It was Christmas morning and the phones in the various homes belonging to the Martin family had been in overdrive since breakfast. The women of the family were exchanging views about the impending hassle of cooking the Christmas dinner at their parents’ home – a family tradition.
Another tradition was persuading Mr Martin to abandon his ritual excursion to the local pub. Annie Martin was sick of it; for over thirty years she watched her husband go to the pub on Christmas morning under the pretence of going to mass. Each year he arrived home as dinner was being served, drunk and in full voice attempting to sing Christmas carols, out of tune and out of touch with the views of his family.
Annie and her three daughters Paula, Phil and Patricia felt it was time to break the mould. The three Martin girls believed that they couldn’t really complain as their partners usually helped with the arrangements, although they sported a collective indifference to Mr Martin’s antics. They felt that their mother-in-law should have been more assertive in the past; they doubted that their father-in-law would ever change his ways.
At 10.30 am the three Martin daughters, their partners and children arrived at the family home. Annie Martin announced that the women would attend 11 o’clock mass and the men would go to 12 o’clock mass when they returned. In previous years the rota was the other way round. She also left instructions for the men to peel the potoatoes and to prepare the other vegetables. As she was going out the door Annie turned and faced Mr Martin and the husbands of her three daughters. She called out to them.
"You men know where the cooking utensils are and surely you know how to do a bit of peeling and cleaning".
There was a strong sarcastic tone in her voice but the men folk just looked bewildered and nodded their heads. Bobby Martin, the patriarch of the Martin family took to the designated chores with great enthusiasm. Phil’s husband Kevin turned to his father-in law…
"Here, Bobby! I’m surprised at you agreeing to these domestic chores. It’s not your style.
You must have an ‘ace up your sleeve”.
" Are you daft?’ Bobby replied,
Of course I have a plan! When the women get back from Mass, the vegetables will be sorted out and we’ll have scored loads of brownie points.
I’ll take my traditional route past the chapel and into Murphy’s!
Jesus I can almost taste the head of a pint of stout".
He was smiling from ear to ear, like a child with a new toy. Meanwhile Bobby discovered that his hips were sore and the sanctuary of his favourite armchair was required to combat the discomfort. The three younger men embraced the kitchen duties as the children amused themselves with a variety of toys.
It had just turned 12.15 and Annie Martin and her three daughters were tucking into their third round of drinks in the lounge bar of Murphy’s, Bobby Martin’s ‘local’ pub. Many of the male customers who were either friends or acquaintances of Bobby looked with dismay towards the table occupied by the Martin women.
Women without their husbands rarely frequented the bar and the presence of Annie and her daughters on Christmas Day was obviously a great shock to the male customers. The women sat and chatted about the presents received by the children and the outrageous cost of the whole event.
‘I wonder if your Da and your husbands have got the dinner started yet?’ enquired Annie Martin. The three younger women looked puzzled at first, but they expressed delight in the fact that their mother had engaged in a deliberate act of defiance. They were pleased to hear her say that if Bobby didn’t like her new approach he could leave.
‘If he doesn’t like it, he can lump it,’ Annie Martin said.
Back at the family home the men were beginning to get suspicious about the prolonged absence of their wives. Bobby Martin found it hard to conceal his anger.
‘Where in the hell did those women go to?’
Paula’s husband Eoin suggested that the women might have got caught up in an extended seasonal gossip session outside the chapel. Bobby Martin reacted angrily to Eoin’s suggestion,
‘How could they spend over two bloody hours whinging on about their neighbours?
Do you think this is some sort of wind up?
Maybe there’s something you three boys know that I don’t?’
The three men replied in unison that they were as surprised as their father-in-law over the unexplained absence of the Martin females.
The doorbell rang.
‘Jesus! Can they not use the key in the bloody door?’ shouted Bobby Martin.
The doorbell seemed to ring forever; Bobby decided to go to the front door. A woman who occasionally went to Bingo with his wife confronted Bobby. She handed Bobby a note, telling him that Annie had asked her to pass it on. He unfolded the paper, which stank of stale tobacco and alcohol. The contents almost turned Bobby as green as the Incredible Hulk. It read:
Will you put the turkey back on about two o’clock? It will be heated through by half-three. Put the spuds and other veg on at 3 o’clock.
We will be back in time for our dinner and no doubt it will be lovely.
Having a great time in the pub.
Cheers Bye, Bye,
The blank expression on Bobby Martin’s face caught the attention of his male in-laws. He seemed to become very subdued. Then his face turned from grey to red and he exploded like a dormant volcano.
‘Who the hell do these women think they are? They have cleared off to the bloody pub. Can you believe that they would pull a stunt like that?’
He read the letter out for the other men to digest. His voice trembled with anger.
‘I knew they were up to something! But going to the pub on Christmas Day and leaving their husbands to sort out the dinner??
It’s just not good enough,’ Bobby Martin screamed.
‘So that’s what all the early morning phone calls were about,’ exclaimed Phil’s husband Kevin. His father-in-law responded angrily,
‘So you had reason to believe that these women were planning something and you kept it to yourself? Are you some sort of eejit?’
‘No I am not! Piss off Bobby! This is all your fault.’ replied Kevin.
‘I’ll search every pub in the town and tell them to get back to the house.
I don’t really blame Annie! It was your three wives!’ Bobby insisted.
Eoin’s eight-year-old daughter entered the room.
‘Granda, why are you shouting and cursing about my mummy and Granny? That’s a bold thing to do on Christmas Day!
Joseph wouldn’t have shouted at Mary if she had gone to the pub,’ Cathy concluded.
‘Ah, but Mary did not clear off and abandon her husband and child, did she now?’ exclaimed Bobby.
‘Mary was too busy giving birth and Joseph was a pioneer,’ replied Cathy. Bobby was annoyed with his granddaughter.
‘Don’t you dare speak to your granddad like that, you cheeky wee pup!’
Kevin entered the room and asked Bobby about the whereabouts of the beer that they had taken to the house earlier that day.
‘Oh sod you and your beer! As long as my booze is left alone, I don’t give a s**t about anybody else.‘
‘Oh by the way, you three morons can follow Annie’s instructions!
I’m not going to be treated like a bloody slave,’ Bobby concluded.
The three men ignored their father-law and continued with the preparations for dinner. Bobby sat po-faced in front of the TV, reeling like a scolded child. Just after half-past three, the Martin women returned, heavily intoxicated and singing in full voice the old Slade classic, ‘Merry Christmas Everybody’. They almost fell in the front door. Annie Martin announced their return, which wasn’t necessary, as the whole street would have heard them. She observed her daughters’ husbands making the final preparations for the Christmas dinner.
‘It’s great to see you men working hard! Did you burn anything yet?
I suppose Bobby’s in a huff?’ enquired Annie.
‘He’s in there having a sulk, but he’s calmed down!
He went stone mad earlier. Maybe he’s just browned off, ‘ said Kevin.
Annie entered the sitting room .She felt tipsy and giggled like a schoolgirl.
‘ Ah, my poor Bobby is in a wee sulk!
For heaven’s sake, catch yourself on!
You would nearly think it was the Last Supper that was being made in the kitchen.
It’s Christmas! The season of goodwill to all men and women’.
Bobby rose from the chair and walked past Annie in to the kitchen. He made himself a sandwich and sat at the table in total silence. Despite various attempts from the others to engage him in conversation, he ignored everyone in the room. His daughter Patricia broke the ice.
‘Listen here Da, you’re a hypocrite. You got a taste of your own medicine and you couldn’t take it. Now you know what my Ma had to put up with.’
Bobby left the kitchen, returned to the sitting room and hijacked the remote control to continue his sulk in front of the TV. The rest of the family completed the tasks required to serve the Christmas dinner. Bobby returned to the kitchen to consume his dinner. Again he sat in total silence. Following the meal, Bobby got up and put on his coat and left the house.
‘I bet he’s away to the pub,’ said Phil.
Annie burst out laughing and her three daughters joined in. After a few minutes the men added their voices to the chorus of laughter. Annie raised her glass and beckoned the others to follow suit.
‘To Christmas and grumpy old Bobby! And I don’t care if he stays in the pub all night’, roared Annie.
‘Is that another toast, Ma?’, enquired Phil.
‘Ah, okay then.
I don’t care if he stays in the pub all night’, screamed Annie.
They all fell about laughing – even the grandchildren joined in. Later Annie fell asleep on Bobby’s favourite chair. Her daughters and their husbands did the washing up.
At 7 o’clock, Patricia and Phil returned to the kitchen to make some tea and sandwiches. Phil woke her mother,
‘Ma, do you want a wee cup of tea and a turkey sandwich?
‘Ma, do you want a wee cup of tea and a turkey sandwich?
Or do you want a large vodka?‘
Annie jumped off the chair and shouted at the top of her voice,
‘STUFF the turkey!
Give me another drink!!’
(Originally published in ‘ Storylines’ 2002)