A magical story about a Christmas shopping trip to the big city from West Cork has won the Bealtaine Short Story (Writing For Dementia) prize for 2021 for Beara writer Maria C Henry
I GREW up on a farm in the Beara Peninsula with my mum and dad, two sisters, brother and my nanna.
My favourite day every year was the 8th of December.
It was officially the first day of Christmas, and also the ‘Culchie’s Shopping Trip’ to the city!
Growing up in the 60s and 70s you didn’t go to Cork very often. But that day, me and my family made the annual pilgrimage to The Big Smoke. Well, except my dad. The cows needed him.
Before leaving the house that morning, my nan gave me a pile of coppers and silver. She’d been saving the pennies every week from her pension. My dad added some money, and along with the savings in the piggy bank, I was loaded.
The journey took over three hours on a boneshaker of a bus. But I would be busy making lists in my head of things I had to buy.
‘I’m gasping.’ Would be the first thing my nan would say to my mum once off the bus. ‘I’m the same, parched for a cuppa.’ They always said the same thing. Our Sunday best clothes were inspected before making haste to the restaurant in Roches Stores. After a posh cooked breakfast, it was time.
Once outside in the full hub-bub of Patrick Street, the magic began. The din of traffic and swooshing double-decker buses was awesome. So different to the hum of milking machines and the bawling of calves. I loved the chatterbox street with the passing shoppers lost in a list.
You’d stop outside Cash’s store for a nosey. It always had a perfect winter wonderland themed window display. That shop wasn’t for us. We were bargain hunters.
Strolling down the curved street, the next stop was Penneys. From then it would be shop ‘til you drop until we reached Bennetts on North Main Street. I didn’t mind waiting at shop doors while nan and mum rummaged for deals. They both had a long list of things they had to buy, and this was their only chance.
At the entrances of the shops, I loved watching the city folk dressed in their finery and fashionable clothes. Women wore tons of make-up; no one wore that much down our way. My head would turn to the sound of the people with their sing songy accents full of ups and downs. Those people were like aliens to me, but I loved them and their fancy ways.
By the time we were on the return journey to Patrick Street, my hands had fine red marks from the weight of the bags.
At this stage, The Echo Boys would be on the street with their anthem.
A quick trip up the steps to the emporium of cakes in The Green Door was a must. ‘Choose one.’ My mum would say. It was always difficult choice.
For me, the last shop was the best. The mecca of all the stores, Woolworths. Inside there was literally everything you could want. Toys, records, posters, dressing-up-outfits, and the best of it all, Candy King pic-and-mix. I would spend the last of my pennies there.
A trip to see Santa at the Munster Arcade and a bite to eat ended the outing. Then it was time for the long trip home.
The final goodbye to the city streets was magical, with its strands of Christmas lights twinkling from side to side. Store fronts with its decorations now illuminated in the dark evening were like a show on their own. The majestic sparkling Christmas Tree in all its glory outside The Queen’s Old Castle was behind me all too soon. I was exhausted as we made our way down the bumpy roads of West Cork after the long day.
But there was one last treat to look forward to.
The cuppa cocoa my dad would have waiting to welcome us home.
And of course, the fancy bun I had picked.
Maria hails from Beara but has lived overseas most her life and has now returned to West Cork. She is on Twitter @MariaCHenry07