Category Archives: Mothers

The Presidents Daffodils.

My Mother was a ‘townie’ (inner city child) in her day. She spent her early years in Manor Street just off Aaron Quay in Dublin, and she had a pal from school whose mother worked as part of the domestic kitchen staff in Arás an Uachtaráin (house/home of the President of Ireland) which was located, and still is in the Phoenix Park which is one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe.

Kids had wonderful freedom back in those days, and as a youngster my mam cycled everywhere. She told a great story about a day when she cycled up during the holidays to play with her friend in the Arás. These two small girls were in the garden when the President came out to walk. He asked my mother if she liked flowers, and when she replied that she did, he plucked several daffodils which were in bloom and told her to bring them home to her mother and to say that they were a gift from him. My mam popped them into the basket on her bike and headed home. At the gates of the Park, one of the gate keepers stopped her and asked her where she had gotten the flowers. She truthfully answered that the President had given them to her. He didn’t believe her and threatened her with the police for stealing flowers from the park. After lots of tears he finally let her off to cycle home the short distance to Manor Street and to give her mam the flowers. Every Spring when I see daffodils growing in the lands throughout the Phoenix Park I am reminded of my mam and her lovely story. How sweet of the then President, Douglas Hyde to send flowers from his garden to my grandmother.  

Gone is the saddest word…..

Every time I opened the door to her home I was met by a scent which was unique and personal. It was her house, containing her life and her memories. It wasn’t a bad smell, it was simply distinctive. I have excellent olfactory senses despite being a smoker which is rare as everyone tells me. Senses are dulled and ruined by cigarettes but mine have somehow escaped intact. My sense of smell has always been good. It can detect foodstuffs that are no longer fresh despite the “best before date”, and with cooked food I use my nose as a gauge which decides whether I will eat it or not. If there is a hint of suspicion that it is not the freshest, my nose guides me. It has rarely let me down.

I am also great at identifying scents and fragrances. I can catch a whiff as someone passes, and will be able to “name that brand”. It’s like my X factor talent. I love perfume, and wear it every day. I sniff uncontrollably and unconsciously all the time taking in smells around me.

I clearly remember an early morning flight from London some years ago when I sat in a seat on board the aeroplane with my face occasionally pressed through the seats in front of me trying (without success) to identify the “scent” of the business man who sat there and who smelt divine. After several visits to the men’s cosmetic counters in Dublin department stores over the course of that summer I eventually “found” the smell, bought the product, and still continue to wear it regularly despite it being marketed as a “man fragrance”. Calvin Klein- Escape. It’s a musky fragrance that warms and changes as your body goes through the day. I never tire of it.

Two years ago as my dear and much loved mother in law became frail and unequipped to live alone; a sleep over rota was put in place by her family. I stayed over every Thursday night. I had my own key, and every week as I let myself in, I was enveloped unconsciously by the odours of her house. Not a perfume as she never wore it, just the smells that settle in any house that are distinctive to the person who lives there.

When I would come home the following morning, unpacking my clothes I could smell her lingering scent as I put them out for washing. I never really thought about it.
When she died and her house was subsequently emptied of all her possessions before it was sold, I felt really sad clearing out clothes and recalling this wonderful woman who I would miss forever. I took a couple of little keepsakes to remember her by, and I have them in my home so that she is somehow amongst us in the things that held meaning for her. I miss her all the time. She was a very special woman and I loved her dearly.

Time moves on and as a family we continue to cope with her loss. She was 94 when she died and she lived a great and long life although we miss her all the time.

There was a leak in my own house recently. It wasn’t major, but water poured into the hot-press and soaked all the linen and other paraphernalia that was stored inside it. My husband pulled out all the towels and sheets that were stored there and set them to dry on radiators and clothes horses after the leak was fixed. I was away when this happened although I knew of the catastrophe as we were in touch by phone.

I arrived home later that same night. The house was in darkness and I knew my husband was in bed. As I opened the door and stepped inside I could “smell” his mother. It was unnerving and completely unexpected. Her distinctive smell was in my hall. I don’t believe in ghosts but I was completely unbalanced by it.

I walked through the downstairs of my house but couldn’t figure how or why I was “smelling” her. I turned out lights and made my way up the stairs as the scent grew stronger and stronger. As I turned on the landing, I immediately spotted the small Blarney woollen blanket that she used to cover her lap with when she was cold draped across our banisters. I didn’t realise that my husband had rescued it from her home and had stored it in our hot press. It was just another item amongst all the other bits and pieces that were pulled out and dried after the leak.
The moment really shook me. I believe that up to then I had coped well with her death, carried on, missed her, yet remembered her. But in that minute on the landing as I lifted and snuggled into her blanket, holding it to my face and inhalling her unique scent, I understood that ‘gone’ is really the saddest word as I realised unhappily and sadly that I will never smell her again.

Destiny can be about acknowledging special people like Bernie Morrissey whose scent and memories linger on.

Family.

No one in life is born in a vacuum. No one is born who is unrelated to others. Some people are unlucky by birth and are attached through blood to people who cause them harm by abandonment, hurt, abuse, neglect, cruelty and/or shame. Others are luckier. They grow in an extended family that nurture, love, support and care. The roll of the dice is so arbitrary, and I often reflect on how wonderfully they tumbled for me.

My younger life has been documented to some degree in the stories that I have already written. The family that I was born into have been present throughout that time. I have had Parents, Grand Parents, Uncles, Aunts and Cousins who I have always known and loved. They were all there during the course of my life, and no one was estranged or apart. How fortunate I am. How lucky I have been to know and love all of these special people that are my kin, my blood, my heritage.

My maternal grandmother, ‘Sis Furlong’ had seven children. Two sets of twins and three other children. Monnie (my mam), Paddy, Elizabeth (BiBi) & Philip, Leo, Paul & Pauline. My Aunt BiBi and Uncle Phil recently celebrated their 80th birthday. They are the first set of twins and Paul & Pauline are the second.

BiBi & Phil decided to have parties for their birthday, and invitations were sent out to family and friends from all around the world to come and celebrate with them.

So recently as a clan on two different nights, in two different venues, we gathered and we celebrated. We talked, we danced, we laughed, we cried, we drank, we sang and we rejoiced being a family that is confidently and lovingly connected despite the ages and geographical distance that lies between some of us.

I watched a beautiful montage of family photos set to music, of my lovely Aunt and Uncle when they were younger. It documented their lives, their loves and their happiness. I cried watching my lovely Uncle Leo and my Mam no longer with us, but who were remembered with such love and great affection by all who were watching. I laughed, hugged and cried with some of my cousins who I hadn’t seen for quite a while, but yet we all slipped effortlessly into that wonderful comfortable place where being part of a large loving family was the biggest thing that was happening alongside the birthday celebrations. It was hard to tear myself away and to say good night.

My Aunts and Uncles have created a fantastic dynasty and there were so many cousins and their spouses present over the party days. My cousins, who I grew up with, now have their own partners and adult children who are also part of this great and extended family.

Marrying or joining a clan like this must have been daunting, but hats off to everyone who was brave enough, because everyone who did so has added to the beauty and texture that make it so very special. My cousin’s partners, husbands and wives have all become my beloved relations who I absolutely adore, and are as much a part of my kin as my own children are.

I’ve missed my mam so much over the past two years, and no one will ever replace her, but I was down in BiBi’s for lunch just before the parties started and was out in the porch having a sneaky fag with my Aunty Pauline (Monnie’s younger sister) when she chuckled and threw some remark my way. Tears sprung into my eyes, because it was like having Mam back in that moment. Mannerisms and family sayings are so unique and are absolute identifiers of kin. I looked at her and could see my mother in her eyes, her smile and her chuckle and was so very glad to be there beside her.

I truly appreciate and love all the people in my family. They are a part of my bloodline and heritage. They are my kin. I feel it instinctively, and would do my utmost in a heartbeat to answer a call of distress from any one of them to be there if I was needed. Mam was at the centre of this family and although she is no longer here, I love that her people continue to love me and include me in their family meals and get together’s. I feel privileged to be included in cousin family gatherings as I have been so much recently, and I humbly acknowledge that I am so very fortunate having such special warm and loving people to call my own. I really hope that my kids realise what a cracking family that they belong to.

Destiny can be about gazing back into an older life with the fervent hope that its values and tradition continue into the future.

A shrinking life…

Quietly and almost without my noticing it, my life has shrunk and become smaller.

Measured tasks that filled and shaped my days, that ate up the hours and minutes were all unconsciously part and parcel of my life until last January. These moments have become fewer over the past year.

It’s difficult to reconcile the constant bustle that was my life last year with the quietness and inactivity that defines it now. It is a hallmark of how things are for me at this moment in time.

My life at the time was a balancing act.

I juggled classes, studying, assignments and learning, along with family commitments and the on-going care of my then terminally ill mother. Sometimes there were not enough hours in the day to complete particular tasks, so a friend of mine very kindly gave me a “do it tomorrow” book. It really helped me to make lists of all the things that had to be done, and if I didn’t manage to finish them I would just carry them forward to the next day or until they were eventually crossed off the list. There was a crazy kind of order to my days.

Reading back over the entries from that time I can see that life was also sometimes chaotic, and some tasks were carried on for far too long before they were eventually scratched off the list but it was all somehow manageable.

Christmas 2012 was frantic. There was so much studying and research to be completed. I stayed up many nights reading, writing, referencing and cross referencing. I remember the tiredness. I also remember minding my mam Monnie, who had moved into Hospice care by that time. Prior to her move, there were hospital appointments, liaisons with nurses and home care staff, and all the million and one things that had to be done to ensure her well-being. I wasn’t alone in this, and my brother and my mother’s sisters and brothers were on hand providing help and support during this time.

Christmas was both joyous and sad, because although my mam was with me over the holidays I could see that her life was drawing to a close. She died in early January 2013 and suddenly the tasks associated with her care that were such a feature of my life for such a long time ended abruptly. After her funeral there was an emptiness that was not just about her being gone.

The days stretched ahead empty without meaning or purpose.

I recognised this landscape as I had been there previously when my sister died in 2009 but it looked different this time, bleaker and more desolate. I remember speaking to a very kind and wise Chaplain in NUIM after my sister Annie died, and he helped me through that terrible time with his gentle words of comfort and enlightenment of how the world works with the cycle of life and death. I tried unsuccessfully to resurrect his words and tender instructions and to apply them again, but it didn’t work this time. I found myself in a place of utter loneliness that I could hardly understand myself never mind trying to explain it to others.

Throughout my life I have been emotionally strong and it has stood to me during times of trouble. However I can honestly say that this past year has shaken me more than I ever thought I could be.

Losing my dear sister Annie stopped my world five years ago and at times I didn’t want it to start again I missed her so much. Losing my mam last year has made me feel fragile and small in the face of the universe and in the arbitrary way that life/death happens.

In all the sadness and adjustment to my life without mam, I could not bury myself in my studies as I had done when Annie died. It simply didn’t work. I tried hard to keep up, but eventually made the decision to defer my studies until such a time that I could be clearheaded and focused on the subject as it deserves to be.

When this decision was made I found myself in another vacuum, another empty place where routine was gone and tasks no longer had to be carried forward to the next page of my “do it tomorrow” book.

Emotionally, I realise that I needed that space to mourn my mother’s death and to sort out her affairs, which took up so much time in the weeks and months that followed.

I took on a major house renovation which was much needed and very welcome. I became a ‘project manager’ in my own home and this activity took me through the sad spring and summer months. Conversations about colours and textures, wood versus carpet with painters, carpenters, restorers, and electricians coupled with builders and plumbers coming in and out of the house kept me occupied and focused on the job at hand.

Once that was complete I was in a vacuum again.

The ending of so many things has left me in a peculiar place. I am stagnant, still, and unable to move forward. I am bereft of people that I loved and habits that had become an intrinsic part of me and I am unsure of how to move forward. The pages of my “do it tomorrow” book lie empty and I find that days drag on with no purpose or direction.

I believe that I will bounce back eventually, but it’s a tougher road than I could ever have imagined.

I believe that inertia is a thief of time, and that if I don’t move forward, I will become stuck in this place and I don’t want to be here any longer than I have to be.

I believe that life for me will not be the one that I casually mapped out before I lost the two greatest women that I have ever known and loved.

I believe that living is only as good as I make it, and that it’s up to me to create the opportunities that will make it better for me.

I believe that I am more equipped than I realise, facing into my future having had the love and friendship from these two beloved women.

Life has shrunk, yet I find myself filled with hope on a road watching out for the signpost that will point me in the right direction.

 

Destiny is somehow trusting that what has passed will provide strength and hope for my future.

 

 

The route home…..

Like a pigeon, despite distance and location I have always found my way back home to where I grew up. I never left the island, indeed I never lived further than thirty five miles away from my family home at any given time.

Growing up and living in Drimnagh on the south side of Dublin, the actual location of a job was a primary factor on whether to accept it or not. Bus routes and distance from home was a major consideration when searching for particular employment opportunities. My first job was in a music shop in North Great Fredrick Street on the North side of the city. I was fifteen years of age when I started.

As a city dweller I was used to public transport and I very quickly worked out several bus routes that would take me to and from my place of work. There was always walking involved, so depending on the weather, I had choices about how long I wanted to spend sitting on a bus, or how long I wanted to spend walking. This varied with the seasons.

On winter nights after work I dashed the short distance to O’Connell Street and hopped on the 22 bus which brought me to the bottom of the long road that led to my home. Facing into the rain without the shelter of an umbrella could be the longest journey and one that I remember well. On summer evenings, I would stroll the length of O’Connell Street and wander across the river Liffey to Fleet Street, where I could pick up one of the 50 A, B or C buses that traveled across the south side of the city. Walking even further before boarding and after disembarking was a pleasure on balmy summer nights and distance wasn’t an issue. Getting home quickly during the summer months never seemed to have the same urgency as it did in the winter.

By the time I was getting married at twenty years of age and ready to leave home I was working in Ringsend. I had worked out several bus routes and times to get me to and from my job in the mornings in all weathers. The number 18 brought me all the way from Drimnagh Road to Ballsbridge, with only a brisk fifteen minute walk to Barrow Street. Or the number 22 would bring me into the city centre where I could then catch a number 3 to ‘Boland’s Bridge’ with a two minute walk to the office. Hangovers and late nights were often deciders on which bus to catch.

My first home when I married was in County Meath, 32.1 miles from my parents’ home in Drimnagh. I worked out every route on how to get there by car in the minimum of time, and became an expert at directing my husband (I didn’t drive) on how to traverse country roads and city dual carriageways enabling us to arrive within an hour of departing our home. This was a major feat initially as neither of us were familiar with the ‘northern’ county that we had moved to, so far removed from the ‘south’ city roads that we were comfortable with. When I learned to drive, I became even more adept at shaving off time to make the journey quicker by traveling more country roads and fewer dual carriageways!

Moving back to Dublin in the 90’s with our children, one of the criteria for our new abode was about the distance between our new house and ‘home’. My husband’s place of work in Blanchardstown Fire Station was a major factor in our decision, but the location of Lucan was also an easy fifteen minutes journey across the new M50 motorway to Drimnagh. Again I worked out the quickest way to make that trip, in rush hour traffic and in quiet times too. I could drive to Killmainham and up through the old brickfields of Galtimore, I could cross the M50 and make my way down the industrial Long Mile Road, or I could continue down the Naas Road to the canal at Blackhorse and continue on up through Kilworth.

The homing instinct has always been there like that of a pigeon who returns to its roost no matter where it has been released from, but life never remains the same and it constantly changes whether we like it or not. Sadly this roost is no longer my home. My mother was the last inhabitant there and now she has gone.

Her house is being sold, along with all the memories of my journeys home. Remembering my youthful bus rides in all weathers, the eventual family car trips from Meath with kids and buggies, communion and confirmation excursions, and Sunday dinners with scowling teenagers who eventually evolved into happy young adults who wanted to be there as much as I did, all remind me that this era is over and that this house is no longer ‘home’.

When meeting the auctioneer recently to sell the property I tried to be detached about the ‘desirable city residence – a short distance from town, with access to bus and tram routes’ but I simply couldn’t be. There is too much history stored in this address.

As I drove down the Naas Road to Blackhorse and up through Kilworth two weeks ago to meet the auctioneer at the house, I wondered if I would continue to feel that homing instinct after it is sold. I don’t think that I will. It wasn’t the house that guided me instinctively to take all those routes back; it was simply because my mother was there and she made it ‘home’.

Destiny can be about acknowledging that with the passing of time and people, home is not necessarily a fixed place, but something that you can carry inside yourself.

Dismantling a life…..

Since the recent passing of my mother I have been living in a kind of limbo, a half-way house, a place somehow in between life and death.

When she was dying there were lots of people around providing loving emotional support, and they were also present for a week or two afterwards. However when the funeral was over and ‘the circus pulled out of town’ I was left in a place of sadness and loneliness. I have no order to focus on, as all the routines that were associated with my mother’s care have ended with her death. I feel adrift without direction. There is a vacuum that is unfamiliar.

Her home is going to be sold, and as part of the preparations for sale it has to be cleared out. Over the past week my siblings and I have undertaken this task. My mother lived in this house for over fifty years. It is modest and small and she loved it. She had wonderful neighbours and friends and always felt safe here.

I believe that going through the personal belongings of someone else is similar to reading their diary. Every life is a story, and while we may not all write about it, our lives are reflected in the things that we surround ourselves with. We all accumulate ‘stuff’ throughout our lifetimes, and in her fifty plus years in that house my mother accumulated a lot. Every room had cupboards and drawers that were full, and everything that she had tucked away out of sight was dragged into the open in the past few days. Decisions were made about keeping it, discarding it, or donating it to a local charity shop.

Unearthing her old clothes from the back of wardrobes were physical reminders of the life that she lived. Finding old photographs with captured smiling faces gave us a sense of history that stretched back to a time before I was born. Some of the photographs were previously unseen, and they were pored over and studied, as names were considered, matched to faces, and dates and places were agreed upon.

Reading through old letters and cards from many years ago added an unknown dimension to the woman who was my mother. We also found receipts written in Spanish from a Bullfight in Barcelona where she went on honeymoon almost sixty years previously. Imagining her as a carefree young woman experiencing all the drama of life and death in a ring, in a country that was so foreign and exotic back in the 1950’s brings added colour to her life. Sorting through a selection of clothes that she wore in ‘Stage Shows’ in the local parish also reminded me that she loved dressing up and singing when I was a child, and that she sang in the house to records that she played on her old fashioned radiogram all the time.

Discarding items like these was like throwing away her life. I was unprepared for the sadness that would engulf me like waves during this clearout.

Room by room, drawer by drawer her life is being dismantled.

The precious things that she gathered over her lifetime and that held meaning for her are all going to different places. Some will be treasured and kept, while others are unwanted and will be placed out for collection. It was tough making decisions, and I believe that secretly we all felt that if we held on to her ‘stuff’ we could somehow keep her and her life intact. Impossible I know.

As we sorted through her (mostly) costume jewellery, I picked out items that I remembered her wearing when I was a child. They are valueless in monetary terms but are completely priceless to me. As I put them in boxes to bring home with me, I realised that I will probably never wear them, but that I will take them out from time to time to see them sparkle just like she did when she was wearing them.

When this task is finally over and my mother’s house is cleared, the memorabilia of her lifetime will be gone. Some of it will live on in other people’s lives and houses, and the rest of it will simply disappear. In sifting through her belongings I have been privileged to see into some of the private pages of her life, and having been allowed a glimpse into her past I believe that I have also gotten to know her a little better.

‘Goodbye Mam’……I feel like I am letting her go again and it’s not getting any easier.

My mother’s ring…..

I have been told by my mother all of my life that I am like a magpie. In common with this particular bird, I do love sparkly things. She told me that she noticed this phenomenon when I began to steal her diamond engagement ring when I was about six years of age.

I love this piece of jewellery, it is simply beautiful. It is a unique art deco designed ring and it was purchased in Dublin sometime in the 1950’s. I have never seen another one that resembles it.

I stole that ring at every opportunity when I was a small child having decided that no other ring my mother owned was quite as pretty. I definitely should have been a jewellery designer, goldsmith, gemologist or something similar, such has been my devotion to sparkly stuff throughout my life.

My mother’s dressing table held an assortment of things that were very attractive to a small child. There were crystal bowls that held hair clips, safety pins, thimbles and tie pins.

There was also space for trinket boxes, powder puffs, perfume and rings. She had a small crystal spike that she used to place her rings upon, and it looked like a skyscraper of colored gems to a small six year old girl who loved sparkly things.

I was a very discerning thief though; it was her engagement ring that I loved, despite the array of other precious rings that made up this tower of jewels.

I clearly remember sitting on the pavement outside our house one day before my communion (so I was almost seven years of age). I was wearing pink shorts with zippy pockets. I had the ring on my thumb and was holding it up to the sunlight watching the sparkles radiate from the diamonds when my mother called me in for my dinner. She must have seen me sneaking the ring into my pocket for she did a methodical search of them when I came in.

When she found her treasured ring she went berserk! Despite the punishment of several slaps, this episode didn’t stop me from subsequently “robbing” her ring for many more years to come.

How I never lost it is a miracle.

Searching me became habitual and I was subject to many thorough ‘shake downs’ over the years. It did go missing a couple of times, but that was honestly down to my mother misplacing it somewhere in the house. I came under a lot of pressure those times and was always grateful that the ring turned up again.

This ring has been at the center of so many discussions (and rows with laughter) between my mother and my sisters over the years. We discussed at length what would happen to it in the event of her death. Mam wanted to leave it to her eldest daughter who had no attachment to it whatsoever, yet undaunted she wrote her will a million years ago, and to my horror bequeathed the ring to my sister!

While I argued that I loved it the most, my mother wouldn’t give way. She was following the age old tradition of leaving precious stuff to the eldest girl child. I pleaded and begged to no avail, and even though my older sister kindly whispered to me that she would give it to me on the quiet, I could not be placated. I wanted my mother to leave it to me and not get it by default.

My mother, her sister Betty, and my younger sister Annie all loved sparkly stuff. When we gathered at family dinners in my house, these women would regularly sit at the table after the Irish Coffees were served, and strip off all their precious trinkets so that I could clean them. I have an array of potions, lotions, mixtures and cloths that are particularly good at cleaning fine sparkly things like diamonds and other precious stones.

We had such laughs over the years as I took their tarnished and unkempt jewellery and made it new again. Every woman friend that I have has allowed me to clean their jewellery – particularly their rings. It’s a pity that I haven’t had the same diligence when it comes to cleaning my house- but then houses don’t sparkle like rings do when they have been cleaned!

Times change, as do people, and eventually (with no pressure) my mother realised that her precious ring was better coming to someone who genuinely loved it (me), who would always appreciate it (me), and who would keep it in the family and be the guardian of it forever (me).

She subsequently changed her will and upon her recent death I became the custodian of her beautiful ring. The ring that I used to thief and steal as a small child now rests legitimately upon my finger.

I may have coveted it all my life and I do love it, but as I hold it up to the sunshine and watch it sparkle I wish that it was somehow back on my mother’s hand.

Destiny can be about realising that what we love most are people and the things that make them happy. Without the people their things are just things…