Jack and I parted ways on December 24th.
Thankfully, it was only for the few days between Christmas and Stephen’s Day, when I would be with my family in Derry while he stayed put with his in Kildare.
It was our third Christmas as a couple and it never felt quite right, putting the miles between us at a time of year that for me, I feel fortunate to say, is synonymous with togetherness and love. However, I realise that while we’re still relatively young (though some siblings might beg to differ), not married, and both close to our families, it’s to be expected that we would spend Christmas in our respective homeplaces.
Besides, it’s not like we wouldn’t see each other for weeks or months on end. Jack would come up to me the day after Stephen’s Day when we would exchange gifts and have our own little mini-Christmas in the front room, just the two of us.
That morning, I busied myself to pass the time until his arrival. With uncles, aunts, and cousins travelling up from Belfast as well, everyone had been asked to arrive for around 3pm, when we’d all sit down for the second feast in as many days.
It’s a three hour drive from Kildare to Portstewart, so when I received a text from Jack at 1:30pm to say he was just leaving, I took a deep breath and called upon the spirits of Christmases past, present, AND future to grant me the gift of patience. ’Tis the season of goodwill to all men, after all, Jack included. I reminded myself that it was a long drive: as long as he arrived safely, that was all that mattered.
And so he did, at 4:20pm. I heard the car down close and jumped off the sofa, eager to be reunited with my beloved. I flung open the door: “Happy Christmas!” I said, beaming. “Happy Christmas!” he said, side-stepping my attempted embrace. “Can’t be kissing me — I’ve a cold. Can you help me carry some stuff from the car?”
By “stuff,” I assumed he meant presents, so when he emerged from the boot with a massive white box and said “I’ve a turkey for you,” I was, for a brief moment, thrown.
And then I remembered.
Every December, along with others, Jack lends a hand at a neighbouring farm, helping catch and crate nearly three thousand turkeys for delivery to the great big shed in the sky. The men do this under cover of darkness so as to minimise the amount of stress the turkeys experience. From what I’m told and from what I’ve experienced of the aftermath, it’s a smelly and hazardous affair, with no man walking away unscathed. Scratched-up arms are par for the course, despite the protective gloves they wear.
As a token of his appreciation for Jack’s participation in this game of blood, sweat, and feathers, the farmer always gives Jack’s family a few of the birds for the freezer. It was a lovely tradition, and one that Jack didn’t hesitate to uphold.
This year, however, we’d hit a little snag when it emerged that the annual turkey round-up was scheduled to take place on the same Saturday night I’d set aside for my belated birthday celebrations. Understanding the importance of the tradition as well as Jack’s reluctance to leave a fellow-farmer short-handed, I braced myself for disappointment. I knew by now that when in a relationship with a farmer, sometimes a girl must settle for second-place on the priority list.
But Jack surprised me when the night before the turkey-catching was due to take place, he text to say that he would be forgoing the event, that his brother had kindly agreed to step in so that my birthday dinner could go ahead.
It later emerged that Jack reckoned it wiser to risk the wrath of the turkey farmer than that of a birthday girl scorned —despite my promises that I’d made my peace with it, that there would be other birthdays.
Still, regardless of his motivation, his decision meant a lot.
And so there we were just a few weeks later, Jack and I, reunited in Portstewart — no longer the miles between us, but the plucked-and-stuffed fruit of the other mens’ labour, instead.
Prior to this year, I’d never really considered a Christmas turkey to be symbolic of much beyond gluttony. But as I watched Jack cart it up the drive, this fine specimen from Kildare (which one, says you) gave me pause for thought. Indeed, an expression of thanks from farmer-to-farmer, and a soon-to-be-savoured gift for my family, this cross-border bird embodied so much more than just good eatin’.