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.
When the stretch comes in the evenings in January, primroses are always on my mind and my eyes speed read every possible ditch, in search of that joyous yellow with the velvety scent.
You don’t expect to find primroses on working harbours like Dunmore East, here in Co, Waterford, but lo and behold I found one there yesterday ~ albeit navy and white!
My heart missed a beat when I saw her and then went on to miss another when I found that she was from Drogheda, the town of my youth and schooling in the North-East of the country that is built on the Boyne Estuary.
So, so many times, we went looking primroses back then, especially Mother and me. She would clamber up onto all sorts of ditches, beating back briars, in the kinds of places that primroses flourish. She used to laugh at me and say that I was a pessimist who lived in fear of seeing a dead rat in the ditches rather than glowing primroses. I have to admit there was quite a bit of truth in her opinion of me back then.
But, we can change, especially if led by example!
Spurred on by Primrose from Drogheda, I was fired up to find even the first signs of wild primroses today and my journey wasn’t in vain. Co. Waterford served up her first primrose of my year out on the ‘road to the sea.’
Spring has definitely sprung!
And I must tell you that while I was driving along, I got to thinking about the relationship between shadows and reflections. I still haven’t worked it out fully but clearly the sun has a lot to do with it.
Here’s how Dunmore East was reflecting yesterday with the Lighthouse, built in 1824, looking magnificent both above and below water:
George Gordon, Lord Byron was born on this day ~ January 22, 1788 ~ and he has been very much on my mind since early morning.
He was a poet who was much loved by my late mother who often quoted lines from his work. She had been introduced to him early in her life and it always gives me great pleasure to read an English composition which she wrote in 1934, when she was 13, comparing his life with that of Percy Bysshe Shelley. Here is a short extract:
Both were wonderful poets, both hated tyranny and wrote of freedom. But with such a difference! A comparison of portraits emphasises it more even that a comparison of poems. Shelley, mournful, longing for a better world, with a melancholy face and a grave outlook on life. Byron, handsome, extravagant, impulsive, thoughtless and dissipated. Of the two, I infinitely prefer Byron, both his poems and his portrait, even taking his faults into consideration.
I often wonder how many portraits of Byron Mother ever got to see and which ones.
I’ve no doubt that she had probably read all his poetry but these are the lines that she tended to quote the most:
There is pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: (George Gordon, Lord Byron 1788-1824)
Among the many pleasures of driving to Kilfarrasy Beach, which is about 5 miles from Tramore, is a field which is the grazing place of some beautiful horses. When others are down at the beach at sunset, I often find myself stopping to watch the horses in silhouette.
Yesterday, I simply had to stop when I saw this magnificent creature looking so peaceful:
So many thoughts came flooding into my mind as I stood at the gate and watched him but none more than a saying that my late mother used to quote when she thought that any of us were over-doing things:
“Remember the horses in the French Revolution. They had to work for ten days without a rest and they all dropped dead.”
She always highlighted the power of rest and saw it as being essential to being able to function to the best of one’s ability. Thus, she had no qualms about having a rest in bed every afternoon for an hour or so. She’d read her book, maybe have a little snooze and then get up ready to take on the world. She had a peace about her and wasn’t a person who rushed around. She was just as busy as anyone else but always looked like she had all the time in the world. I think she took a certain pleasure in slowing the pace down when people were racing around like as if they were on a frantic life-saving mission and being ‘busy bees, ‘ as she would call them.
As life moves on, I’m coming to see that she was right about the importance of rest and I think she’d be smiling to hear me, of all people, quoting this poem that echoes from my childhood:
Down By the Salley Gardens
Down by the salley gardens
my love and I did meet;
She passed the salley gardens
with little snow-white feet.
She bid me take love easy,
as the leaves grow on the tree;
But I, being young and foolish,
with her would not agree.
In a field by the river
my love and I did stand,
And on my leaning shoulder
she laid her snow-white hand.
She bid me take life easy,
as the grass grows on the weirs;
But I was young and foolish,
and now am full of tears.
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.
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.
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:
It’s Mother’s Day here in Ireland and Puppy Stan woke me at an unearthly hour ~ possibly to wish me Happy Mother’s Day ~ but he brought me off for a frosty jaunt that was filled with thoughts of my mother.
This is my seventh Mother’s Day since she died in May 2009. A grown-up daughter whose mother is rather unwell at the moment asked me recently: Do you miss your mother? I was a little taken aback by her directness and found myself hesitating for a few seconds.
I answered as honestly as I possibly could and said: Yes, I do but not half as much as I expected I would because it’s like she’s with me all the time. I wish someone had told me it would/could be like this when I was in a total state in the last years of her life. I’m glad she didn’t battle on as her quality of life was going to be more and more diminished and this way I feel that she’s at peace and also that I have her love, wisdom and sense of fun beating away within me.
This morning was one of those mornings when Mother was right with me as Stan and I headed off just to ‘be with her.’
She was passionate about nature and it was like nature herself was beaming for her too. Ponies and horses were a fundamental part of her growing up and this pair looked surreal as the sun was rising over the frosty fields:
The sea was soft and gentle ~ just like Mother’s touch:
On the path down to her beloved Annestown, the grass that we so often sat on having picnics after swims was glittering in the frost:
There was no possibility of resisting the chance to leave her a little message on the sand:
Out along the Copper Coast, sheep and lambs adorned a few fields close to the road. A ewe and her lamb came close to me and I was stunned to see that she was No. 29 ~ Mother’s special number always as her birthday was on the 29th.
Mother always loved to wander alone with nature, knowing that she could always come back to people who loved her.
As I look at this photograph that Dad took of her, I feel like I could call and she would turn around smiling and hold out her hand for me to come along with her:
Being a hoarder has its moments and this morning brought one of those.
I unearthed pages of a quote-a-day calendar that my mother had kept from 1983. There are just thirteen of them so she was pretty selective about what she kept.
Reading through them is like hearing Mother speak to me and I’ve picked out the ones that spell her to me:
A wise old owl sat in an oak,
The more he saw the less he spoke,
The less he spoke the more he heard,
Why can’t we all be like that wise old bird.
Anonymous: Punch, 1895
Owls were among Mother’s passions and I still cringe when I think of how I broke her precious owl vase while practicing my tennis indoors one wet day.
Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is by far the best ending for one.
(Oscar Wilde 1854-1900)
This makes me think of her absolute insistence that all rows in the house be made up before sleep. “Never let the sun go down upon your anger.”
People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading
Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946)
It would be impossible to overstate the importance of reading in Mother’s life. She was an avid reader from a very early age and books like Pride and Prejudice were on her agenda when she was eight or nine years of age. Mercifully, she passed on her love of reading to all of us kids.
And how often did I hear her quote these lines when I was asking her for advice about ‘big’ decisions:
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)
And, it’s always good to find jottings on things. (That handwriting of hers is so, so familiar). Here’s another of her choices but with her note-to-self (and now to me) added on to it:
And I simply have to add in this one as it maybe solves the mystery of why she and Dad had such differing views about dandelions on the lawn. He saw them as a scourge and she loved them:
You fight dandelions all weekend, and late Monday afternoon there they are, pert as all get out, in full and gorgeous bloom, pretty as can be, thriving as only dandelions can in the face of adversity.
Hal Borland (1900-1978)
I think I’ll get myself a quote-a-day calendar for this year and stash away my favourites for posterity. It could be a lovely gift for Harry one January day when he would like to re-connect. Oh, and I’ll be sure to make a few jottings as I go along.
Tomorrow, October 18th, is my birthday and it was always a day that Mother and I saw as being ‘our’ day. We celebrated it in our own little way, for example, for years and years and years she made me a walnut coffee cake with an ever-increasing number of candles but it’s a cake that I’ve certainly never been able to make to the same taste, even though I have the recipe. I think she must have had some magic touch or extra ingredient that she added!
This will be my seventh birthday since Mother died in May 2009 and it is certainly a lot easier than the first one without her. I went on a 13 mile walk for charity that day to try and make the day matter. It was a good idea but I was a bit of an emotional and physical wreck before, during and after the walk as I wasn’t very fit and was heavily involved in caring for my father who was also grief-stricken and frail but who was totally behind my decision to go on the walk ( That was the last birthday I shared with him and we had a good laugh about the walk and all it involved!)
Seven years on, I’ve learned to be prepared for a surge of memories that surround all the birthdays that I shared with Mother. Today, I bought snowdrop bulbs to plant in her honour tomorrow (as well as Dutch Master daffodil bulbs for Dad). I also booked a ticket for a musical show in Waterford’s Theatre Royal for tonight. It was the magnificent Two Brothers, Vladimir and Anton Jablokov, playing their violins with heart, passion and brotherly instinct.
Mother was never far from my mind as I bathed in the music. It suddenly dawned on me that at that time 58 years ago, she would have been in the little nursing home in Tramore, just down the road from where we lived, waiting for my arrival.
Father was at home with my sister (6) and my brother (3) and I regret now that I never asked Mother very much about that night. I was born at 12.20am.
As I drove home from Waterford to Tramore this evening, I stopped at the house where Father would have been minding the other two and took note of the very short distance between the house and the nursing home. The tide was well in tonight and there was a lovely whispering from the waves when I opened the car window. I hope Mother had the sound of the sea to help her through the labour pains.
I had a root through a few old photo albums when I got home and found this photo of my brother and sister which I strongly suspect was taken around the time I was born:
The photo makes me smile as Mother used to tell me how my sister was bitterly disappointed that I was totally bald and not a bit like her doll, Emily Anne. (As you can see, I had a fair bit to live up to!)
It feels right and proper that Ireland should be playing in the Rugby World Cup Quarter Final slap bang in the middle of my birthday tomorrow as Mother and I never missed an International Rugby Match on TV together. I know she’ll be with me in spirit as I hide behind a few cushions cheering on the Irish team, with hubby and son, in its battle against Argentina.
So Happy Birthday to US, Mother, and you were right, ‘Love IS elastic.’