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Veronica Hogle: Best presents ever for Mammy, hens

It was the week before Christmas and I watched my Grandmother spend days preparing Christmas presents for my mother, who was home from the hospital after a long illness. I had knit holly-red mittens for her and was delighted with the way the thumbs turned out, round and wide.

People often put a great deal of thought, time and money into getting the best Christmas presents for their loved ones, only to find the gifts are not appreciated.

I melted a small porthole on the frosty window with the fleshy side of my fist and spied Farmer O’Shea’s car outside our gate to take us to visit Mammy.

“Would you have room for three boxes?” Gran called to him.

“Yes, no trouble.”

Gran sat in the front seat, looking regal with her black Lord Nelson-style hat and black coat.

When we arrived at Mammy’s house, Farmer O’Shea brought in the boxes and her face lit up with delight.

“Come in,” she said. Mammy hugged me and clutched the mittens to her heart.

“What do you have in the boxes?” Mammy asked Gran.

“I’ve an apple dumpling in one, fresh cut holly in another, and two of the loveliest Rhode Island Reds you’ve ever seen in the big one.”

Gran lifted the hens and put them on the kitchen floor. They were handsome, sporting short crimson combs on their heads. They cocked their heads and were nervous. When Gran circled her hand over them, they became calm and drew their necks down into their shoulders and their shutters dropped over their eyes.

“This is Rosie, 8 pounds even, an’ here’s Jane, just as plump. Two great layers, layin’ those lovely brown eggs you love.”

“But what would I do with ’em? The County Council said we can’t have hens in the town.”

“They’re for your Christmas dinner,” Gran said. “Rosie will make a lovely roast, an’ Jane will make a tasty chicken stew.”

“But, they’re alive! Who’d kill ’em?” Mammy’s voice got louder.

“There’s nothin’ to it. You just stretch their necks out nice an’ long an’ snap ’em,” said Gran, showing Mammy how to do it with her hands.

“Oh, I couldn’t do that. Could you?”

“No. Not me, Eileen. Sure they know me too well,” Gran said. “Ask Jimmy Farrell, the grocer, or Jim Jordan, the butcher. Maybe Tommy the postman will do it?”

“I feel strange asking people to help me with my Christmas dinner,” said Mammy and her eyes brimmed over.

“I’ll ask Farmer O’Shea,” said Gran, her face a high pink from frustration and the effects of two whiskies.

When Farmer O’Shea returned, Gran asked him to kill the hens so Mammy could have a Christmas dinner. He rolled his cap in his red hands and scratched his head. The hens craned their necks, and sad, solo sounds escaped from their beaks. Farmer O’Shea looked at us all. I started to cry.

“Well, you know. I’m a hunter. The only way I could kill them hens now is with a gun, after a fair chase,” he announced.

Gran pinned on her hat. She lifted the hens back into the box and said, “Girls, we’re goin’ home!”

After Christmas, a note from Mammy read: “You brought me the best Christmas presents ever. The warm mittens, the delicious apple dumpling and the holly on the mantle piece brought Christmas into the house. It was grand to have met Rosie and Jane. Come again soon, and bring some of their lovely brown eggs!”