was worse on the way. Lovely.
I was, as is my usual Sunday morning custom, heading down the old Mitchelstown-Fermoy road for a rendezvous with the best breakfast for anybody’s buck. Especially, if like me, the budget is stretched tighter than the skin on a Kilworth goat.
In I go. Behind the counter was a very pretty lady with the most magnificent mane of red-hair imaginable. Under the lights it went through the colours of the spectrum. Everything from the russet-red of autumn leaves, to the burnished sheen of well-polished copper. It was breathtakingly stunning. Lucky lady, I was thinking. She smiled a greeting. The clouds rolled back.
‘Good morning sir,’ says she. ‘What will you have?’
The lady called me sir (doesn’t happen often), the day was looking better already.
‘Well first,’ says I, ‘Tell me, you wouldn’t by any chance be a grand-daughter of yer woman in The Quiet Man. Her that was the bane of John Wayne’s life.’
‘Ahh no,’ says she, laughing. ‘That’s Maureen O’Hara, you’d be talking about. Sure, she was famous. I’m not, though people have said I look like her, as if I’d be so lucky. It must be the hair I suppose.’
‘That doesn’t surprise me,’ says I. ‘Sure if you’d been around then, you’d have got the part.’
She beamed. It brightened the moment, the room and the greyness peeping through the window.
‘Anyway,’ says I, ‘give me the full works, and could I have some extra bacon for the two waiting in the car?
‘Won’t they come in?’ says she. ‘There are nice tables by the windows, not that there’s much to see today.’
‘In a heartbeat,’ says I. ‘Only dogs are not allowed.’
‘Dogs?’ says she. ‘Oh, I’m so sorry now, but that might cause a problem alright.’
To give the lady credit she served a meal like no other. My shotgun riders, best friend and constant companions, Twister and Buddy, certainly enjoyed chewing the fat that morning.
MAGIC IN ITS PUREST FORM
Five minutes later I’m there, carving a chunk from the best breakfast this side of Heaven, when I heard it. The voice. With a forkful of sausage en route to its final resting place, I stopped. I listened. Hmmm! It came again. From somewhere below the level of the table-top. Curiosity got the better of me, I chanced a look. Mystery solved. ‘Hello,’ said the voice. I found myself staring into the wide-blue eyes of what could only have been a cherub. This little lady might well have been created by Michelangelo, or she could well have been a fairy princess.
‘Hello,’ she says again. ‘I haven’t seen you before.’
‘Hello yourself young lady,’ says I. ‘I don’t believe I’ve seen you before either.’
Rapid fire, with the speed of bullets, questions came thick and fast. ‘What’s your name? Where do you live? Where’s your wife? Why is she not with you?’ She put me through the wringer. I confessed to all. Once back in the Eighties I was held by the Special Branch in Pembroke Dock, South Wales, for routine questioning. I hadn’t done anything. Relax. The officer in charge that day could have taken lessons from this girl. She knew it all. As she’d already elicited my name, she told me hers. I learned that she lived ‘up the road’ and that her really bestest friend in the whole world, lived up the road as well. This information was accompanied by a series of gestures. She danced from foot to foot. Heel, toe and back-step. Pirouetted a few times and waved her arms about all over, but the constant stream of chatter never flagged for an instant. It was innocence being joyfully expressed, and it was magic in its purest form.
‘THEM THINGS ARE BAD FOR YOU’
‘As my mam says, Sunday’s a ‘duvet day.’ She’s still asleep. Too tired to get up. Too lazy to come for breakfast. On tip-toes she hung off the edge of the table and eye-balled the contents of my plate. I got, what I took to be a withering look, as she dissected what was on offer. I discovered that my idea of breakfast, was to her eyes, a no-go area, a plate to be avoided, a health hazard. She had thoughts on my chosen path. A bad road I was on, and she was no way shy of telling me. My culinary choices were given the red card.
‘Why aren’t you having cereal? It would be better for you. Five slices of toast? OMG. That’s an awful lot of bread.’ Sausages! She checked, counting on her fingers. Four. ‘Have you any hiding under them beans and all that other stuff.’
‘No.’ says I. ‘There’s only the four.’ ‘Good. As my mam says, them things are bad for you.
Do you know they puts all sorts of yucky stuff into them?’ ‘I didn’t know that,’ says I. ‘Now that I do, I’ll keep it in mind.’
It went on. … as my mam says… and then went on some more. The little princess had an opinion on everything. She was never caught for a word. Eventually she spotted someone else that needed the benefit of her wisdom. She wandered away. I laughed until the coffee pot ran dry.
I departed. The interrogation specialist was in the car-park with her dad. She asked could she hug my dogs. Twister, yes. Buddy, no.
I explained. ‘He’s nervous of children.’
Poor old Twister was taken in a headlock that all but strangled him. She showered him with kisses. Squeezed him with hugs. Eventually, he surfaced for some well-deserved gulps of air.
The lassie wasn’t finished yet. Her parting shot was a gem, and almost brought tears to my eyes.
‘Why do you wear a hat?’ She answered her own question with another. ‘Is it because you’ve no hair? As my mam says…’ Her father intervened. I suspected it was just in the nick of time. ‘Shut-up!’ You’ve bothered the man enough.’
I departed, laughing, never having found out what her mam’s thoughts were on hairless men. She shouted back. ‘Thank you for calling.’ Three years old? I could hardly believe it. Somewhere down the line there’s a bright future ahead. As her mam would probably say… ‘that little lady will spread sunshine wherever she goes’.
I was laughing all day, even though I never did find out ‘Maureen O’Hara’s’ real name.