Val and I had taken the plunge and bought our holiday home in Spain and we looked forward to using it. But there was a problem: what to do with my mother who lived with us? She had no desire to come to Spain with us and to be blunt we could do with the occasional break. Finding a suitable respite home was the answer.
For months we traipsed around endless homes with mother in tow. Either homes resembled Bates Mansion in Psycho or the residents looked cowed or spaced out on drugs. Usually the owner’s high end Mercedes or BMW was parked out the front, flagging up the home’s ethos; profits. Each smelt of money and the faint odour of urine. As we despondently toured each grim establishment we realised that there was no way we could abandon my mother at any of these places and swan off to Spain for a couple of carefree weeks.
One sunny day, just by chance, I drove past the solution to our problem. Out of the side of my eye I saw a large sign reading Catholic Respite Home for the Elderly and Infirm. The home that the sign referred to sat in pleasant grounds surrounded by lush lawns and leafy trees. It looked too good to be true.
As I drove up the winding gravel drive I debated whether or not to conceal that fact that my mother was not a Catholic, was in fact Church of Scotland, the opposite end of the spectrum. Perhaps if I explained that she had slight dementia then her religious affiliation would not be questioned, but although I might have considered her bonkers from time to time I couldn’t rely on her to keep schtum. I entered the dark panelled hallway and, as instructed by a sign, rang a bell and waited. At least it didn’t smell of piss.
Footsteps approached and the door swung open to reveal a nun. Disconcertingly, she had the most prominent buck teeth I had ever seen. Unkindly, a vision of Thumper passed through my mind. I looked down expecting a pair of rabbit feet to be protruding from under her habit. The nun returned my greeting with a nod of her head.
“Well now, what can I be doing for you, my son?” She enquired in a soft Irish accent.
I felt like James Stewart with Harvey, his imaginary rabbit as I listened attentively to Sister Agnes giving me the run down on the home. “Well now, no, your mother being of the Protestant faith would be no problem at all, at all,” She reassured me when I confessed to my mother’s religious leanings. “She’ll be very welcome, so she will.” Not so welcome, I thought if Sister Agnes knew about my mother’s appetite for steamy novels. That may have been a revelation too far, especially when I had my foot in the door.
As she thumbed through the diary checking dates, her colleagues passed through the reception bearing trays and bedpans. Each was introduced by Sister Agnes; Sister Bernadette, Sister Maria and Sister Matilda. Each sported the buck teeth. For a brief moment I wondered if I had unwittingly stumbled on a Bugs Bunny convention.
I drove home wondering if somewhere in Ireland a village existed where a rogue gene was producing girls with buck teeth and for whom a special religious order had been created.
Midwife to husband. “It’s a grand wee girl you have, so it is.”
Husband. “Tell me, does she have the teeth?”
Midwife. “Aye, she has the teeth, so she does.”
Husband. “I’ll let the sisters know, so I will.”
The nuns, despite their prominent incisors, were wonderful and kind carers. Sadly, like my mother, the home is long gone but she enjoyed her time at the home and looked on her visits as holidays.