Mind them hens

Maggie Fox and Aidie (Adrian) Blake were my godparents. Maggie lived to a ripe old age, and died in 1964 after we had just moved in to the new house. Maggie and my mother got on well as you’d expect of two women living close to each other, while being a mile from the next nearest neighbour. They shared household supplies and kept each other company while the men were out. Maggie, a tall and imposing woman, normally dressed in black with her hair tied in a bun kept a clean and orderly house. At the far end of the kitchen was the inevitable Stanley 8 range. On the back wall were pictures of Pope John XXIII and John F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie. Maggie normally worked at a table in the middle of the kitchen.

Her nephew Paddy ran the farm and looked after the church. He also kept dogs all his life. Some of these dogs were friendly, while others were aggressive. Around 1962 he had a dog called “Watt”, that belonged to the latter group: but mostly his dogs were good with children.  Maggie kept lots of hens and they normally spent their days pecking around the door. Inside the house the cat kept Maggie company. Like Paddy’s dogs a great variety of cats resided in the Fox household over the years. It was the only house where dogs, cats, hens and foxs lived in harmony!

I remember one day when I was a small child my mother sent me on a message down to Maggie’s house, a distance from door to door of about 40 yards. I made my way into the yard, past the hens and into the house. Maggie was delighted to see me and gave me milk and home made bread with marmalade. Some time later, not to outstay my welcome, I headed for the door, bread in hand. “Mind them hins”, says Maggie, “or they‘ll pick the eyes out of your head” I went outside and the hens, thinking food was arriving, gathered round squawking noisily. Taking Maggie’s warning seriously I threw the bread to the hens, and ran for the gate covering my eyes with my hands.  Losing an eye to a hen before I even went to school was something to be avoided at all costs. Maggie got great mileage out of the story for the next few days.

I liked Maggie Fox and I liked visiting her house. One attraction was that she regularly had biscuits and bread and jam, which were rare enough at home – jam that is, we had lots of the bread.  We moved to the new house on the Ballinrink road in 1964, and Maggie stayed down the lane. I know from my mother she would have liked to move in with us, I don’t know if that  would have been practical, but I had hoped she would.  Maggie died the same year, about a month after we moved house.

Frank Smith. Ballinacree 2018

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