Like the majority of households in Ireland our family looked forward to the arrival of the regular parcel from America. In our house we were lucky- we had two sources. My mother’s first cousins in New York sent a package of used clothes and oddments once a year. The ‘girls’, as my mother would call them, obviously liked strong colours and crimplene-type fabric a lot. So, very assorted get-ups would be altered and made over to clothe our much younger and leaner Irish bodies. I’m sure that my sisters and I were among the first in Co. Limerick to see pants suits, Pucci-type dresses and fabulous costume jewellery.
We also had a nun, a distant relative who operated – and she was an operator - out of Fargo, North Dakota. She must have been in charge of an orphanage or a family services centre because what she posted was a much more useful selection of real childrens’ clothes. Most of the items were new; probably donations which she judged would be more useful to her Irish cousins. She always included a much coveted range of ribbons from floral gifts which our mother used in our hair. Sr Austin often sent some edible goodies. I recall a sticky cereal called Crackerjack. We adored its novelty as at that time the only breakfast choices we had in rural Co. Limerick were Flahavan’s porridge and Kellogg’s cornflakes. What crazy luxuries they had over in America! What a wonderful place it must be! Their children were so spoiled and lucky!
I’m sure that some of my siblings will remember the padded outfit the nun sent for my father one Winter. He was a reasonably big man and in this quilted pants and jacket he was made even bigger- we thought it was the clothing of an astronaut!
We nearly always knew that the parcel was on the way. Slim blue aerogram envelopes would tell my mother to watch out for the postman. On the day, we might even get a message at lunch-time over the school wall that, yes, the parcel had come. And then, how that afternoon dragged in the classroom until we could hurtle down the road to examine the Yankee booty. Very often we felt some disappointment at the contents but always, always, the hope and expectation that there just might be something extraordinary inside made our eyes sparkle.
The sight of the American parcel bursting open on our kitchen table was a solid link from the land of plenty with its sunshine, sidewalks and fancy cereals to our modest and rain-drenched farmyard.