9-12-13 The prompt: Two words
Sgriob (Gaelic): The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whiskey
Backfeifengesicht (German): A face badly in need of a fist
Write for 30 minutes
I was sitting in the pub in Westport with the sibs. We had flown in to Shannon earlier, visiting the old haunts up on Croagh Patrick for our semi-bi-annually-monthly visit to Dad’s folly. The twenty seven acres stood there mute and immutable, yet taunting us viciously even over the seas to America. “No,” said the building council. “You may not build on the land. If you want a house, we have plenty of them vacant here in town, and it’s your lot that’s to blame for it all. You can even remodel it from the bones of those that haven’t been picked clean yet. No one will stop ye, but there will be no building up in the Patrick’s Mountain.”
We were holding a whiskey-fueled council to try to figure out what to do in this most unfortunate of all circumstances. Kathy arrived at the table, back from the bar with a first load of glasses. I held mine under my snoot, and was overcome. “Sgriob,” said the oldster sitting behind me.
“Slainte,” said I in return.
“No, no,” he said. “Sgriob is that tickling that was moving your upper lip toward a sneeze. We’re all on intimate terms with it here. It’s the sign of quality whiskey. Sneeze if you must, but without sgriob, that’s a wasted hoist of the arm if you ask me.”
I smiled and raised my glass to toast him. He joined in with his pint.
A boisterous crowd chose that moment to enter the sanctuary of fine intelligent folk. Eight or ten Germans taking the tour on holiday, and they were comparing the virtues of German beer with all the vices of the Irish piss in a circular tour around our fair isle. The disparaging voices were at once filled with stout, and then sprayed onto the floor in disgust. Why, oh why did we have to endure such from our continental cousins? Did they see us over there commenting on the German habits of beer making, those that included swimming in the vats and pissing into the batches? No, we were too polite and intellectual for such boorishness.
A single rotund and rosy-faced traveler broke off from the pack and began to make the rounds of the sitting area. As he passed by trolling for a citizen to harass, Chris did one of those backhanded gesundheits that actually came out as “Backfeifengesicht!” Herr Roly-Poly froze in his tracks and swept our group with his eyes.
His fists clenched, and his hue went from florid toward crimson. “Was ist?” he shouted. Chris, ever the statesman, sneezed again. “Backfeifengesicht!” The German was in his face in an instant. “Was?!”
Chris was on his feet, glass in hand, chin jutting forward and eye to eye with the visitor. And then, in a spectacular move, he rocked back and swallowed his entire glass of whiskey in a single gulp. No tears, no whoops, no gasp. Just a smile, and he sat back down.
Chris turned toward Deirdre and asked in a very nonchalant voice “Do you think we could convince the council if we invited them out for a few tomorrow night?”
Deirdre remembered to close her mouth, and nodded slowly. “I bet that’s what they’re waiting for. They just want to know that we’re friendly, and mean no harm.”
Herr Fatboy didn’t know what to do. He stood there staring at us for a few seconds, and headed back to his mob. His step was a bit softer, and his head a bit lower. No wind had his sails. Defeated again. Five minutes later, they left the pub to blissful peace, and a murmur flowed through the pub.
“What was that you sneezed at the old kraut?” asked the gent sitting behind me.
Chris grinned a sort of crooked grin, and explained in the half-Irish he feigns. “I said ‘backfeifengesicht.’ It’s an old German word meaning ‘a face badly in need of a fist.’ The old fool must have been well-read if he could have such a reaction to it. I learned it on the flight over.” He held up a small paperback tome entitled ‘Swear Your Way Across Europe.”
Well, that did it. We didn’t pay for another round all night as the word spread of the epic heroism of the American cousin who came all the way over to Westport to uphold the honor of the cherished Isle against the Hun. By the end of the night we tumbled out onto the street, firmly convinced that we were related to every single inhabitant of the town. I suspect that if there were any locks left on the gates of the city after the latest round of mortgage backed security ravaging that we would be presented with the key by Hizzhonor the Mayor tomorrow morning. The invaders had been turned back, and all was right with the world.