~ Liquid Butterscotch ~
My uncle was getting married and my dad, his brother, and best man was at the height of his career. He was flat out running his garage in Shrule and my mother was forever on the road, collecting car parts and piloting tow cars. Everyone was really busy and there never seemed time to spare. The wedding was quickly approaching and my mam still had not had a chance to buy her “rig-out” for the day. Sunday, the Sabbath day in 1980s Catholic Ireland was a true day of rest because NOTHING was open, clothes shops certainly weren’t open. Sundays had a strange air about them… almost regal! You wore nice clothes, you went to mass, you had a big family dinner and you visited the grannies. That’s the way it was in my house anyway, almost like, well… a religion! I had two sets of grandparents in those days and both houses had a very different feel about them, but I enjoyed visiting both. This one particular Sunday I remember being in my Granny Burke’s house and there were visitors. I can’t remember who they were because number one, I was banished to the back yard because I was in the way of the adult conversation and number two, I would only be eyeing the goodies with a forlorn face that usually encouraged the guest to take pity on me… Granny Burke got wise to that scheme! Sharp as a razor that one… I was pretty sure that if there was a ticking sound going on in the crevices of my brain… she could hear it! She missed nothing and anticipated everything… She was the toughest cookie I knew, I enjoyed her, I wanted to be her and I did my best to out smart her. There was a strange satisfaction in getting away with something unknown to her all-seeing, all-knowing eyes (I’m pretty sure she really did have another set of ‘eyes in the back of her head’).
All I remember about the guests on this particular Sunday was creeping into the “back kitchen” to get a cup of water and being overcome by the most magnificent, sweet smell. It reminded me of those butterscotch sweets (my grandad) Mick would have sometimes. Oh God I loved those sweets, but he wasn’t here and all there was, was dirty glasses from the first round of drinks… but where was that smell coming from? I picked up a glass with the rembrandts of what looked to have been tea in it… and POW! my nostrils filled with the most fabulous tones of sweetness… a thick, strong scent of caramel… what on Earth was this stuff? Tea never smelt like this before and why were they drinking it in glasses… before I knew it I had my tongue out to catch the last drop of liquid deliciousness from the bottom of someone else’s dirty glass! I’d say my reaction when that first drop hit my outstretched tongue would have been worthy of a cartoon animation… eyes dilating, hair standing on end and frantically shaking the glass in a fever to get more of it! If I could have squeezed that glass I would have! What on Earth was that stuff… for the first time in my life I understood that luxury did not have to come on a hanger! I was the ripe old age of seven. Suddenly I needed to go to the toilet… I had to pass in through the forbidden territory to see what on Earth were these grownups enjoying without me. My taste buds were still dancing from the tiny drop, I could also kind of empathise why the adults didn’t want to share… kind of!
There they were smiling and laughing barely noticing me as I walked by… oh the smell… it looked like tea, but left a funny coating on the insides of the glass just to re-emphasise it’s thick consistency. I got out into the hall and noticed the parlour door open… the good room… no one was ever allowed in there. I was only in there a few times and the big old press with the fancy keys was open and up on top stood a lone bottle. I never seen that bottle before. It was really dark, but the label illustrated that this was indeed the source of the tea coloured deliciousness. I better keep going on my expedition to the lavatory or Granny Sherlock Holmes will be on my case… however I vowed to return at a later date and investigate further!
The following week, my mother talked non-stop about not having an outfit for my uncle’s wedding… and warning my dad, that Saturday afternoon she would not be available as she was going shopping to Tuam to get a dress. She hadn’t found anything in Galway, but there were nice boutiques in Tuam she’d say. Saturday came and we stopped on route in Belclare at my grannies house. The minute we pulled up at the house, all I could think about was the bottle of magic hidden securely in the sitting room. In an unusual twist of fate, we walked in the back door to the sight of my granny washing the prized dog! This was always a big job! She would have him standing up in the twin tub washing machine while she scrubbed his white coat clean. It was an all-hands-on-deck job… washing him, drying him and grooming him. I smiled up at the picture of the Sacred Heart… he was on my side… I knew this was my golden opportunity to seek out the prized juice!
I softly closed the sitting room door behind me and twisted the key in the big old press. I had to use two hands to pull open the stiff door and a musty smell hit me across the face as I peered into the darkness at the unfamiliar bottles… there it was “Baileys Irish Cream Liquor”…
I took it out… all the while keeping an ear out for wandering grownups… I unscrewed the lid and THERE IT WAS… that smell… POW! I could feel my eyes roll back in my head with the lovely strong scent. I lifted up the bottle, it was really heavy and took a tiny sip… OH MY GOD… adults are mean to keep this to themselves! My taste buds were so happy they were standing up and running deliriously into each other like headless chickens! I probably took a few more little sips, but the one thing I really remember was tilting my head back and lifting the bottle up upright and guzzling it into me. I remember the weight of the bottle and actually struggling to take it down from the sheer heaviness, which made me take a little more than I had intended. It was lovely, but I got a fright that I couldn’t take it down from my mouth so I figured it best to close it up, hide it away and retreat from the room before I got caught.
I started to feel really funny… my legs were not behaving and my head felt like it was floating away from my shoulders. I really wanted to go shopping and if my mother thought I was ill, she’d leave me here with Granny Burke; because we all knew she had to buy a dress today for Martin & Bernie’s wedding the following week. I decided I’d sit out in the car and get myself together. They were too busy with the dog to notice me hanging onto the hedge the whole way out to the car. I felt like I was on a seesaw… the world was all at sea. I sat in the backseat of the car and after that it’s all a bit patchy… I remember being in a shop on the square, I think it was called ‘The Square Deal’ and my mother trying on dresses. She was giving out to me for going in and out through the clothes rails… suddenly though she was beside me, demanding to know what had I taken… I had found a new bravery and decided to tell her that I knew about their secret golden drink! In that moment I decided that I was going to give everyone my opinion, whether they wanted it or not!
I told the lady in The Square Deal Boutique that my legs didn’t work! I told the man in Hynes’ Coffee Shop that his coffee was way too strong and that he had too much f*ckin’ sugar on his doughnuts and that it had stuck to my fingers!!
My mother and sister were both mortified, apologising, but I also seen them laughing so hard that tears were streaming down their faces. I don’t know how they thought it was funny… the sugar was really pesky and getting everywhere!
They had one arm each side of me, because my legs were seriously malfunctioning and they helped steer me back to the car which was parked in the old Abbey Trinity Car Park. I gained a new love for the back seat as we finally got there and I lay my very heavy head down to rest. The rest of the day is a bit blurry, all I know is that the magical liquid didn’t smell like magic anymore and I was very, very, very ill. I never did see the fancy key left in the cabinet door after that day, mind you the magic liquid, suddenly wasn’t as alluring anymore either… Moral of the story… When you are seven, too much sugar on doughnuts can be quiet sickly… 😉