Tag Archives: family

The stolen violin

I started to play the violin at seven or eight years of age. My maternal grandmother’s family were all musically talented, and as my older sister Bernice was already playing the piano, my grandmother decided that I should play the violin. I remember my father buying me my first instrument and bringing it home. I unenthusiastically removed it from the case and made an attempt to play it. It sounded dreadful. It definitely wasn’t love at first sight, but like so many unpromising beginnings, my love for it grew.

Mother Cecily was the resident music teacher in Loreto College Crumlin where I attended school, and I remember happily gathering up my school bag during lessons and escaping the classroom twice weekly for music tutorials of 45 minutes duration. It was many years before music as a subject became an extra-curricular activity which took place after school hours. But while I was I with Mother Cecily I didn’t spend too much time wondering what I missing back in the classroom.

Cecily was an ancient tiny nun, who wore glasses that magnified her eyes so much, that she resembled an owl. She was passionate about music, and most of her pupils adored her. As time went by, I also learned how to read music, as each lesson included musical theory, sight reading and information on great composers and musical artists. I spent many happy hours in her little music room and as I progressed I entered and won several competitions and Feis Ceoil’s.

By the time I was twelve years of age, I was old enough to join the school orchestra. We performed at various events throughout the school year and competed with other schools in orchestral competitions. A couple of years later when we teamed up with the  Castleknock College Boys School orchestra, there was a sudden flurry of teen aged Loreto girls who begged to join the orchestra never having played an instrument before, pleading with Mother Cecily that they could quickly learn to play the triangle or other percussion instruments. Cecily gently insisted that they would have to know how to read music in order to become part of the orchestra, and many hopes were dashed, as being part of this musical ensemble suddenly became very cool amongst my peers.

Travelling out to the boarding school in Castleknock by hired bus every other Saturday was always an adventure, and after practice when Mother Cecily and Father Fehily went to take tea, we had an hour or two to gallivant and hang out with the lovely boys of Castleknock in the grounds of the college. I remember this period in my life as being great fun and I kept in contact with a few of those boys throughout my teen and early adult years.

My father had only one sibling, his brother Tommy who had never married. He was a skilled carpenter like my dad, but he enjoyed making musical instruments as a hobby. One Christmas he presented me with a beautiful handmade violin. It was remarkable. Each peg had mother of pearl and nine carat gold embedded in the wood, and the fingerboard featured an unusual treble clef motif in Ivory. The back of the violin was exquisitely inlaid with a mother of pearl rose whose petals held various hues and colours. It was absolutely unique. Tommy had spent almost a year, sourcing materials and crafting this precious gift for me and I had never owned anything so beautiful.

It didn’t come with a case, and when my father and I went to the music shop Mc Cullagh Piggott’s to buy one, we realised that the instrument was slightly larger than a standard violin so we couldn’t get a case to fit.

When I returned to school after the holidays, I carried the instrument in a makeshift soft bag that I had cobbled out of old jumpers. When Mother Cecily saw it, she rooted out an old ungainly wooden handmade case that looked like a coffin but the new instrument fitted inside perfectly.

As my violin was slightly bigger than a standard one Mother Cecily used me as a viola player when the need arose. We simply switched strings and I became the ‘viola section’ of the orchestra. The viola is the second instrument in the string family, graduating on to the cello, and finally to the double base. Being part of the violin section of the orchestra, I performed with several other players, but when my violin became a viola, I was always playing solo. I enjoyed the deeper tones that the alternative strings produced, and I also enjoyed the magical status that my violin held. It was a two in one and very special.

Because the wooden case was cumbersome and very heavy, I left it on a rack in a school corridor with other instruments and practised at home on my old violin. Leaving instruments on the rack in school was a common practice, and although they stood in a busy corridor, these instruments were out of bounds to pupils and were never touched or moved. On our trips out to Castleknock, it was simply lifted and placed on the bus, along with all the other violins, cellos, flutes, clarinets, oboes and various percussion instruments that were also often left on the rack.

Uncle Tommy only visited our house about twice a year, but the violin was always brought out and I performed for him. He enjoyed classical music and it was a shared subject that we could talk about. I was an awkward teenager, and he was a bachelor with limited experience of kids, so the instrument and the music gave us opportunities to chat and to enjoy each other’s company.

One Saturday in early summer I went into the school to collect my violin as I had a competition later that day. I went to the rack and opened the case, but the violin was not inside. It had been stolen sometime between the previous day when I had had a lesson and that morning when I called to collect it.

Despite a thorough search of the entire school the violin never turned up. Fliers were sent around, and every teacher asked every class if anyone knew what had happened to my violin. No one came forward and the instrument was never found. Sadly the nuns refused to take responsibility for its loss. I felt so bad. My mother believed that I was at fault and had somehow ‘lost it’ or left it on the bus (as I had done a few years previously with the older violin, which was recovered from the C.I.E  lost property office a day later).

When Uncle Tommy came to visit that Christmas, my father and mother lied to him and told him that the violin was in school in the “big case” over the holidays, as they believed that it would break his heart to find out that it had been stolen. I still remember playing my dishonest musical renditions for him on the old violin that Christmas. I felt guilty with every note that I produced and cut short the performance that I usually basked in.

He died the following spring never knowing that it was gone. The heart of playing the violin left me after that, and despite still having my older instrument I subsequently left the orchestra. The old violin was eventually passed onto a younger cousin, along with the sheet music, books, music stand, and other paraphernalia associated with it.

After I left school I took my musical knowledge and got a job in Walton’s music store in Dublin where I worked very happily for over four years. Over the course of those years, many second hand violins were brought in to the shop to trade up to newer instruments. I kept my eyes out, and all the sales staff knew the story of the stolen violin. But I’ve never seen it again.

I sometimes trawl through the Internet in the hope that I might stumble across it. I don’t know what I would do if I found it, I just know that I would recognise it in an instant as there could never be another one like it.

Destiny can often be about still appreciating things that are given with love long after they have gone.

Sink or Swim

As we go through life we encounter many obstacles. We stumble over them, we navigate around them, and we plough on forward. It’s a one way street. Reflecting back on my life, I recognise that there have been many boulders along my path, and I know that I have steered my ship through many stormy seas.

Like many others I didn’t get a life raft and I had to learn to swim with sharks in order to survive. (forgive the overuse of metaphors in this piece of writing).

I realise that many of the blocks in my lifetime have been caused by people, their actions and reactions, their opinions and their viewpoints.. When you are trying to muddle your way out of a situation that largely affects you and only you, the decision to sink or swim is down to your own desire for survival.

In my late teens, the transition from being a single girl about town to being in a relationship was a new adventure for me. It suddenly wasn’t just all about me and my own endurance. Amazingly I was thrust into being the other half of a ‘couple’. Thinking and acting as one as we ventured forth into marriage and a grown up life where problems were shared instead of having to go it alone.

As a parent, passing on wisdom to my children was part of the job that I signed up to on giving birth. At times information and advice was well received, and at other times it was scorned and ridiculed. It’s always difficult to find a balance, and I understood (but not always liked) this awkward conundrum between parents and their offspring.

Like many others I’m sure, I have a passionate and overwhelming love for my now adult children, and I have attempted to protect them throughout their lives. Sometimes I have been over zealous and controlling (when they were teens) and other times I have been ill informed about particular circumstances and defended them when I should have taken a step back and listened to others. In my defence, I usually reacted about what I perceived was unjust behaviour and acted upon it even when it turned out that my offspring were at fault. Like me, they have flaws and are imperfect.

Time has moved on, and my children are now fully grown and are on their own pathways through life. They are in charge of their own vessels and have had to learn to steer through life for themselves. Their dad and I are fully present in their lives, and I know that we are a supporting influence in matters of importance.

Our family is very small. At its heart, there are two parents, and two kids. We fight, argue, listen and love. As parents we have opinions on every element of their lives that we are included in, and this can produce huge discussions (where no one agrees) sulks, laughter, gaiety and tears.

They are both so different. My daughter is a listener, pragmatic, very kind, clear thinking, thoughtful and sensible (like her dad). My son is an action man, an organiser, flamboyant, caring, generous, kind and thoughtful. Their very individual characteristics are acknowledged and celebrated all the time. In this wonderful small life, we have all learned to love and appreciate, and to fully support each other no matter what else is happening.

We have recently had the most horrendous eighteen months with the most difficult circumstances that has affected us all as a family, but that has impacted on my son Andy most of all.

We have all been tested. Truth, honesty, faith in human kindness, our belief and trust in each other, and how we view those who looked at us, have been held under a microscope where strangers have gazed and judged.

As a person who has minutely examined and reflected on the response of people who live in close proximity to me and my family throughout my whole life, some of the reactions have been disappointing.

Despite my belief that friendship and loyalty are qualities to be treasured and nurtured, I am unsurprised by some peoples responses, but sadly my family have been. That’s not to say that I’ve not been shocked by others reactions, I have been and they have changed me and how I view them.

Sincerity is something that carries huge value for me, as does integrity and truth.

Blind trust these days is rarely asked, but if there is a foundation of honesty, I believe that it’s easier to make the choice between belief and doubt, and sometimes people have to make the difficult decision about which side to fall on. Truth versus innuendo/ belief versus gossip/ honesty versus lies.

Having had no life raft during the past eighteen months, it’s been sometimes difficult to keep our heads above water. As a family we paddled persistently to avoid drowning and helped each other constantly as we threatened to slip under.

Thankfully and happily things have changed. Perspectives are altered, new goals have been achieved, and future prospects are looking more positive.

To the wonderful, nurturing, trusting people in my life who I treasure beyond measure, thank you for providing support based on the person that you know, trust and love. From the deepest place inside myself I am grateful. The hope and empathy that you have given us during our darkest days as a family, has steered us through the roughest toughest seas that I have ever encountered in my lifetime.

We are navigating towards blue skies and calmer waters ahead, and we will not sink, we will swim. As a family, we will survive.

Destiny is realising that anchors are the people who stabilise us when we are lost at sea without a compass.

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.

Riding on the shirt tails of my sister…..  

As people I believe that we all have our own strengths and weaknesses, including the gifts that we bring to the table of life. Some we are born with, and others we cultivate as we grow and mature as adults. I have often wondered is humour and wit inherent or do we learn it? I know that I practiced being funny as a child in order to be liked and included.

Growing up in a large extended family there were always lots of social occasions with siblings, aunts, uncles and cousins. As children we were expected to get along with our many cousins and I think that we did most of the time. We gathered in packs at particular family events throughout the year, and while the adults partied, the cousins did so too in different ways. Looking back I believe that it was actually a training ground for me in how to move comfortably within my extended family and how to perform in a particular way.

I was an overweight child/teenager and I learned to hide my true self or to make funny rejoinders about ‘fat’ people in order to deflect any hurt that I might have felt if a disparaging joke was made. Humour was harsh and critical back then with none of the political correctness that is so prevalent today. I was the family clown.

I had a very well developed personality that people commented on. I was considered outgoing and full of life and laughter. I didn’t appear shy, and I functioned really well at all these family gatherings.

As I became an adult I had good friends and enjoyed socialising, conversation, and the general banter that carried me through job interviews, friendships, relationships and eventually meeting my husband, marriage and children.

My sister Annie was ten years younger than I was. I doted on her as a child and there are hundreds of stories as to how we were as sisters growing up. She was also part of that extended family training ground, although times had changed subtly by the time she became a part of it socially.  We became close friends as adults when I moved back to Dublin in my 30’s (married with kids) and Annie was in her 20’s.

We began to socialise and to mesh our pals. We went out. We hung around with each other and spent a lot of time together. She was still living at home with our mam, but spent a lot of time with me and my family in Lucan. She liked hanging out with us.

She was so witty and very very funny. She simply sparkled. We laughed a lot, yet we had serious in depth conversations about countless things, and I trusted her completely with all of my secrets. There was a beautiful lightness and frivolity to our relationship that I recognised and loved. It was always present. She was inherently humorous and had a sharp wit just like my mother’s.

My children adored her. She was the ‘Cool Aunty’ when they were teenagers, and I clearly remember my daughter Jayne, sitting on the bathroom floor gazing up at her as she swept her blusher brush across her cheekbones before we went out one night. I didn’t use makeup, so my daughter learned this skill from her.

I also remember the time my son Andy ‘came out’ and told us that he was gay. Annie was so supportive and cracked on about how the two of them would ‘go on the pull together’ chasing men all over Dublin. And they did.

She spent a lot of time with us, and was here at the end of nights, at the beginning of mornings, mid afternoons and evenings. She sat and joked, giggled and provided fun, humour, merriment and a general lightness of being that we all basked in.

When she married Mark, had Alex and moved to Lucan, she was even more present in our daily lives.

Of course she had bad days as we all do. She could be as grumpy as hell, but when she smiled and chuckled, we all joined in with her. Her laughter brightened our days.

When she died a light went out of my life. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true.

In the short term all laughter disappeared. All joy disappeared. All lightness and frivolity disappeared. All joking disappeared.

As time moved on, I learned how to be without her, live without her, function without her, and eventually laugh without her. I am only realising now that for so many years I rode on her shirt tails. I relied on her humour and her vivacious nature to disguise my own shyness and my inability to be myself. When I was in her company we were a double act. She was the funny, witty, fabulous girl that I never really was, but could somehow be when I was with her.

Since her death so many people tell me I have changed. They tell me I am quieter, less funny, and less witty, but I realise now that I actually never was. She instinctively possessed those qualities, and unknowingly I assumed that I was the same as she was but I wasn’t.

At the ripe old age of 54 I believe I am ok. Annie and I worked as a twosome throughout many happy years together, and without her I am continuing to live and manage life just being myself. I have my own talents, yet like so many of us I am a bundle of insecurities. I also know that without her, I am actually quite a shy person who doesn’t really like the limelight although it may sometimes appear otherwise. I also realise now that I am not that funny or witty, but am ok knowing this and I am not trying too hard to be otherwise. My kids (now adults) can be the most critical of all when I attempt to be droll or humorous… They simply tell me that I’m not – although they are not being unkind. They simply know the difference having known my sister.

Destiny can be the longest road travelled between wit and wisdom, but with laughter and joy to sustain us, that journey can be made a lot easier with the people we travel with.

Christmas……

Is it wrong to look forward to this time of year when I am constantly reminded of all those who I have lost and who will not be present with me during this season of gift giving and family oriented activities.

As the old cliché goes ‘misery loves company’ and too often I find myself spiralling downwards in a maelstrom of sadness thinking about the people who I have loved and who are no longer with me. I remember them all the time and reflect on how different my life is without them.

Some may think that I am melancholic and miserable, and although I can be, it’s not the hat that I wear 24/7.

Planning Christmas for my family, wandering through gift shops and buying presents for loved ones online has created a stark reminder of all who are no longer here with me on this planet.

I hate not buying for my sister Annie any more. Almost every time I shopped, online or in real time, I thought of her. If I dared to come home with something that appealed to me, she would ask why I hadn’t bought a replica for her.  Silly and inexpensive things mostly, but stuff that we liked and that represented our shared taste. I bought on the double a lot when she was alive.

Since her death, shopping has been a major challenge. I cannot view ‘stuff’ without thinking and wondering if she would like it. Is this feeling unique to me, or do others experience this phenomenon.

My mam who died two years ago had similar tastes, but didn’t like ‘household’ stuff like Annie and I did. She was always thrilled by a gift that sparkled and that she could wear.  My mother in law Bernie who died earlier this year had no time for “gee gaws” as she called ornaments or household embellishments, and preferred to receive the gift of a practical cardigan or something similar. She liked things that were useful to her. Unlike my mam, she never wore jewellery.

I never really thought about how shopping for gifts for people that I love was such a minefield of emotion, but I really feel it this year. Everywhere I go I am reminded of what not to buy.

Notwithstanding  these feelings I am at last looking forward to Christmas.

I am looking forward to Christmas despite not having three wonderful women that I have loved collectively for over 50 years being present with me.

I am looking forward to Christmas, sharing the day with my very dear and patient husband of over 30 years.

I am looking forward to Christmas with my adult children who will come to visit and share dinner with me, and who I have really enjoyed buying gifts for.

I am looking forward to Christmas, although it will be a quieter and less crowded affair.

I am simply for the first time in five years quietly and smilingly looking forward to Christmas…….

Destiny can silently and unknowingly creep up on you and remind you to keep on living.

My darling girl – “Annie” – 7/11/1970 – 13/2/2009

As long as I am alive her touch will be remembered.

Her smell, her voice, her kiss,  all locked inside me.

Treasure that comforts.

When I am gone so she will be too, though her image will remain in photographs.

Yet who will remember her soft skin, her luminescence.

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Growing older…..

Every time I hold my face in my hands I am aware of my skin. It is loosening. I rub cream into it daily as I moisturise. I don’t need to look into a mirror now; I just do it habitually as I have done for most of my adult life. I am aware that I am ageing and that my skin, once taut and firm, is no longer the skin and face that held a thousand dreams and thoughts as I planned my life as a teenager when I first started to moisturise and gaze at myself in mirrors back then ….

I sit with my face in my hands frequently. I rest my chin on my upturned hands and cup my cheeks. The little fingers of each hand effortlessly slot into the wrinkles and creases around my eyes. This is a comfortable position for me. I read a lot with a book on a table, or read online at my computer.

I acknowledge that I am growing older although most of the time I still feel like a youngster inside this aging body. My bones creak. My knees hurt. My shoulders can sometimes be sore when I wake up in the morning. I move slower and check steps before I walk down or up. I carry weight and I am conscious of it. I don’t want to fall or break any bones. It is a fact of who I am now. When swimming I enjoy the weightlessness of being a water baby, floating, light and carefree.

I love jewellery, but I especially love rings. I used to wear a variety of them when going out socially. Different colours, on different fingers. The more outrageous and unusual, the more I loved them. I particularly liked flower rings; daisy, lily, rose, in a variety of colours – white, pink, mauve. I wore them all happily and with complete confidence. People noticed my rings and complimented them all the time. I was known in many circles by the fact that I wore outlandish rings. I enjoyed this eccentric other part of me outside the more usual boring and predictable me. I shopped for rings all the time and my friends did too. They would produce rings for me that they loved to look at but would never wear, knowing that I bravely would. I received many gifts of rings as a result, and still have a lot of them despite the years that have passed since I received them. I have given a lot of them away to friends who have admired and loved them over time and have no regrets about doing so at all.

Recently I was getting ready to go out, and after slipping on my watch I thought about which rings I would wear. I don’t go out much socially these days, and I lead a much quieter life now than I did in the past so I don’t get the opportunity to dress up and wear jewellery on a regular basis.

I opened my ring boxes and gazed at the contents. I have so many, over 100.  I have a ring or three for every occasion, and one of every colour in the rainbow. Some were expensive, and others were dirt cheap. All are gorgeous. Matching them to particular clothing is not a problem. I tried on a variety that night but couldn’t find one that I was happy with.

After a while I noticed that I was not really looking at the rings on my fingers, but was looking at my fingers with the rings on them and how they looked.

I looked closely at my hands with their blunt rounded nails and short fingers, and I realised that these hands, like the rest of me were showing their age. I sadly acknowledged that these hands of mine that I used to unselfconsciously adorn with rings to be admired, now have loose skin and wrinkles on them where before there were none.  I recognised that these aged hands were no longer an easel of youthfulness where beautiful rings complimented my fingers.

I didn’t wear a ring that night and I haven’t worn one since. The rings belong to a younger version of me, a more frivolous me, a more carefree and flamboyant me.

It wasn’t vanity that stopped me wearing a ring out that night, but just a realisation that fashion/accessories are age appropriate (in my view) and rings are too.

I have not thrown them away and never intend to. I have tried them all on at home and gazed at them and remembered particular fun nights wearing them with different people. Friends still ask to browse and borrow them for particular occasions and I am always glad to see some of my lovely rings having a night out even if I am not wearing them.

We cannot stop the thief of time, but we can ignore or embrace the changes that it brings. I choose to embrace and acknowledge it, as I look towards a future with more wrinkles and aging skin. I am alive and glad to be so. Rings are unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and although I may not wear them out socially, I daydream amongst them and am happily reminded of joyful times when my rings made a statement and helped to define the person that I was back then.

Destiny can be looking at the jewels of yesterday and bringing their colour into the future in other ways with no regrets.