Here in Ireland it is walnut harvest time. Today with my 2-year-old granddaughter Sophia, we went gathering walnuts. It reminded me of the times, over 60 years ago, me and my pal Theo went down to St Helen's, a Christian Brothers seminary with almost 500 acres, to gather walnuts. There were over 100 brothers here and we had to avoid them as we sneaked through the woods to the walnut trees we knew. Sometimes the brothers would go for a walk, 2 by 2 and would stretch way along the footpath. What a sight.
There is an outer green skin on the walnut and if handled moist before they ripened you would get a brown dye on your fingers that could not be washed off. You had to wait until it wore away. Now there were smokers at that time who got brown fingers from cigarettes and we 10-year olds were terrified at the thought of dad or mam thinking we were smoking.
Anyway, inside the green skin was the traditional walnut. That in turn had to be smashed before one got to the edible bit. But that had a skin on it that had to be removed, a time consuming exercise. So, to get the tiny edible bit took a lot of time and effort. This exercise used to take place on a little bridge over a pond in the estate.
Now Theo and I were altar boys. We volunteered for everything, not for holy reasons, but mainly to get out of the house especially in the evening. I recall being the altar boy at men's and women's week-long retreats. We would sit on the step of the altar (no chairs in those days) and listen to every word. But when in women's retreats we had to leave the altar for the lesson and come back for the Mass. We often wondered what the priest was saying that we were not allowed to hear. By the age of 12 the pair of us were amateur theologians. The priests knew that there among the altar boys were the future priests. And many did become priests, and the rest of us benefited from being so close to the altar during Mass.
Anyway, back to the walnut story. there we were, on the bridge, working away to get to the prize, a beautiful white soft juicy treat. Then, just as we were about to eat our labour we would drop every second one into the water, 'for another soul in Purgatory.'
As my granddaughter put her nuts into a bag I recalled those little 'sacrifices' two little boys did for the poor souls in purgatory. That was today, and the nuts in the pond was sixty years ago. I wondered if any little boys of 10-years-old today had the faith we had to offer made-up sacrifices for souls.