Granny: A Tale of Old Christmas
A TALE OF OLD CHRISTMAS
I THINK I am seein’ her yet, an’ hearin’ the purr of the wheel,
An’ a power of silence on her — but always doin’ a deal.
Whatever was in to be done, it’s done it mus’ be at herself,
For active she was surprisin’ an’ not to be laid on the shelf.
Nor no such great age at her neither, an’ all her intellecks bright,
But takin’ a wakeness at times since something come on her that night;
The childher was used to her ways an’ Daa would be houlin’ his han’,
An’ whatever was on in the house, for a while mus’ come to a stan’.
For the wheel would be stoppin’ sudden, an’ a brightness over her eyes,
As if there was light from Heaven come into them urrov the skies,
For a while with her two han’s folded, she seemed to be takin’ a prayer,
But never a word could she speak of what she was seein’ there.
Then the wheel would take on again an’ beginning the sof an’ low,
You’d hardly be hearin’ it first but studdy the tune would grow,
Till you’d think there was wans in singin’ that was larnt at the choirs above
An’ your heart would be goin’ a liftin’ with thoughts of peace an’ love.
But now an’ again she could speak — perhaps in the mids’ of the night
The tongue goin’ a loosin’ at her, an’ tell of the silver light,
“No need” she would say, “for the cannle, but come you here an’ sit,”
“An’ I will be tellin’ the story as I remember it.”
In them days the people was thinkin’ a dale of the Christmas time,
An’ goin’ to spin or that would be took for a sort of a crime.
I don’t know are they godlier now — may be they’re not as good,
For all the talk they have got that’s hard to be understood.”
So then on the Eve of St. Thomas, (Black Thomas they’re callin’ him to,
The way he went back on the Masther — but I need’nt be tellin’ you).
But still an’ for all from that till Christmas was past an’ gone
The people was all to take holly, an’ never no work to be done.
An’ I needn’t be tellin’ you that’s eddicated so high,
The change that was made in the days by letting a handful slip by.
A quare thing too to be doin’, but them that was in had the powers,
An’ its them that will have to answer for meddlin’ with days an’ hours.
I was askin’ Pazon to see was he thinkin’ them wans to blame,
With the quare bad years they were havin’ an’ rumours of wars that came.
But, “Never you mind,” he was sayin’, “if others is doin’ crimes,
An’ ill wans is raggin’ an’ teerin’ — the times is God’s own times.”
“An’ never you fear” he was sayin’, “the rainbow is showin’ still,
The seasons is all in their places, an’ good comin’ out of the ill.
There’s peace in the worl’ above where we hope to meet one day;
An’ spring-time an’ harvest is comin’ whatever the almanacs say.”
You’ll think I was makin’ free, but aw, he’s the chreestey-coar!
Wan of the rael oul’ standards! The like isn’t in no more.
An’ always givin’ a snog, whether lapped from the couth in the brough’m
Or dhrivin’ the gray in the gig, sittin’ up like a musheroom.
Well that’s the way it is, but when it was first begun,
It was awkward thremenjus at farms, an’ the harves’ barely done;
An’ the lil dark days themselves that was used to be comin’ first,
Goin’ a leavin’ all at the Saints, an’ Christmas in with a burst.
An’ I’m thinkin’ some of the oul’ wans was middlin’ onaisy too,
An’ keepin’ the work put by an’ not knowin’ what to do.
But Granny was wan of the surt that’s terrible rank for work,
An’ even the hens in the yard was gettin’ no leave to shirk.
For goin’ from mornin’ till night, an’ orderin’ masther an’ man,
Or takin’ a toss at her needle, an’ could read like an African;
An’ over the street with the dawn, an’ bakin’ an’ brewin’ the jough,
An’ whippin’ the chile, an’ clappin’ the dog, an’ sthrooghin’ the pussy-bogh.
An’ then when winter was on, the wheel would be goin’ like steam,
An’ Granny an’ her would be singin’ like pussy-bogh over the cream.
Aw deed, to the Sunday itself she was takin’ a a bit of a spite,
Though regglar puttin’ away by six of a Sattherday night.
Well, well! When her man was took she failt for a year or more,
With the farm gone all through others, an’ want lookin’ in at the door.
The bees was annoyed with her too, an’ lef her wan by wan,
For some dis-cease come on them an’ all her luck was gone.
Them bees is easy vexed when things is goin’ wrong,
An’ quick to miss their notice, an’ terrible bad to long!
But Granny come to in time, for she would not be bet,
An’ middlin’ bare she kep’ us till all was clear of debt.
Then us growin’ up so fas’ an’ findin’ places roun’,
She might have slacked a bit an’ wore her Sunday gown;
But takin’ joy of her work as others is doin’ of play,
An’ — “Lave her alone,” said the boys, — “she’s boun’ to have her way.”
Aw well, its like you’ll be tired an’ me goin’ on like the thrain!
But Granny was Granny for all — an’ is always renewed up again.
So sit you up to the fire — the nights is growin’ coul’,
An’ see can I keep to the story when once I am gettin’ houl’.
* * * * *
Well Christmas was pas’ we were thinkin’, an’ New Year come with a roar,
An’ the couth of the winter upon us, with snow lyin’ up for more.
Laa Giense was at us too, with dancin’ an’ legads an’ all,
With the young folk lookin’ for sweethearts, an’ the oul’ takin’ res’ by the wall.
An’ a fine ball down we were havin’, with some wans up from the Sous,
An’ the childher rampin’ an’ rarin’, from end to end of the house —
But Granny was goin’ a frettin’, an’ wipin’ the wheel with her brat,
An’ givin’ a twiss surrupshus, an’ beatin’ her foot pit-a-pat.
For longin’ she was, the sowl, to be havin’ us urrov the way,
That she would get room for her wheel, an’ tired of their noisin’ an’ play.
An’ “Christmas is pas’,” she was sayin, “an’ Hark the Harals is sung.
An’ I want to be spinnin’ the tred from the parcel of flax I brung.”
Well the childher was tired at last, an’ the mare goin’ a puttin’ to
For the wans from the Sous to go home, an’ that was the end of the do.
An’ turnin’ back from the gate, with the light sthreamin’ out on the grass,
When — “Aw, look at Granny,” — says Daa, “she’s desperrt surely at las’.”
For out in the mids of the flure she was spinnin’ as if she was dhruv,
An’ only stoppin’ a second to be givin’ poor Peggy a shove.
An’ — “Well, she’ll get lave,” says Daa — “we’ll be goin’ our ways to bed,
But I’m sorry for Peggy for all, for her eyes is so heavy as lead.”
* * * * *
THE morning is very solemn with the darkness coverin’ roun’
An’ the trees goin’ wailin’ mournful as they’re scutchin’ up an’ down.
An’ the little sleepy stars that’s watchin’ while you ress
Is winkin’ at the candle-stick you’ve set upon the press.
An’ all the burden of the day is on your weary mind
As down the stairs you stumble, not knowin’ what you’ll find.
But with the kettle puttin’ on an’ firelight all aglow,
The dear me heart how cheerful then, the worl’ is comin’ to.
An’ then among the bushes out you’ll hear a little cheep,
Some little feathered falla like that’s wakin’ from his sleep.
An’ sidin’ in the house an’ all, when next you take a sight
The farm an’ fields is sittin’ theer an’ everything is right.
We’re goin’ a risin’ early in the summer weather too
With limbs that’s tired aching with the work that’s got to do.
But summer dark is not no dark, an’ jus’ a curtain drawn
For shadin’ weary eyes a bit, an’ liftin’ with the dawn.
I never had no need for all to let myself be wore,
For Daa was thoughtful shocking an’ always on before;
An’ him it was i’stead of me that stumbled down the stairs
An’ falled, as deed he mostly did, among the stools an’ chairs.
“Tut, tut,” I heard him say — an’ then, the splutter of a match,
An’ with the cannle in his han’ I heard the parlour latch
Goin’ lif’, lif’, liftin’ very sof as he looked in to see
Was Granny sleepin’ peaceful still or shoutin’ for her tea.
D’you min’ these times you’re thinkin’ like that somethin’s goin’ wrong,
Some little soun’ you’re hearin’ p’raps, then silence over long;
An’ all your heart is jumpin’ while your limbs are seemin’ boun’,
While everything that’s in the house is goin’ roun’ an’ roun’.
There’s many a time that I would wait to hear if all was well,
For some of these that seem so smart is awful easy fell.
An’ I often listened keerful until I heard them spake,
Or else the door a pullin’ to if she was not awake.
So when Data gave a little call, 1 felt a sudden fear,
An’ hardly dared to look aroun’, an’ fainted very near.
For deed an’ all our Granny lay as if she had been dead
Excep’ her han’s went to and fro like drawin’ on the thread.
I touched her han’, I smoothed her hair, that was so white an’ sof’,
The very cap was on her still, an’ not a stitch took off.
Her blue, blue eyes were lookin’ out as bright as polished steel,
An’ all the while her han’s went on as if to guide the wheel.
The day went by, the weeks went by, an winter near was gone,
An’ still she lay, an’ still she watched, an’ still her hans’ went on.
The Doctor come, an’ Pazon come, an’ “Give her time” they said,
An’ sure through time she eased at last an’ slep’ upon her bed.
So then she brightened middlin’ quick an’ when the Summer came
Was goin’, goin’ like herself an’ workin’ jus’ the same;
An’ first an’ last upon the flure, an’ spinnin’ at the wheel,
But that strange silence on her still of what had done the jeel.
An’ then one night she called an’ said: — “Now come you here an’ sit
That I can tell the story while I remember it.”
An’ me an’ Daa we humoured her an ‘sat beside her theer
Although the night was wearin’ fast an’ morning very near.
* * * * *
“Well, yondhar time,” that’s what she said, “When I was lef alone,
I heard poor Peggy sighin’ in with many a weary moan.
An’ still I kep’ her at her wheel, I kep’ her from her bed,
Till sleep come on her suddenly, an’ down she laid her head;
So then I had the house alone, an’ still the wheel went roun’,
Till bit by bit the fire fell in, an’ shaddas corned aroun’.
An’ something scraped behin’ the wall, an’ seemed to lif’ a han’
An’ touch me sof, an’ frightened though, yet still for all I span.
Then through the dark a snow white bird came flying from the hill,
An’ settled on the window ledge like resting on the sill.
(The bird they call the ‘Spyrrid’ to, straight like the Holy Dove
You’re seein’ on the Churches up with wings stretched out above),
She watched me through the window an’ I looked at her again;
But still I sent the wheel aroun’ an’ worked with might an’ main;
An’ then, a little creepy light seemed flitterin’ on the wall,
It came an’ went, an’ puzzled too, I sat an’ span for all.
It came an’ went, an’ came again, an’ like a silver dew
It glistened on the quiggal then, but still the tred I drew.
But now the light it frightened me, an’ I was all alone,
An’ on the settle Peggy slep’ with many a weary groan.
Then fear began to come on me that I was doin’ sin,
For sure it mus’ be Christmas now this Light was bringin’ in.
An’ what if Coorts an’ Almanacs have took an’ changed the day,
The Light that led the Shepherds on was knowin’ more than they.
The wheel itself was silver now an’ all in rays of light,
An’ whiter than the flakes of snow the flax was shinin’ bright.
But Peggy’s wheel was navar touched, good servant-lass was she,
That only done what she was bid an’ navar answered me.
I feared almost to lif a han’ to touch her where she lay,
But had her woke at las’ for all to see what she would say.
She looked at me an’ at the wheel but she was seein’ nought,
An’ then I knew that me it was the warning message sought.
My han’s fell idle in my lap, I tried to take a prayer,
The Light was growin’ whiter yet, more bright than I could bear.
An’ throubled sore, an’ thremblin’ all with coul’ an’ fear an’ dread
I crep’, an’ crep’, away from theer, an’ laid me on my bed.”
* * * * *
So that was Granny’s story, toul while she could spake of it,
An’ many a time again at night she’d call us for a bit.
An’ say “I’m spakin’ now” — “I’m tellin’ ye,” she’d say,
“That so you’ll know Oul’ Chrissamus is real Christmas Day.”
An’ when the autumn brought its storms, an’ sea-birds flew aroun’
She used to watch for yondhar wan to light upon the groun’.
She knew the bird that watched that night would come for her again,
An’ still she sent the wheel aroun’ an’ worked with might an’ main.
But mostly she was silent as she sat before the wheel,
An’ often dhramed a bit at times — but always doin’ a deal.
An’ then the wheel would sudden stop an’ her two han’s would lie,
An’ light that came from far away come on her from the sky.
The winter foun’ her failin’ though, yet still when at her bes’.
The wheel was goin’ whistlin’ roun’, — but longer takin’ ress.
An’ oftener in the everin’ her han’s was lyin’ quite.
An’ watchin’, so the childher said, for yondhar bird to light.
An’ when Old Christmas came again, upon the very day,
Her blue, blue eyes were fadin’ fas’ like skies at everin’ gray.
Then through the dark a Spyrrid came an’ settled here till morn,
An’ well we knew our Granny’s soul would go with her at dawn.
An’ so it was — when mornin’ broke, an’ birds began to cheep,
An’ farm an’ fields shone clear again like waking from their sleep.
The Spyrrid spread her wings an’ flew to meet the rising day,
An’ Granny took her ress at last, an’ peaceful passed away.
A retelling of a traditional Manx folktale in verse by one of the Island’s most popular poets, Cushag. The story revolves around the superstition that no work should be done on Christmas Day, tied to the calendar change in the middle of the 18th Century that shifted the apparent date of Christmas Day.
This is a reformulation of the same folktale as it appears in Sophia Morrison’s Manx Fairy Tales under the title, ‘Old Christmas’.
Cushag (Josephine Kermode) was the best-loved poet of her generation and perhaps the island’s most intriguing playwright; she is one of the most important writers that the Isle of Man has ever known.