Back in February 2010, my then 90 year-old father was very poorly and his physical world had contracted to his bed. He was at home just down the road from me. He slept a lot but I was able to leg it down to see him when he was awake and wanting company. This could easily be three of four times a day and he loved to talk, laugh, drink tea, eat chocolate biscuits and share hours of music. It was to be his last February and I had little doubt then that it would be so vowed to make the most of every single moment we had left.
He loved Springtime and my memories of that February moving into March are very much bedecked with buds, early daffodils, crocuses and the camellia that lived down a tiny pathway behind where his bedroom was. It had dark red blooms that always seemed shy but were an absolute delight when you took the trouble to seek them out.
Dad was big into music but one song that he asked me to play over and over was Gentle Annie sung by Irish Duo Foster and Allen. I came to love it and the calm it always brought to both of us. These lines always tended to bring our eyes together, sealing our bond forever and ever.
Christmas cards are not really on my agenda any more whereas they used to be a huge part of Christmas.
However, the other day a big thick old fashioned card arrived for me and I didn’t recognize the handwriting.
It was from a woman I met just once in my life about 4 years ago.
I was back in West Clare on the pavement across the road from where my late father grew up. I had heard all about the house from him but had never been in it because it was gone out of the family.
A woman saw me looking across at the building and asked me if I was okay. I explained that it was my father’s home place and that I just wanted to soak it in. She insisted that the owner, who was a friend of hers would be more than happy to let me see around and went and knocked on the door before I could say a word. It was near enough to 9pm in the summer.
I was greeted like a long lost relation and the woman, who had bought the house from my relations, was incredibly generous in terms of showing me all the rooms that I had heard so much about from Dad and also the back yard where they had kept dogs and horses.
The friend left before a cuppa appeared and the lady and I chatted very late into the night.
I couldn’t believe I was sitting in the same kitchen with the same lovely tiles my father had described.
I left that night feeling like I had been given a very precious gift of connection to my father’s youth.
I wrote a thank you letter when I got home and often thought of that special evening in the intervening years.
Then the Christmas card arrived on Friday and a letter fell out full of cheer and an invitation to visit again.
It has left me with the warmest glow and hope for a trip West when Covid allows.
I found a card that I think the 91 year old lady will appreciate and I hope it brings a smile to her lovely face.
We have a huge amount left to talk about and, for now, maybe we will settle for letter-writing. Hard to beat it!
Dad adored music and dancing but couldn’t sing a note or, at least, claimed he couldn’t.
When he retired in 1981, he took over a good few household chores. Washing up was his forte and he liked to do it alone to music.
Those were the days of cassette tapes and he spent hours making new tapes by recording songs he particularly liked. So, there are boxes and boxes of his favorites, all meticulously labelled and timed to perfection.
I am fortunate enough to have them and a few of his old cassette players. It’s so uplifting to delve in and find a tape and lash into chores I hate like the ironing with one of his collections playing at high volume.
I guess this is why I haven’t ever embraced Spotify or the like.
I doubt he ever thought any one else would get such pleasure from his hobby and musical passion.
It’s almost impossible to believe that it is 10 years today that you sailed off into your sunset. And, I hope you’ll be pleased to know that I spent the day in some of our special places, Dunmore East and out along the Copper Coast. I walked miles – faster than usual, as if you were striding along just a tad ahead of me as if pulling me along.
I wasn’t sad or lonely because it was like you were with me.
There wasn’t a clear horizon this morning – the sky melted into the silvery sea. It was soft and gentle, just like the way you slipped away that morning when our backs were turned.
I was thinking of precious moments we shared and so many of them were small things, like the walks passed the mad Kerry Blue who you swore would never bite either of us because one bite from a Kerry Blue in a lifetime was quite enough for anyone to experience and you’d had your share as a young fella.
It’s impossible to think of you without thinking of Mother. It’s like the pair of you bookended summer with your deaths – May 31 and September 10 respectively, just 16 months apart. And what readers both of you were albeit of different genres. Mother into novels and poetry and you more non-fiction, politics and photography.
You’d be moithered trying to keep up with the political situation today. Brexit is at a tipping point, the economy is in pieces with the pandemic and the US election is finely poised and that’s just the headlines.
I bought some lovely heathers and fancy fragrant tulip bulbs in your honour and look forward to planting them and seeing them grow. This was always our time of year to head to the garden centre and choose delights to plant together.
So, goodnight and thanks for the thousands of happy memories.
It’s Mother’s anniversary today – eleven years on.
She adored poppies and this one was in her garden.
She gave us an undying love for nature which I see as one of the most precious gifts any parent can give a child.
Long before anyone was talking about mindfulness, she had us engrossed in our little plots in the garden, lost in the joy of bird-watching, merged with the moods of the sea, enraptured by fleeting rainbows….
Yes, she ensured that her presence would live on through natural beauty and it is a presence that never fails to make me smile.
There is no point denying it. This week feels very raw … still … It is the week during which my Mother had her final stroke eleven years ago, just 45 minutes or so after being told that Father was dying downstairs in the Emergency Department of the same hospital she was in.
It was the stuff of absolute nightmares to witness. I don’t think of the final week of Mother’s life all that often but come May 24th, it hits me every time from the depths of memory. Dad wasn’t dying, as it turned out, and it still plays on my mind how she felt she could die, given that she wouldn’t be leaving him alone.
They were extremely close and it would have been fitting for the two of them to have gone together but, for me, it was a blessing to have Dad around for another 16 months. He was sad, he certainly was, but being him, I think he knew he was doing his fatherly thing by being there to share the sadness with me and to bring me right into his life and share memories which are now a great source of solace and joy.
The sun is beating down, just as it did that last week of Mother’s life. I am drawn to the garden where I want to tend my precious plants and introduce new growth. I am also drawn to the sea, the sea that Mother and I soaked in, in every sense, all our lives.
I know that this sense of ‘that week’ will subside again when we get to June. In the meantime, I think of people who have been unfortunate enough to have to go through both parents dying within days of each other from Covid. Their hearts must be shattered. I just hope they have the possibility of being able to come to a time when memories will not be about the dying week but of shared times of joy.
Now, to the garden to inspect the progress of the new seedlings and the blooming of ‘Happy Dream’ rose as well as the blue geraniums …..
I have been spending a lot of time over the last few years, while I was away from here, sorting through my late father’s photographs.
They bring me all over Ireland and to some other European countries. They bring me more pleasure than I could ever describe and I hope that there are still many more years worth of photos and slides to ponder on.
This one of Mother was taken on the farm where she grew up and where we used to visit my grandmother up until the house and farm were sold when I was about ten.
This particular shot makes me smile as Mother hated having her photograph taken in any kind of formal way so one of her taken from behind is just perfect.
It also reminds me of a day when I wandered off on the farm and found what was like a little fairy house. I knew I was gone beyond my boundary but just had to tell Mama all about my adventure. She got me to tell her every detail and listened intently. Then, she said that she had spent endless hours reading in that little house in the woods when she was about my age and that she was delighted that I loved it just like her.
Right up to the end of her life, she used to remind me of that day and how radiant I was when I was telling her all about my discovery.
I guess we all have secret places but I’m not sure how many of us are lucky enough to share the same ones with our mothers.
The term ‘eye candy’ is one that I came to late in life but I’ve always been a glutton for colour.
Mother had a big thing about ‘eye appeal’ when it came to food and always had a pot of herbs on the go to ‘garnish’ plates that she felt needed a bit of a lift. I loved being the one to dash out the back and bring in a sprig of parsley, some chives, feathery fennel or maybe a mixture of everything and watch her transform plain to picturesque.
These memories of Mother are like interlopers on what I intended to write. Funny how that happens. I guess it’s because she appreciated the little things and life is made up of tiny, tiny moments which we need to appreciate as they are so precious.
So, I will just savour this moment and I hope you stop and appreciate a tiny memory from your day, week, life or loved one who has died but certainly not without leaving lots of shared moments to treasure.
I was flicking through some photographs that I took while I was on my blogging break and came across a few from a little expedition up the cliffs near Annestown on the Copper Coast which is about 8 miles from Tramore.
In ways, it’s like another world and to a large extent it’s a place that belongs to other times.
The cliffs remind me of May 1985 when Mother and I stayed in a caravan overlooking Annestown Beach and with views almost as far as Tramore. We were based there for an interim period between moving from Clonmel back to Tramore where Mother and Dad had lived for the first 15 years of their married life and where they lived out their lives up to 2009 and 2010 respectively.
I was supposed to be ‘helping’ with the move but somehow managed to avoid a lot of ‘mullacking’ (hard word) and spent endless hours exploring the cliffs with Mother and just savouring them in glorious Summer weather.
I feel that Mother would be more than pleased to know that I am here remembering those sun-kissed days tonight before I head to bed knowing that her 8th anniversary will have slipped by just before sunrise tomorrow.
We certainly slept well in that caravan ~ as we were getting so much sea air, dining al fresco, going for swims, walking the cliffs and sitting outside with our cups of tea chatting long after the sun had set.
On those nights, just as on the night she died, I would have said ‘Goodnight Irene’ as we drifted into sleep. That was part of our secret code a la Jim Reeves.
It’s strange how things happen. I was only saying to son, Harry, yesterday how fortunate I was to have the mother that I had in that she was so loving, humane, witty, comforting and understanding about everything.
We were driving round a roundabout when I came out with this utterance which arose as a reaction to hearing a lot of heart breaking stories on radio recently about people whose mothers had disowned them or with whom they simply couldn’t get along for all sorts of complex reasons ranging from clashes over arranged marriages, drug abuse, alcoholism, adoption issues, personality differences …
There was a time when I was foolish enough to think that everyone had a great relationship with their mother but over the years I’ve come to know lots and lots of mothers and daughters who have no connection whatsoever and maybe haven’t spoken to each other for decades.
Then, today, I was rummaging around on my desk and unearthed Mother’s red copybook which contains some English compositions that she wrote in 1934 when she was just 13.
The composition that jumped out at me was this one:
April is the last month of Spring. In it the good qualities of both winter and summer are blended, so helping to make it an ideal month. Hunting is prolonged, and hounds meet during the first week or two. Tennis courts are marked, racquets restrung and clubs open once more.
The trees break into foliage. Primroses, daffodils, violets and anemones bloom in wood and garden. The birds build their nests and pour forth glorious melody.
Little lambs frolic in the fields, while their mothers lie apart, watching them tenderly, and seeing that they come to no harm.
The woods are carpeted with celandines and primroses, while violets peep shyly from among the stronger flowers.
Farmers sow their corn and gardeners sow flower and vegetable seeds, which grow and blossom in due time.
Baby rabbits may be seen in the fields or near their burrows, ready to go indoors at the slightest hint of danger.
Here and there, one may see a squirrel jumping agilely from branch to branch. He has been lured out of his winter home by the glorious sunshine.
Easter generally falls in this month and Easter eggs are displayed in many shop windows in towns and villages.
Easter is seldom in March, and never in May; it is in April, which is a suitable time for festivals, for all of the world is in festive garb.
What struck me about this composition was the extent to which it was so much ‘Mother,’ with her absolute love of nature and wild places as well as her observations about nature’s ways ~ for example, the violets peeping shyly from among the stronger flowers.
It also made me think of how much things have stayed the same since 1935 at some levels – like the ‘festive garb’ of the natural world and the lessons we could all take from nature if we took the time to observe.
Clearly much has changed in Ireland and the world since 1935 but, for me, what feels important tonight, are the continuities and that feeling that somewhere Mother, who died in 2009, is ‘lying apart,’ watching her little lambs tenderly, seeing that they come to no harm.’