Birthday Thoughts

Today is my birthday ~ not that you’d know it from hubby and son who are the most un-birthday people you could ever meet, even when it comes to their own birthdays.

Birthdays in the house of my youth were HUGE days and it came as no surprise that Big Sis and Big Bro sent lovely cards and things, as always.

I had a gorgeous day ~ just took off on an adventure.

When I was coming back to Tramore the sun had just set and I found myself drawn to the house where we lived back then. It was here in Tramore.  Our parents were renting it and I got to thinking of how Dad would have come home from work ( in those 1950s days, fathers certainly weren’t in attendance at births here in Ireland), and made sure Big Sis and Big Bro were okay.  Here’s the house as it was looking this evening.

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My First Home, Tramore, Co. Waterford

Back in the 1950s, Tramore had its own little nursing home where many of the town’s babies, including me and my two sibs were born. It was about a two minute walk from our house so Dad used to call in the mornings and evenings to see Mother and the new baby.

His evening call would have been around the time I was passing this evening and this is how the nursing home of old was looking. It’s the near one with the red door.

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Lyon Terrace, Tramore

It’s lovely that these houses are still in existence and so well maintained.

I can’t but smile as I think of Mother’s description of Big Sis’ disappointment with the baldy baby that I was. She had been madly looking forward to having a little sister and thought I would be like her doll ~ Emily-Anne. As you can see from this photo that Father took, Emily-Anne raised the bar rather high!

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Big Sis, Big Bro and Emily-Anne

The card I got from Big Sis this morning certainly indicated that she’s well over her disappointment.

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As for Big Bro, he and I have been the best of friends since Day 1. He’s a great one for tossing out crumbs of advice so this P.S. on his card  was absolutely true to form:

Make the most of 59!

I certainly intend to …..

Live Life

Life

I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.

( Diane Ackerman)

I love this quote and it made me think of the road out near Ballyscanlon Lake here in Co. Waterford. You could be driving along this lovely winding road and not think to look over the high hedge. Lying beneath is one of the most delightful lakes I know:

Ballyscanlon Lake, Co. Waterford
Ballyscanlon Lake, Co. Waterford

 

Gate of Life

Gate

I’ve been passing this gate almost everyday for years now and I’ve come to love it more and more as it has gradually  peeled back its coats.

I can just imagine some people wanting to spruce it up for spring but I delight in seeing its rainbow of colours all melting into each other and revealing  the colourful hands of history.

I’m like this with people too. I want to see the reality that lies behind the make-up; the eyes behind the dark glasses; the joys, fears, loves, losses, passions, hopes … that are so often glossed over with a maskish smile.

The other thing about this gate that always makes me slow down is its design. It’s certainly not a gate to keep small children in or out. It’s more like a toy aimed at stretching a child’s imagination. I find myself looking around for all sorts of shapes that can be posted in through those angled boxes.

Or how about sitting on the gate on Summer evenings reading a warm paperback while horses whinny in the fields nearby. I’ve no doubt that children have sat on this gate over the years and waved at carloads of sun lovers who have spent their day at the beach that’s just down the road.

Yes, it’s a gate with a past and lots and lots of stories to tell ~ just like every single older person in this crazy world of ours.

 

 

 

Bridge of Life

Today has been kind to me and I hope it has been kind to you, my Dear Readers.

I’ve been rather distracted, however, on hearing about the plight of a 91 year old man who had to spend 29 hours on a hospital trolley in a Dublin hospital before finally getting a bed.

The Accident and Emergency Crisis in Ireland has been bothering me for a long time now, as both a social researcher and at a personal level, and this latest outrage makes me feel incredibly sad.

Bridge of Life

I can’t but wonder if a child would have been treated in the same way. In  other words, are people in their 80s and 90s viewed as having less value than younger people?

Also, would the 91 year old parent of one of our top politicians be left on a trolley for 29 hours?

As I write tonight, I feel a horrible sense of relief that my parents, who lived to great ages,  have both passed on and will never, ever have to face long waits on hospital trolleys again.

I also feel a horrible sense of agony for the people who are stuck on trolleys in our Accident and Emergency Departments this very minute. This is a social problem, not some natural phenomenon, and can therefore be solved if there is enough social and political will to seek out and implement solutions.

“An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing…”
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS, “Sailing to Byzantium”

Let us all sing , and sing out loud together, to bring this awful Accident and Emergency Crisis to the very top of the social and political agenda. 

Going to the Bar

My days start with a quick walk around our block with puppy Stan. It takes us about twelve minutes but they are BIG minutes as we meet the day, see lots of familiar faces and pass The Bar’

‘The Bar’ isn’t a pub, just in case you were thinking along those lines! It’s just a set of railings on a corner.

'The Bar,' Tramore, Co. Waterford
‘The Bar,’ Tramore, Co. Waterford

But these are no ordinary railings to me.  They were christened ‘The Bar’ by my late mother who loved nothing better than to say to an unsuspecting person: “Oh I’m just back from The Bar.”

The railings are a few yards down the road from the school that my sister and brother attended up to the time Father was transferred to the Midlands in 1963. Mother used to wait for them at ‘The Bar,’ with one eye on the school gate and the other on the view of the sea. The old stone wall on the right of the photograph is part of the school property.

‘The Bar’ marks my first proper view of the sea every day. That viewing tells me a huge amount about how my day is likely to pan out. I can see the state of the tide, the size of the waves, feel the direction of the wind, get a good sense of the ‘real’ temperature.

The building between the railings and the sea was the first school building that our son attended from 2000-2003, so he and I (and our King Charles, Sophie,  used to walk passed ‘The Bar’ and cross the busy road hand in hand in lead each morning.

As I walk around the block, I can’t but think of cycles of life. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve ended up settling in Tramore just a sling stone from where my father and mother, from Co. Clare and Co. Meath respectively, happened to have their first home in 1948. I guess, though that I inhaled a lifelong craving for the ‘Tramore Air,’ in those first  five and a bit years of my life.

‘The Bar’ always make me think, too, of these lines from T.S. Eliot’s, The Love Song of  J. Alfred Prufrock:

For I have known them all already, known them all—
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I can hear you asking what the connection could possibly be between ‘The Bar’ and these lines. It’s multi-layered but, at its simplest, relates to times when reaching/not reaching ‘The Bar’ was a measure of physical progress/decline.

My late parents’ final house (1986-2010) was a few hundred yards from ‘The Bar’ and I have vivid recall of how it was a huge goal of mine to be able to walk to it after badly breaking my leg in 1987. I remember the first day I got there and wondering how the hell I was ever going to get back again.

Similarly, ‘Going to The Bar’ was beyond highly symbolic for my mother in her latter years when her mobility was in decline.

As I walked around the block this morning, it hit me  forcefully how very mundane structures like ‘The Bar’ can carry extraordinary significance for people. The idea that ‘The Bar’ could  be one of my highlights of stunning Tramore may seem almost beyond belief but I know that even if the railings are taken down that I will always still see them at that corner on The Old Waterford Road. In addition, ‘The Bar’ has brought it home to me how much people perceive places through spectacles made of different times.

Have you got a mundane structure or place, like ‘The Bar’ which has a special significance in your life? 

Impressions

Forest Floor
Forest Floor

Mount Congreve Gardens served up special beauty on its last open days for this season.

Standing deep in the woods, I was treated to this piece of abstract art that has been shimmering around in my mind.

It seems all the more poignant today as I’ve just come back from visiting a life long friend who has dementia. Her short term memory may be impaired but so much of her layered essence remains. Her smile, her voice, her sense of fun, her memories of days we shared and most of all the feel of her hand in mine.

Where does the image take you? 

Greet the Day!

Tramore Bay. Co. Waterford
Tramore Bay. Co. Waterford

Tramore was deserted this morning as the high tide greeted the day.

I was more determined than ever to see it this morning having met a very dear friend yesterday who is now feeling old age creep up upon her. She was once very like me ~ an early riser, a sea baby, a sports fanatic, dog lover and a great walker.

She was looking well but confided in me that the thing she misses most about ageing is not having the energy, balance and mobility that she once had to savour the delights of  Tramore which is her natural habitat.

The longing and memories in her eyes  were etched in my mind as I walked along the beach  bewitched by every single wave that hesitated ever so momentarily before breaking into a white foamy smile.

Salty Waves
Salty Waves

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old Time is still a-flying;

(Robert Herrick)

Do Birthdays Matter?

'Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and 
 sweet words.' (Plautus)

As a true ‘birthday’ person, I was rather taken aback during the week when our one and only, who is twenty today, told me that his birthday was ‘just another day’ to him and that he didn’t want anyone to make anything out of it.

Honesty
Honesty

There may be a touch of like father like son here as hubby is exactly the same!

Is this a male thing; have birthdays lost their significance; or are there others out there who treasure birthdays, especially those of their kids, no matter what age they happen to be?

All views welcome!

Do You Want to Live Forever?

A couple of key issues that relate to  ‘longevity’ have cropped up in Ireland in recent weeks and now everywhere I look I seem to be seeing things about people wanting to prolong life and try and evade death by hook or by crook.

Irish people (like those in other developed countries) are living a lot longer than they used to and very little provision was made for this. So now we have a situation where older people are ‘clogging up’ beds in acute hospitals because they have nowhere suitable to go. Home care packages just aren’t sufficient and there aren’t enough nursing home or supported-living places.

The idea of being stuck in an acute hospital, not in the best of health, worrying about ‘where to’ next is something that fills me with dread. I witnessed elements of this with my own parents when they were in their late eighties and their quality of life was declining.  However, they were fortunate to be able to remain in their own home, with care, and this mattered hugely to them both.

The vast majority of Irish people want to die in their own homes but only a small percentage actually achieve this goal.

For me, there is a key question about whether people  want to live on because they don’t want to die ~ either because they fear it or because they don’t want to leave others behind.

I feel that quality of life is key and having to  ‘exist’ when the mind and body have essentially outlived their time is a form of cruel imprisonment than no one deserves to have to endure unless s/he chooses.

I realise that this is controversial territory but maybe it is a debate which society badly needs to address.

What’s your view on the matter?

 

Dear 87-Year-Old Me

 
Tramore
Co. Waterford

 

November 7, 2014

Dear Jean,

I hope you’re in good fettle and not too surprised to be getting this letter.

I decided to write it as everyone seems to be writing to 30-year-old -me and I feel that there’s a lot to be said for addressing the future ~ 30 years on! You know the way we had that tendency, especially before Father died, to feel that we couldn’t look beyond that point ~ as it seemed like an end-of-the-world prospect.

The world didn’t end then and I’m wondering what you’re thinking 30 years on. What are your hopes, your regrets, the things that you can see as having been truly important with the benefit of hindsight.

Path of Life

I would like to think that you’re still physically active and that you can get to the beach everyday. Hopefully, you’re still swimming and getting that buzz we’ve always got from being immersed in the seawater, with the waves splashing our face.

Swim

Speaking of face, how are your teeth? Please tell me that the gum operation I’m dreading so much was worth it all and that the wobbly tooth is still there, solid as a rock.

Writing to you feels like having the framework of a huge jig-saw pretty much in place but needing to figure out those tough bits, especially those that are all the same colour. We certainly had plenty of practice at jig-saws when we were small, didn’t we? Remember the time we stayed in Jigsaw Cottage high up in the Wicklow Mountains. That was a happy night ~ and we managed to find one piece to fit that 5,000 piece jig-saw. I wonder did they ever get it finished?

Have you added many pieces to our jigsaw or have you dumped it and taken a whole new turn in life? I quite like the idea of a whole new you: someone who has cast away worry; has got tidier; is gallivanting around the world on some sort of crazy, creative mission; is full of hope having ridden the storms of this recession and presumably a few more that lie ahead of me now.

What I would hate is if you are socially dead ~ remember David Sudnow’s Passing On and ‘social death’ in Second Year in Trinity? That book has never left me and I can’t imagine it has left you either. I couldn’t bear if you were just languishing in a day room of some nursing home ~ a sort of waiting-room for death.  I can’t imagine how something that feels so not ‘me’ could have become okay for an older ‘me.’

I’m here thinking that life is about quality ~ to love, be loved, to laugh, write, read poetry,  soak in nature, be at peace, have hope and, of course, health.

I know that we won’t live forever. Do you still feel that way? Do you still think of Cicero and On a Life Well Spent?

Our Tramore!
Our Tramore!

If I’m absolutely honest, the reason I came to write to you was because I’ve been seeing lots of lovely wintery sunsets and you know the way I’ve always associated death as being as natural as the sun setting.

Lots and lots of love,

jxxxxxxxxxJ

PS. I hope you still have a dog in your life and not just memories of all the beauties we’ve shared thus far.

Sophie and Me
Our Sophie