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I don’t believe I’m a finicky man but from my dining table seat it’s often clear that my curtains haven’t been opened with the kind of care that exudes showhousecharm. All too frequently they have been carelessly drawn, crumpled, ruffled, nowhere near equidistant from the centre of the window. It poses an aesthetic imbalance that irritates me a deal should I dwell upon it. The trouble is not particularly the curtains, they can be addressed – a balancing push, flap and straightening followed by a tut and eye-roll at the sloppy efforts of the person who so fecklessly allowed morning light into the room puts that issue to bed. No, the lingering concern is that I used to not give a flying funhouse about how curtains were drawn. Where is that guy gone? Curtains were – damn it, ARE – functional objects of concern to only fussy, prissy people. They are neither rock nor roll.
Back when summer holidays meant months off school, I used to be first up in the house. I’d steal down the staircase, recklessly yank those living room curtains apart and turn on the TV – hours before the rest of the house stirred. I’d take all the cushions from the sofa and build a fortress from them. I’d nestle into my little cushioned domain with a bowl of Rice Krispies, four or five massive spoonfuls of sugar momentarily crusting across the top before dissolving to a satisfying sickly milk syrup – and watch the cartoons.
The cushion castle frequently collapsed by the time my mother would come down the stairs. She would open the living room
door, and after delivering a sleepy “G’morning” greeting in her dressing gown she would look around the room to see cushions where there should not be cushions, breakfast dishes where there should not be breakfast dishes. Invariably some Rice Krispies – or perish the thought – milk – might have escaped from the bowl and found a new home on the carpet; and the curtains, clearly opened by someone who took little pride in how fabric ought to frame the window. My mother would push a weary groan at the untidiness I had brought to her domestic order, and then vent her honed command of overstatement: “What were you doing? It’s like nacky sacky in here”.
Chastised for my delinquent ways I would with pouted bottom lip restore the building materials of my fortress to their more orthodox homes on the armchairs, tidy up all traces of sloppiness and reluctantly endure detailed instruction on how the curtains were to be opened in future.
The “nacky sacky” declaration was also regularly delivered on parental visits to
my bedroom – toys, clothes or colouring pens on the floor generally the catalyst. My father too used the expression, though I strongly suspect my mother was the host and he was simply not sufficiently immune to the contagion of this bizarre vocabulary.
You see, in these tender years of castles made of cushions and colouring books on bedroom floors, I had absolutely no idea what, where or who “nacky sacky” was – it resided in the back roads of my comprehension as a synonym for ‘untidy’ without ever entering the freeway of my speech. The phrase was so ubiquitous in our home that I took it to be widely used outside our home too, but as time passed I sensed the puzzlement of my friends should they be in earshot when they stepped mud in to our house on the rainy days of summer.
It has been said in our family that a book could be written about the expressions, or what my mother would call “the sayings” – that she used, and seemed unique to her – or at least unique to her time and her upbringing. I recall a morning from my early schooldays when she was attempting to direct me in a change of clothes from pyjamas to school uniform. This was not a plan I was all that interested in. Time was against her, and the stress was starting to mount.
Exasperated she snapped: “Its like the agony in the garden getting you to school”.
I helpfully revealed to her that we weren’t in a garden, we were in my bedroom, and I asked her what she meant. Her irritation melted and an embarrassed laugh followed, “I shouldn’t really say it, it’s out of the holy bible. Its one of the stages of the cross when Our Lord was crucified”. Sensing an expository mood, I took the opportunity to have another great mystery revealed. “And Mammy, what does nacky sacky mean?”
“Nacky sacky?” she asked. She turned down the corners of her lips, opened her eyes to the full and gently shook her head. “I don’t know, I never heard that before” “You’re always saying it Ma…its like nacky sacky in here”
She smiled and a puff of amusement escaped her nostrils.
“You mean Nagasaki. Ah, I shouldn’t say that either. It was from the war. My own Mammy used to say it. I’ll tell you when you’re older”.
My mother was one of 10 kids, the eldest born in 1934 the youngest in 1947. They ran like a flourish up the musical stave, a perfect sequence of notes. A kid each year bar the silent beats of ‘42 to ‘44 when her father enlisted in the army.
He returned home having been medically discharged in 1944, resumed family life and continued expanding his family. As summer turned to autumn in 1945 my grandmother was again with child. A little girl, a little boy, and a fat man, all fell to earth that August. That little girl was my mother. The little boy, and the fat man, were the codenames for the atomic bombs that ended the lives of 200,000 people at Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.