In Kilfinane we were known as wild children. And maybe we really were.
What should have been another summer camping trip turned into something completely different. On the first night after arriving in Ireland my parents and my aunt and uncle tried to put up a tent in gale force ten winds on the banks of a grey and rough lake, while we children, my sister and me, my little brother and my three cousins watched on from the car. We must have arrived late because I remember it being dark. We had camped many times but up until that point had always sought out sunny, southern spots in Italy or Spain. Once we went to Yugoslavia but the temperature there proved to be too hot for us. I can’t remember if they eventually got the tent up, as sticks were constantly falling over and the wind got into the canvas a few times nearly taking it out on to the lake.
We left the lake the next day and rented an Irish cottage with whitewashed walls and a thatched roof in Kilfinane. I loved the door that was sawn in half with the bottom closed and the top part left open. My aunt and uncle borrowed a caravan and camped on the driveway of Mrs. Connery’s estate.
“Terrible weather for camping in a tent,” my father said.
I suppose we did go wild then. Mr. and Mrs. Connery lived on a large estate with parklands and a river running through it. My first meeting with Mrs. Connery was when we were jumping on heaps of hay and burying each other in them; we even climbed a tree so we could take a leap from great heights. She drove up in her black car and left the car door open behind her, walking up to us with a serious face. We didn’t speak any English, not yet, but we got the message, we weren’t supposed to mess up the hay. But what did we ‘city kids’ – born and bred in 1960’s pastel coloured Dutch suburbs with black tarmacadam roads – know?
After that we visited her in the big house many times. She had hair the colour of tea, and wore a twinset and pearls. The hems of her tweed skirts were always well below the knee and sometimes she wore green wellingtons. She had a laughing, screechy voice and let us run all over the place. She served us scones thickly buttered with salty butter, which we pretended to eat. Back in the stables we scratched the butter off and hid the lump under the hay, ‘too salty’, and wiped our greasy fingers on our trousers. We ate the scones even though they tasted as if they contained too little sugar or too much, “our palettes hadn’t accustomed to Irish flavours yet.”
Mrs. Connery had a puppy that my cousin named Oscar, and we ruined him. He was a sheepdog meant for helping on the farm, but after our holiday he was only good enough for being a pet. Too spoiled, they said. Never picked up any commands, just wagged his tail expecting to be stroked, hugged and kissed in abundance when taken out into the fields to herd cattle. They had kittens; we loved them too. You had to sneak up on them in the stables, as they were always hiding from us. And they had a calf that would suck your hand and even try to swallow it if you gave him the chance.
Sometimes Mr. Connery would take us on his horse-drawn cart up into the hills. We sang songs we weren’t allowed to sing at home, but nobody could understand us, so we sang at the top of our lungs. My mother had warned us not to stray too far away from the cottage because of the gypsies – they were always in need of good dishwashers, she had told us.
Once we jumped off the cart while it was still moving, and I ripped my trousers from mid-calf all the way up to my thigh on a rusty nail sticking out and catching the material. I knew my mother would kill me because the trousers were ruined. I remember walking back bending backwards, holding the material together in an awkward way.
But of course all this was before we made friends with children from the village, after that we really went wild…
©2020 Anita Salemink
What the magazine said:-
“Anita Salemink is a Dutch-born artist and aspiring writer. She has written two books and is working on a third. She is looking for an agent for her first book, which was inspired by her Irish childhood and teenage years. It’s about a girl living in the 1970’s, who, after moving to an old Georgian Mansion, discovers that history is still alive and very much in the present. The narrative is interwoven with Irish myths and history. This short non-fiction piece is taken from her newest project: Childhood Memories, chronicling the first few weeks after moving to Ireland, and can be found on her personal blog www.anitasalemink.com
Why we chose it:
It’s always interesting to us to see our native country through the eyes of outsiders, to see how their experiences diverge from our own; and so we greatly enjoyed this small taster from Anita’s memoir detailing her first few weeks as an immigrant to Ireland in the 1970s.”
Issue Five: Oxymorons
Silver Apples Magazine