‘Dirty Fingernails’ © Joe Canning. All Rights Reserved.

‘Dirty Fingernails’
© Joe Canning. All Rights Reserved.

We said Grace today and gave thanks.
I saw the carefree face of my grandchild.
Her little chin rested on the table-cloth,
at times she’d gaze at the ceiling, surveying.

My good woman of forty years was in motherly mode.
Old school was she, no room in the kitchen for others.
We waited patiently as she lilted an old ballad.
I drifted momentarily to a once hated potato field.

I looked at Teresa, opposite. An innocent of six years.
She fidgeted, waiting for another of granny’s dinners.
I sensed the waft of onion gravy although lost in time.
I was seeing Teresa in a clay field of the nineteen fifties.

I was back there with my siblings. Labouring to exist.
Necessary toil to keep the wolves from our doors.
Little backs at breaking point in a mucky Donegal field.
A littler older than Teresa but not by many years.

Tired, busy, terrified of the farmer’s rasping tongue.
The stooping, the burning acidity generated in the throat.
Learning that a pinch of brown earth swallowed gave relief.
The weight of wooden baskets bowing our growing bones.

The rush covered pits where we emptied the cribs.
The earth covered sod that held the protective rush in place.
Grazed legs, runny noses, frozen fingers, exhausted little voices,
“I want my Mammy,” “I want my Daddy,” and “I want to go home.”

I emerged from my daydream. I looked at an adorable fidgeting child.
Both of us anticipating Grandma’s shout of, “Come and get it.”
I recalled my earlier thought. “Thank God Teresa never knew those times”.
It was a hard-earned dinner back then when kids had dirty fingernails.

Photo: The site of a disused clay pit

Posted by

Stair na hÉireann is steeped in Ireland's turbulent history, culture, ancient secrets and thousands of places that link us to our past and the present. With insight to folklore, literature, art, and music, you’ll experience an irresistible tour through the remarkable Emerald Isle.