Category Archives: People

Taking things for granted…..

As people, I believe that we can all take things for granted without thinking too much about them. Things just ‘are’ in our lives, and we accept them and rarely give them too much thought. So many actions/interactions that we encounter daily can have an emotional impact on us, and I know that I have been guilty of not really thinking about the implications and consequences that they have on me personally.
Life can sometimes be so busy that we can get hopelessly lost in the myriad of tasks that we think have to be completed in order to provide structure and meaning to the day. I realise that with time on my hands I have become much more reflective than I have been in the past. I have a lot more time to ponder as I am not so caught up with a rigid time schedule. The studying and reading that was so focused and time consuming during the past few years no longer dominates my time. Now I find myself deliberately taking time out to consider what pleases me and what doesn’t.

After a year of mourning the death of my mother together with all the ancillary tasks that managing her estate entailed, I began to look for employment as soon as the New Year began. I scrutinised websites and agencies and updated my CV with the intention of going back to work full time after my five years in College. I applied for a couple of positions that I believed would suit me and my particular skill set, and I was so enthusiastic about my prospects that I even purchased new interview clothes. I never even made it to that stage.

While facing into my disappointment I took some time to think deeply about what it was that I was so upset about. Not being given a chance to put myself forward was the biggest difficulty that I had to deal with, but on reflection I wondered if this was about my ego and nothing else. I believe that I have great qualities, but the fact that I never even got to showcase them? How very dare they!

Imagine a scenario where I had been interviewed and given one of the positions that I applied so enthusiastically for. It was a 38 hour week in an area a fair distance away from my home. There would be morning and evening traffic to consider and selective early starts and late finishes.
Sometimes not getting what you want provides a clarity and certainty that you hadn’t considered beforehand.
Not being granted an interview made me take stock of my situation and my current life. While I moaned in the short term, I took time to examine the long term and I realised that I don’t actually want to work long hours and be away from home 40 hours a week and possibly more with travel.

My husband is retired, and while we live a small life we manage comfortably on his pension.

We don’t spend money unnecessarily, drive two modest cars, and we have never been the type that has to have the latest trend or fad.

We take several mini breaks during the year and generally enjoy a life without timetables and rigidity.

We come and go as we please (with kids grown up and flown the nest) and enjoy spontaneous lunches out at the coast and picnics in forests when the humour takes us.

We have our own rhythm and we enjoy it, and although I would like to work I don’t want it to cut into this lovely way of life that we have. I also don’t want to leave him alone for eight hours every day as there are only the two of us at home now. Being rejected for these jobs has made me recognise how precious and special this shared life is, and I am so glad that I have had the time and space to realise what it is that I want, and what it is that I don’t want.

I have taken for granted the absolute pleasure that a day without time constraints can bring.

I have taken for granted the fact that I do not need to work outside my home in a paid capacity to be happy and content.

I have taken for granted the fact that I actually like spending time with my husband even when we have nothing to say to each other.

I have taken for granted the fact that we are financially secure enough that I don’t need to provide another income to our household.

I have taken for granted how extremely lucky I am that I have choices about how I live my life with my dear husband and partner of over 35 years.

I have taken for granted the simple pleasure of simple pleasures.

The past five years have provided me with a top class education and qualifications, but it has also been the toughest time in my life as I have lost my much loved sister and mother. Deciding not to take things for granted is the best way forward for me at this moment in time, and appreciating the simple everyday pleasures that shape my days is the greatest realisation that all this reflective thinking has achieved.

Destiny can be many things and can wear coats of jewelled enticing colours, but it can also be there sitting plainly, quietly under our noses if we could only just recognise it.

Closing the door gently behind me…..

Smells are so evocative… They can help us tap into memories in an instant and transport us back to particular times and places. This can be good, but maybe not all of the time. My mother’s house is sold and the contracts are being exchanged this weekend. After that I will no longer be able to let myself into number 33 as there will be new owners living there. I will never again catch that particular smell of hers that I used to get when I walked in through her front door. My brother has been clearing out her things and recently he brought me her furs because he didn’t quite know how to dispose of them.

 
Fur in 2013 is just not fashionable or ethical. It’s all about fake fur these days, but I remember my Mam wearing her furs proudly. They were always kept for special occasions and the one that has survived best is a fur stole that she had made for my wedding a million years ago. I have several photos of her wearing it, and she looked lovely in them. Holding this fur on my knees while traveling from her house to mine this week, I could get her own particular smell from it. Holding it to my face for hours afterwards crying into it and feeling the ache of loss so badly knowing that I will never see her again was particularly emotional and sad.

 
Having had to go back and forward over the past couple of months to sort out the removal of her furniture, the clearing out of her possessions, and the finalisation of her utility bills has allowed me to gradually let go the house that I grew up in. As the fixtures were given away and the cupboards were cleared out, the memories went into skips, other people’s homes, and to charity shops to be recycled into other people’s lives.

 
I went back for the last time on Tuesday night along with my adult children, my husband, my brother and his wife. We were all saying goodbye to a house that contained many personal memories built up over many years. We sat on stools that we had brought with us and told stories of different times there. There were tears and laughter all around as we swapped tales. An old neighbour saw my car and popped in because she wanted to say good bye to us. We recounted hair raising stories of times when we were young kids alongside her children and we chatted about how times had changed but how lovely life in Drimnagh had been and how much she had loved having my mam as a neighbour.

 
Over the fireplace in the now empty room there was a picture hanging. It was an artist’s charcoal impression taken from a photo of my Father that that my brother Phil (who lived in Ibiza at the time) had given as a gift to my mother some years before. I remember him proudly presenting this beautiful framed gift to her and her looking blankly at it asking “who is this”. My brother Phil indignantly responded “it’s Dad of course” to which my mother replied “That’s not your father, it looks like a Spanish man to me”. I think that because it was created in Ibiza, and that the artist had focused on my Dads dark hazel eyes, there was an exotic slant to it. According to my mam at the time, it wasn’t a version of her husband. Her children all disagreed.

 
Time moved on, and she grew to love it and the image of him. This beloved picture has always been subsequently referred to as “The Spanish Man” and there was a poignancy and sadness in the air as we recounted the time when it was originally hung. I was completely heartbroken as it was lifted off her wall, as this was the last of her possessions to be removed. It will be hung in John’s house and will be loved forever by him and his wife, but it was dreadful watching it being taken down. I just couldn’t stop my tears.

 
As we departed the house and walked through the empty rooms, I was so profoundly sad I found it hard to catch my breath. Clichés about houses being all bricks and mortar are easily spoken, but the bricks and mortar contain so many stories and memories like snap shots of lives lived within the walls. They were mostly happy ones, and I will treasure them forever.

 
It’s really difficult to articulate the feelings that I had as I walked out through the hallway. I looked back and gazed up the stairs, and heard so many ghostly echoes of the voices that used to resonate within those walls. I set the alarm code and stepped out for the very last time and gently closed the door behind me as I locked up a lifetime of O’Neill memories in number 33 Mourne Road. We have some ‘things’ like Dad’s picture, but memories, sounds and images are stored in my mind’s eye ready to be taken out and looked it again and again…

 
This is my absolute destiny…

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.

Making Military Triangles out of Crisp Bags….

Have you ever watched state ceremonies on TV where people of importance have died and were accorded huge funerals with flags draped over their coffins? I have. I like the way that the flag is removed from the coffin and folded tightly into a small triangle and handed to the chief mourner afterwards.

Learning to fold the flag in a certain way, and reducing it to a small triangle is a skill not known to many. My sister Annie learned how to do this with large scale flags (from her time in the Scouts) and somehow managed to transfer this skill into reducing “crisp/chip bags” into mini triangles with similar military precision.

We loved crisps Annie and I. Potato chips/crisps are a part and parcel of the staple Irish food chain. A whole generation were reared on ‘Tayto’ crisp sandwiches, and believe that the essential part of a picnic/day out is missing if there are no crisps in the basket to mash in between two slices of buttered white bread.

It’s an Irish thing…. Crisps are eaten by the bucket load in Ireland by all and sundry. ‘Tayto’ cheese n’ onion flavour is the biggest seller with ‘King’ following closely behind. ‘Walkers’ (the blow in from the UK) are gaining in popularity, while ‘Pringles’ are attempting world domination with a million flavours to tempt the pallet. Dubliners who were reared on crisps know what they like and are very traditional in their choices. There was a time when youngsters went into a shop and asked for a bag o’ ‘Tayto’ before branding was even heard of. (They were just asking for crisps!) Nowadays in a shop one can’t ask for a bag of crisps, but an assistant asks, “What brand, what flavor, and what size”!

Anyway I digress….

My sister Annie had many talents but this was a thing that marked her out because it was so unique. Back in the day when pubs allowed smoking, there were always ashtrays on the bar where people deposited their cigarette butts along with any other litter – like drink receipts, and empty crisp and peanut bags.

One would munch on a packet of crisps after a few drinks and then dump the empty bag into the ashtray. As it was big and unwieldy it usually ‘sat’ on top. This meant that ciggies could not be tapped or squashed out easily, because the ashtrays were always full of crisp bags.

This is where Annie’s talent came into the fore. As the empty crisp/peanut bags were dumped by everyone all around her, she would take them up and without breaking the conversation, twist and fold them until all that was visible was a tiny triangle of cellophane neatly squashed into a manageable piece of litter that could comfortably fit into the ashtray along with the cigarette butts.

I used to watch her do this and wonder at her dexterity, until I eventually asked her to teach me too. She painstakingly took me through the many folds and tucks that eventually resulted in the neat tiny triangle. It was a process that was repeated again and again over many nights out until I eventually perfected it.

It became a ‘marker’ of things that we did when we were out together. In local pubs, friends who arrived at the bar when we were outside having a smoke knew that we were present because they saw the little triangles in the ashtrays even if they didn’t see us.

One night when my fireman hubby was working a night shift, Annie and I were in our local bar from early until late. We eventually rolled home to my house, sneaked into our beds and snored our heads off delighting in the knowledge that we had had a night out with my hubby being none the wiser as to our exploits. Unfortunately our escapade was rumbled as my hubby finished his shift early, called into the bar for a pint on his way home and caught sight of two or three tiny triangles sitting on the bar, testimony to our ‘sneaky’ girlie night out. Imagine being betrayed by folded up crisp bags!

My children who are now adults make these ‘triangles’ automatically when they eat crisps no matter where they eat them. They learned from the master/mistress who was my sister. I smile every time I see them do it and remember Annie’s talent. She is constantly missed and we speak about her all the time, but it’s lovely and very amusing to see her being remembered unconsciously in the neat disposal of an empty crisp bag.

I can hear her (in my head) asking me sarcastically if that’s ALL we remember about her!

As if……

Destiny can be about mirroring tasks that are taught by others as a way of keeping their memory alive.

Gazing back and looking forward…..

After the recent death of my mother and the subsequent preparation for the sale of her house, there have been many photographs unearthed in her belongings that have never been viewed before. Looking back over a history of so many moments/instants captured and preserved on paper has been quite emotional.

On one hand it is poignant and sad looking at images of people who are no longer present in my life, yet on another, it is simply wonderful to gaze at them and reflect and dream about how each image was caught and preserved during a particular time.

We currently dwell in a modern age where digital images saturate and bombard us every day. Street surveillance, mobile phone technology and digital cameras capture us instantly as we go about our daily lives, and we have come to accept this as being normal as we view ourselves constantly on social media networks and various other online platforms. We can change our captured images to reflect how we are feeling at any particular moment on any particular day. We have the capacity, the skill and the ability to do this. In monetary terms, there is little cost. We can be who we want to be at any given moment and we can reveal ourselves in many guises.

This is contrary to the way that images were captured in our recent past. The photographs that I have been looking at were mostly ‘group’ shots, where people who were together for special occasions  posed for a ‘snap’, and this unique moment was then captured by someone who was fortunate to have a camera, could afford film, and who took the trouble to have it processed afterwards. This resulted in the myriad of black and white photos that have recently been discovered amongst my mother’s things.

There is something visceral about looking at these snapshots that tugs at my heart in a way that modern images fail to do so.

I found myself gazing at unknown faces, looking at particular features and wondering if I somehow ‘belong’ to them, and if my own genetic makeup was inherited from them. Some of the photos have names and places written in faded ink on the back of them identifying faces and places, others are blank. These are the ones that are the most intriguing. I don’t know who these people are, and if they are connected to me somehow down through time and history.

It has been a journey of discovery as I attempt to identify a whole generation of people that I never knew, yet that I can somehow recognise in particular features that live on in me and my family.

I have a marked crooked little finger on my right hand that is a throwback to my mother’s family. Growing up, she had two sets of twin siblings, and one of each twin was marked by this mutant crookedness. One of each set has a crooked little finger or a crooked little toe. This was a means of identity when they were very small, or so my mother said when I questioned my own ’disfigurement’. My maternal Grandmother told me that this crookedness was present in her own family too, and that instead of being embarrassed about it, I should embrace the fact that my descendants had passed this unique feature onto me. (She was probably fibbing, but as a small child I believed her and grew to like my alleged ancestral difference.)

I will treasure these recently found photos that were discovered amongst my mother’s possessions, and although my own adult children have grown up in an age of disposable digital images, I will encourage them to appreciate this photographic hoard as being precious and part of their own family history, albeit without the mutant crookedness so far…..

Destiny can be about gazing backwards and using history to help us move forward….

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.

People you meet on the bus….

I took a bus ride many years ago in Dublin with my young son Andrew who was almost two years of age at the time. We were heading into the city centre early one morning and we took a seat alongside an elderly woman. We were on the outside seat and she was on the inside one beside the window. My baby was sitting on my knee.

This woman began to chat away to me and to touch my son, chucking his cheek and holding his hands. Dublin is a friendly city so this was not unusual. After a bit of conversation she started to get emotional and began to cling tightly to my son. I remember feeling very anxious. I felt that I had nowhere to escape to. The bus was crowded and to move seats would be ‘rude’ or so I thought. When she began to cry I got really uncomfortable and wanted to get me and my son away from her thinking that she was somehow mentally unstable and that my baby was unsafe.

She gathered her composure and apologised for getting emotional and confessed that it was her grandson’s birthday that day. She told me that he was fourteen years of age. I congratulated her uneasily and asked her if she had bought a present for him.

In one of the most intimate public moments that I have ever had with a stranger, this woman told me that she didn’t know her grandson. She ‘confessed’ that her eldest child and only daughter who was twenty two at the time, had announced a pregnancy fifteen years previously and that her husband, her daughters father had cast their child out of the house because of his religious beliefs. She was moved out temporarily to live in a special home for “unmarried mothers” until her baby was born.

This lady cried bitterly on the bus beside me as she told me of her weakness in not standing up to her husband, and how her daughter was forced by him to hand her baby up for adoption. She told me that she actually hated him for it and could never forgive him although she was silent about it and was still married to him and living in the family home with her two other unmarried sons.

She said that her daughter went on to marry the father of her baby a few years later and that they were happy together. They subsequently had three lovely daughters together but no sons. Her son in law was a lovely man who completely loved her daughter and his three girls. She never spoke with him about the baby that was conceived, born and given away before they were married. Her husband wouldn’t allow it.

This lovely gentle lady told me how she walked the streets of Dublin all the time, looking into the faces of young boys wondering if they were ‘hers’. She had never forgiven her husband for forcing the adoption of her only grandson, and she told me that together she and her daughter were secretly counting the days until this beloved baby was eighteen years of age in the hope that he would contact them so that they could beg forgiveness from him for having given him up.

She hugged me and my son as she left the bus and told me how lucky I was to have a child that I loved and who belonged completely to me.

I snuggled Andrew closer to me all that day and felt overwhelmingly sad for her and her daughter’s loss. I have never forgotten that encounter, and I sincerely hope that she and her daughter were eventually reunited with the child that was torn apart from them by the combination of having a religious zealot for a husband/father, and the savage doctrine of the Catholic Church that rendered unmarried and pregnant women speechless and powerless during that shameful time in Ireland.

Destiny is acknowledging that the rose coloured spectacles of our own past can be a disguise for the hurt and loss experienced by so many …