If the first rule of success at work is to turn up, then the first rule of success in visiting in a nursing home is, presumably, to talk; something not always easy when the day is prematurely dark, rain is falling heavily and the man is not inclined toward conversation. Surely, Halloween offered some topic of interest. “Did you ever have a bonfire at Halloween?”
“No”. An answer probably not true in rural Ireland of the Twenties and Thirties, but it would not have been polite to have said so.
“What about fireworks? Were there ever fireworks when you had a family?”
“We had a shotgun, though”.
“A shotgun? For foxes?”
“Foxes, but mostly for crows and for rabbits. I would shoot a crow and hang it on a tree, it kept the others away”.
“The rabbits were a nuisance?”
“They were. We lost a lot of crops one year. The gun was the only thing for them until the disease came”.
“Had you a terrier?”
“We used ferrets”.
“Ferrets are vicious”.
“They’d give you a nasty bite”.
“Where would you have bought a ferret?”
“Advertisements – the Kilkenny People or the Independent”.
“How would you know what you were buying? How would you know if it was any good?”
“You didn’t. You might get one that was good for rabbits and you might get one that tried to bite your head off”.
“I think I would have preferred a terrier – the teeth aren’t as sharp! Did you keep a collie for working with the herd?”
“I did. I had a great sheepdog. It would fetch the cows at milking time”.
The tray with tea and biscuits arrived and was placed on a table between the armchairs. “Here’s tea”, he said, leaning forward to pick up a cup. The thread of the conversation was lost
An Internet search brought the discovery that a young ferret is called a “kit”, and that the females are called “jills” while the males are called “hobs”. There were even websites where private sellers offered ferrets for sale, one claiming “the mother and father are very good for rabbits and so will the kits if they are brought out and worked”. The online ferret trade didn’t seem very lucrative; kits were selling at €10 each, while a top price ferret and cage could be bought for €50.
Next time, I can ask him how much a ferret bought through the small ads column of a newspaper might have cost in the Forties. Mind you, if it is dark and rainy, he could decide he had a terrier.