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We had a caboose. I have never met another person in my life to date that had a caboose, let alone heard of one. Our caboose was situated just before you went out the back door.
I’d better describe our house to you. It was a parlour house build in the 1940’s when Dublin Corporation were tackling the housing crisis by building large new estates. Crumlin and Cabra East were examples of 1930’s housing, with Cabra West where I lived starting in the forties. One side of each road had kitchen houses while the opposite side had what were known as parlour houses.
On entering our house the stairs were immediately to your left, on down the hall the parlour door was to your right and straight ahead was the kitchen door. The kitchen was the full width of the house. To your left in the kitchen and under the stairs was the coalhole that also housed the gas meter, a shilling one. In a line down from here was the cooker and sink with wooden draining board and then the caboose. A wall separated it from the sink with a door facing into the rest of the room. You met the door of the caboose before going out the back door.
In here you found the wellies, the brush and shovel and sometimes an erstwhile mop. There were hooks to hang “things” up and it was here the turkey reposed for a couple of days before the big event of cleaning the bird. After which it would be dressed and cooked to grace our Christmas table.
It is extremely important that a turkey hangs before it can be cooked and eaten, something to do with blood I believe. Our turkey was brought home and hung in the caboose. My earliest memories of encountering the turkey are that its head could not reach the top of mine. Thank God because that meant I didn’t have to look her (Mammy always bought a hen) in the eye. Turkeys have beady eyes, a pink gob and are awful red in the face. If you could bear to raise your eyes upwards their feet were yellowy claws. I never looked at them long enough to count their talons. If I went out into the back garden it was a quick exit between the two doors my eyes cast downwards.
The next big event was cleaning the bird. That was Daddy’s job. In those days he smoked Player Wills but for the bird cleaning it was ten Woodbines. The kitchen table was spread with newspaper. The inhabitant of the caboose was taken down and laid upon the table. The process began. Hand into the turkey, a woodbine suspended from his lips Daddy worked away, concentrating hard. The various parts were extracted to form a small red pile. Not a pleasant sight. My father always a man to make people laugh would ask us onlookers if we’d like a chase. Then entrails in hand he took off after us up the garden path. Us yelling our heads off , but enjoying the chase.
Back to the caboose. The caboose was approximately three feet square. A cold place. It had a stone floor and distempered walls. Distemper had an odour all of its own, it smelled of damp and had a pinkish tinge. The rest of our house was graced with wallpaper but even though there might be pieces of wallpaper left over, the caboose retained its bare cold walls. There was nothing romantic about the caboose, a glory hole without glory.
In the mid sixties with careful saving and planning the kitchen was modernised. A partition was erected forming a kitchenette. It hid the cooker, sink, draining board and geyser. The partition was wallpapered as well to add to its importance. Something had to give way for this modernisation. Yes, you guessed it, it was the demise of our caboose.
As for the turkey, the butcher got my fathers job. Somehow I don’t think he minded.
I googled “Caboose” and here are some definitions:
Noun: a car on a freight train for use of the train crew; usually the last car on the train.
Noun: the area for food preparation on a ship.
Just for your information, my father was a fitter with Coras Iompar Eireann and he liked a nice tasty meal.