For as long as I can remember I have loved to write. One of my earliest memories is of covering a page with indecipherable squiggles and proudly showing it to my father, sure that his heart would swell with pride at my cleverness. And of course it did.
The nuns were another story. We toiled, in Senior Infants, to get our upstrokes light and our downstrokes dark, or risk an ear-wigging from Sr.Mary. Good work was rewarded with a gold star, but just because you had a few gold stars, and no blots on your exercise book, didn't mean you should go getting notions about yourself. If, God forbid, you should begin to think you might be above average, Sr. Mary's caustic tongue would soon set you straight. Let us now lower our eyes and be humble!
In secondary school, Sarge (aka Sr. Bridget) always gave me top marks for my essays, but she seemed to judge them on length, rather than content, when I had the temerity to think the content was pretty good. But that was an opinion best kept to myself, given the importance of the above mentioned virtue of humility. Writing well was seen as a tool to help us do well in other areas, not as an end in itself. I continued to write, and hide what I wrote, and feel apologetic about it, though once in a while a piece would come out just right and I'd smile and get notions that would have earned me an ear wigging from Sr. Mary.
When I was safely out of reach of the nuns I started writing letters, to my parents every Friday night from college; to my friends and relatives after I married and moved to America; to friends I left behind each time we moved and even, sometimes, to a few of my favorite nuns! The parents were glad I was still alive and coping; the nuns were delighted to hear from me but cautious about giving out gold stars. My friends were the ones who wrote back saying "Write more!" That's what friends are for I guess.
Even though my years of scribblings are a disorganized mess of notebooks, letters and journals I continue to cope with life by writing it down, finding just the right word or phrase, and delighting in it when it all comes together well. If nothing else they'll be a trip down memory lane for my children when I'm gone, proof that I was not just their mom but a real person of my own.
In looking back I'd like to thank a lot of people, if not for encouraging me, then for at least providing me with ammunition for my pen.
- My mother, who always dressed me in sensible laced up shoes, when my peers were wearing cool slip-ons, and for keeping my hair short when I longed for flowing locks;
- Stephanie M in 5 th. grade who made it her mission in life to disavow me of the notion that babies were found under cabbages;
- Sr. Margaret Ryan in 6 th. grade who got to my Dad before me with some very exciting news, thereby cheating me of the thrill of telling him myself;
- My brother for how he behaved at school, causing me endless embarrassment;
- Tommy O'Conner in 10 th grade for turning and fleeing when he landed in front of me at a Paul Jones dance at the Jesuits;
- George R, whom I worshipped from afar in H.S. for never even acknowledging my existence;
- Des O'M for being a gentleman and not taking advantage of my vast ignorance in the realm of what it is boys really want from girls;
- All the guys at all the dances in Dublin who never asked me to dance;
- The Old Curmudgeon for being the Old Curmudgeon;
- My children for making me grow in directions I never thought I could; for teaching me that they were not just chips off the old block but, intelligent, unique and beautiful people in their own right; for surviving my muddled attempts to do it right and, as often as not, getting it wrong anyway;
- To all the advice columnists who repeated over the years that "to have a friend you've got to be a friend;"
- To those friends I made by following that advice, who love me just the way I am, unlike some who continuously find me wanting;
- And most of all to those friends and family who think it is worthwhile to sort life out in a writingly sort of way and have encouraged me in my efforts to do so.