Mother’s Red Copybook

There’s something incredibly special about being able to read an English Composition that my late mother wrote on October 2, 1935. She would have been fourteen then and poised to set off for boarding school after being schooled by a governess with her brother and sister. They lived on a farm which had no schools nearby so my grandparents went down the governess route.

I have to confess that I’ve never met anyone else whose mother was taught by a governess. It seems extremely ‘old-world’ ~ a term that Mother used to say a friend of hers once attributed to my grandmother.

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Back Cover of Mother’s 1934/5 Copybook

Old-world or not, the red copybook is all I have to evoke thoughts of Mother’s time with the governesses. She talked a fair bit about those days and how she and her Big Bro did everything in their powers to encourage the governesses to let them do English, History and Geography ~ anything rather than maths!

The governesses lived in and most came for just a year at a time ~ some for less as they were very isolated. Mother recalled how she was very fond of some of the governesses and how she kept in touch with a few for many years after they had emigrated to America and Australia. Others, she wasn’t so keen on and was thrilled when they would depart the scene. Reflecting back, she used to think what a lonely life it must have been for these young women who were part, yet apart, from the busy farming family.

Here is that English Composition that Mother wrote on October 2, 1935:

WOULD YOU RATHER BE A BIRD OR A FISH? 

I would rather be a bird than a fish. I would love to be able to soar into the blue sky and roost among the leafy trees in summer. If I were a fish I would be very cold and clammy and live in the same bit of the river, assuming I was a trout, all my life.  I would see much the same things every day. Of course, I would be able to swim but I would prefer to fly.

If I was a bird there would be danger too. Guns, birdlime and net would be used. Or if I was an attractive bird, which would be most unlikely, mischievous boys might set up a trap with a riddle and a piece of string, and some dainty which birds love for bait. If I were caught alive by this or any other method and put in a cage I feel sure I would pine away and die.

Another deadly menace to small birds is the hawk, who swoops down on his prey and carries them  squawking away  to be killed and consumed by the hawk.

A bird would be able to travel and see new places and new birds. Also they are more intelligent than fish. Birds eat nicer things than fish. Berries, fruit, especially strawberries, and other appetising things. I can’t say I would relish worms so much, though. Perhaps if I were a bird I would like them as much as they appear to. I daresay I would never be the early bird, though.

Most birds sing sweetly, and that would be another advantage to being a fish, for if they communicate with each other they do so very silently.

If I were a crow I hope I would have the decency not to inflict my voice on the other inhabitants of the rookery. Or perhaps I would imagine, like the crow in the fable that I was sweet and enchanting.

Still I would like to be able to sit on the topmost branch of a leafy tree in summer and warble in the sunshine.

However, I doubt if I will ever be a bird or a fish, but if I am I hope the gods will be kind and make me a bird  (not a crow or a crane, though, please!)

It’s fascinating how some turns of phrase that I associate with my late mother, like ‘I daresay,’ appear in this piece of writing. In ways, the composition seems childish to me ~ a far cry from the sort of essay one might expect from a fourteen year old nowadays. On the other hand, it shows a deeper knowledge of nature than one would be likely to find in our modern social-media- oriented world.

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First Page of the Original Essay in Mother’s Handwriting. 

 

September … ‘mber

I’m well aware that there is a strong movement away from going to the well of our memories in favour of striving to ‘live in the moment.’

While I’m all for living in the moment, I feel that our present moments are often framed by our pasts and I love nothing more than to bring my bucket to the deep well that lives in my heart and let it pull up a fine glass of memories that were made years ago.

The end of September is always a nostalgic time and it’s interesting that it is the first month of the year that carries with it the word, ‘mber’ that so often starts conversations about the old days. ‘mber the time …?’ 

Well, the memories that are with me tonight are walking trips that Dad used to bring me (or one of the others) on. I’m talking 1970s  and he was a big, strong, fit man for whom walking meant striding out for maybe twenty miles before lunch!

The walking trips were to wild places and a couple of cameras were always part of his luggage, as well as clean white cotton hankies, a strong black umbrella and his toothbrush. He was ever so careful, even vain, about his teeth in spite of being addicted to all things sugar.

The September song that brings me back to those times is this one sung by Nana Mouskouri, who I was fortunate enough to hear in concert in Dublin around 1975.

In September 1974, Dad and I went on a walking trip to his native Co. Clare ~ the place he loved more than anywhere in the whole world. Back then, the Cliffs of Moher hadn’t been commercialised and were wilder than wild. Dad must have taken thousands of photos of the The Cliffs during his lifetime and this is one that he took during our visit that year:

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The Cliffs of Moher, Co. Clare ~ Photo by Frank Tubridy

It was on those expeditions that I got to know about my father’s youth and heard lots of stories about how it was to grow up in the West of Ireland in the 1920s and 30s. I’m so glad now that we had those shared times as they give me a sense of my background too. They also make me smile as I think of his urgings to ‘step on it’ if he caught sight of  a black cloud heading our way! For me, ‘stepping on it’ meant jogging along beside him as his stride lengthened and lengthened …

What Colour is Pain?

I banjaxed my back on Friday and am way out of my comfort zone, to say the very least. There was a time when my back was bad, bad, bad for years on end and I became quite an expert on every conceivable kind of therapy from the very orthodox to the wildly alternative.

In the middle of that period my mother quipped that the pain was such a constant companion that I’d miss it when it was gone. Of course, she knew that once it had gone that I would very quickly forget those nerve jangling efforts of trying to turn in bed and the wobbly walks measured in half paces with breath held braced for the next muscle spasm.

Of course, what I miss in the throes of this latest ‘episode’ is having Father arriving up to the house with ‘meals on wheels,’ carefully wrapped in Mother’s love and emphasis on eye appeal.

‘Eye appeal’ generally meant a sprig of fresh parsely or maybe an edible nasturtium.

One of the most important things that I learned back then about pain was the importance of leaning into it rather than fighting against it and one way that I tried to make friends with it was through colour.

I think I must have had a premonition about the back caving in on Thursday last when I was out in Mount Congreve because I got to wondering about ‘blues’ and low mood.

Anyway, here’s the colour of my soft-tissued pain as I’m perceiving it now:

Colour
Pom-Pom Pain!

 

Dad

Dad was the photographer in our house and I mean steeped in photography ~ not so much obsessed with equipment but a student of the subject.

He was bed bound for the last ten months of his long life in 2010 and it was only then that I started to take a few shots as a way of bringing the natural world that he loved so much into his room.

He had dementia but mercifully he retained the analytical part of his brain and was delighted to be able to advise me about aspects of taking photos.

It was on evenings like this that I would bring down five or six photos for him to critique and he spread them out carefully on his bed and assess each of them like an external examiner. I would wait for his comments like a young student and know that I would get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from him. He always believed in being honest when it came to teaching but he always managed to find some redeeming features, to use one of his favourite turns of phrase.

He’s very much on my mind tonight as his 97th  birthday would have been tomorrow (June 10th).

I was looking through some recent shots and wondering which ones I would have brought down to him for our birthday chat. These are the ones that jumped out at me:

Poppy
Vibrant
Watchful
Watchful
Harry
Grandson Harry (now 21!)
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Sheen
Sandy.jpg
Focus
Red.jpg
Birthday Bloom

I’m not a bit sure which one he’d like the best but I know we’d have a good laugh over them as I was put through my paces!

 

 

Good Night Irene

It’s seven years ago tonight that I sent that text to the kind woman who was sitting with Mother in hospital. It read: Say ‘Goodnight Irene’ from me.

That’s how we always said ‘Goodnight,’ and it didn’t surprise me to hear later that Mother, who had suffered a severe stroke four days before, definitely responded when the message was read to her and that she then settled and passed away peacefully.

Seven years is a long time in some respects and no time in others. Mother’s presence has remained constant throughout as I do even the most mundane things like washing up. Most of all, though, she is with me when I’m lost in nature; nature that she loved and appreciated more than anyone else I’ve ever met.

What’s changed in the seven years is how I see her passing. All the horribleness of being cooped up in hospital has been swept away by the intervening storms and now it’s like she strolled down a May time path festooned with a blaze of nature’s colours.

These are the paths that she craved from her childhood growing up on a farm; paths that she walked with us when we were kids, teaching us about trees, flowers, wildlife; paths that she journeyed in her memory when failing health held her back.

So many paths come to mind but this one in our beloved Mount Congreve seems just right as I think of her now with a loving smile:

Mother
Nature’s Way

 

 

That Inward Eye

Daffodils

The mere sight of daffodils brings me back to those precious evenings from January to September in 2010 when Father and I chatted, laughed, drank tea,  listened to music, sat in companionable silence and enjoyed poetry together.

As he drifted off to sleep I would always return  to William Wordsworth’s The Daffodils  and without fail Father would join in with me when I reached the last stanza:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

There is much that flashes upon our inward eyes but some things linger there as our anchors of love.

Bridging Time

2016-04-15 10.03.23

It’s been a topsy turvy week with highs, lows and little or no time in blogland. I apologise for being so lax and for not interacting much at all.

The major high of the week was a delightful swim yesterday  with the sun beaming down.

The major low was the death of  a dear, dear friend who was a part of my life since I was born and who was a treasured link to both my parents.

It’s hard to say ‘goodbye’ but it is so good to see a person with such a heart of gold being given the chance to die at home in the loving care of devoted grown-up children and supportive home care medical professionals.

A very high percentage of people want to die at home but by no means all are afforded this opportunity.

I sincerely hope that we can work towards enabling everyone to have a choice about where they live out the final years, months, weeks, days and hours of their lives because it matters hugely to both the dying person and his/her family.

 

 

A Gentle Reminder

A met a stranger recently who on hearing my name asked me if the Frank Tubridy who took photographs was any relation of mine.

I responded, with a smile, that he was my father and she said that she had always loved his work and then asked me if he was still alive. I told her that he had died in 2010 and she said that she was sorry to learn that.

I know that people can be feel very uneasy about mentioning someone who may have died, in case they upset the person they are asking or somehow remind them of the the fact that they have died ~ as if it would be something they might have forgotten about!

I am always chuffed when people talk to me about my late parents and say things like: I always think about your mother when I see the snowdrops blooming; or I have a photograph that your father took hanging in my sitting-room and every time I look at it, I remember how he loved a good joke. 

Comeraghs
Our Perch in the Comeragh Mountains : Photo by Frank Tubridy

It’s so good to know that people who mattered to us are remembered fondly, especially as the years pass since their deaths.

So, I give thanks to the stranger (now friendly acquaintance) who clearly knew that speaking kindly of those who have died can be extremely comforting. I guess she had learned this from personal experience.

I expect that there may be divided opinion on this topic but I also suspect that more people than we realise are warmed by hearing their loved ones being remembered with fondness. 

 

 

 

 

 

Evenings with Dad

Kilfarassy Beach, which is about four miles from Tramore, always evokes thoughts of Dad. He first came to love it in the early 1940s when he came to Waterford as a young bank official. Having grown up by the sea in rugged Co. Clare, he had an instinctual need to see tall cliffs and sunsets.

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Golden Light

It was the place where he brought us for swims and picnics when we were kids and it was the place where he and I used to go for our evening outings when he was nearing the end of his life. We’d go for a tiny walk, linking arms, and then sit in the car and watch the sunset. Sometimes, we would just sit in companionable silence; other times, we’d chat about his memories, our shared memories or about things that we wanted to discuss in absolute private.

Sunset2
Beach of Dreams

Kilfarassy’s cliffs light up magnificently at sunset but our eyes and talk was always about that spot down at the end of the beach by the jaggedy rocks which was ‘ours.’ That’s where we once sat as a family ~ buckets and spaces, deck chairs, togs, towels and the leaky thermos flask wrapped in an old tea towel.

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The Eye of the Cliff

Both of us had a fascination with the eye of the cliff right out at the edge. We called it ‘the eye’ but there were times when we thought it was more like a big arm enfolding or maybe a heart.

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Waves of Emotion

The chance to have all those shared hours with Dad, especially in his last years, is something I treasure beyond description. Sometimes, he would nod off to sleep in the car on the way home but never once did he nod off when we were watching the sunset and waiting to soak up the afterglow.