Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A golden half moon was still high in the navy blue sky when I tip-toed from the house. The OC had left at 5 a.m. to take Lily to the airport, back to her boys. But there were sons and grandchildren still sleeping within. I'd tried, but sleep would not come back, so, off to the trees with me to quiet the internal din.

I hugged my sweater 'round me in the damp and chilly air and walked. The birds were waking up, alerting sleepyheads to the arrival of a new day. As I walked, the sky was quickly paling from navy to ever-lighter blue. The first few arrows of sunlight shot between the pines.

The moon still hung in the remnants of the night, and I wondered.

"Is she watching from way up there?"

Can she see her children, how their hearts are breaking? Can she, from so far away, comfort them, when no one else can?

Now that she is finally free, can she watch over the man she married sixty four years ago? Protect him from himself, from his anger at the world, from his bitterness? Console him when he seems inconsolable? He seemed, all those years, to be the strong one. But now, in the cold light of dawn, I realize he was not.

Maria was the rock, the strength, the heart of her family. She just let him think it was him.

And now she's gone.

May she rest in peace.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Question #2

Friends, Romans [Down-unders!Hope you're all safe!] and Bloggers, lend me your ears! If you are reading this it means you haven't completely given up on me! Thank you for your patience Rhubarb, Fifi et al. My 89 year old mother-in-law, Maria, is getting weaker every day, and the hospice nurse doesn't think it will be much longer. I've been spending more time with her, as I would hate for her to die without one of us there to hold her hand, so she knows she is loved.

My answer to Rhubarb's second question is long and meandering, the kind of wandering in the laneways of my alleged mind that drives my beloved OC straight up the wall! But he doesn't have to read it. I just thought it was a chance to get that story down. So for any one who's interested, here it is.

Rhubarb's question:
2. Tell me about one person with whom you’ve lost touch. If you hope for a reunion, how would you like that reunion to take place?

There are a few friends with whom I've lost touch over the years, but Miriam is the one I'd most like to re-connect with.

If life had gone according to plan I never would have met her. I had just finished my teacher training course and the OC, who was then merely a curmudgeon-in-training, had been trying to organize a teaching job for me in the States. I'd been dubious about this since we weren't yet married. What would the living arrangements be? Co-habitation was for loose women in trashy novels. I was not volunteering to become a loose woman! And certainly wouldn't want my living arrangements to be cause for blushing if they should come to the ears of The Mag!

Fate poked her nose in and settled the problem. Between visas and work permits and teacher certification, it couldn't be done,. At least not that summer.

My parents breathed a sigh of relief.

And I started pouring over the classifieds.

It was late summer and most teaching jobs were filled. But I couldn't just lie around at my parents' house like Lady Muck. I finally found a job at a vocational school close to the border with Northern Ireland.

Mother went into organizational overdrive. Packed me up, emphasis on sensible shoes and frumpy tweed skirts. No frippery. Loaded the car, and off we motored to parts unknown. With myself sitting dazedly in the passenger seat, five hours nonstop, until we reached the sleepy little town where I was soon to be imparting wisdom, or a facsimile thereof, to the young and the innocent.

Whoa! Who? Me? Surely I myself was too young and innocent to be entrusted with such a task. What did I know about teaching anyone anything? They'd find me out and expose me for an impostor! Don't leave me, mother dear.....!

Leave me she did, heartless woman! But not right away. We stayed a few nights at the local hotel in the town square. There, on the first night, we met another new teacher. Miriam was her name. She was tall and willowy, with wavy auburn hair, and an intellectual, yet elegant air.

I was intimidated. Mother was charmed. And when she did leave she was confident that Miriam would keep an eye on me.

I was twenty one, and still wet behind the ears. Miriam was thirty one and already an experienced teacher. But she'd gotten in a rut with her last job and was looking for new adventures.

That was how we met. Which makes me think that life is not just a random series of events.

Neither of us could afford to live at the local inn for long, so we set out to find lodgings. Cheap lodgings. By some happy chance, we met Mrs. K, recently widowed, a tiny, prim little woman, living alone in a big house, up the hill next to the cathedral.

She was dubious at first. Nervous about embarking on something she'd never done before. But she decided to take a chance, and we became "Mrs K's girls." I think she'd been lonely. Having us around gave her a purpose again. She made us breakfast every morning before school. When we climbed back up the hill at noon, she had dinner waiting. At six she served us supper. In the winter she made sure the sitting room had a cozy fire going when we came home from school. When her neighbours' sons came calling, she got all twittery and flirty and coy! She loved the arrangement and so did we! We even persuaded her to let us get a puppy, when a friend's dog had a litter. We called him Tara.

Despite the age difference, Miriam and I hit it off amazingly well. After a few weeks, I felt we'd been friends all our lives. For me, it was like having an older sister. Sometimes we'd stop by the hotel after school and Miriam would order a Guinness. I thought it was disgusting slop, but her doctor had told her that a pint of Guinness a day would help her to gain a little weight, since she was very thin!

Sometimes, on weekends we'd take the bus to Armagh, over the border, to go shopping. A couple of times we went to Dublin, and even though I'd gone to college there, the shopping was all new since, when I'd been there as a student I'd never had two pennies to rub together, never mind shopping at the likes of Arnott's of Grafton Street!

Still, I was by no means wealthy. After paying rent to Mrs. K, incidental expenses like shampoo and toothpaste, and replacement of frumpy skirts and sensible shoes, there wasn't much left for bus or train fares. So,I persuaded Miriam to hitch hike home with me a couple of times. It was always a hair raising adventure. Even though she loved visiting my mother, I think one of the main reasons she came along was so I wouldn't go off on such a foolish venture alone. That's the kind of friend she was. And that's the kind of stubborn donkey I was. We met some really creepy characters. But lived to tell the tale.

We went to local dances together. A few times when, in my gaucheness, I was in danger of making a total ass of myself, she'd pull me aside and whisper some terse, big-sisterly advice in my ear. Sometimes I listened, sometimes not. When I didn't I usually wished later that I had! Every time new female teachers arrive in a small town like that, it causes a bit of a stir among the locals. Peader was one such. He set his sights on Miriam. He was middle aged and well heeled, but a rake at heart. Miriam was very proper. And very picky. She was always hoping to meet Mr. Right, but she had high standards and wasn't likely to settle for the likes of Peader R!

"The unclaimed treasure" she liked to call herself.

Before we knew it, that year had flown by. June came and with it goodbyes and hugs and tears all around. Mother motored back up the country to retrieve me and we all had a lovely day together, mother, Mrs. K, Miriam, me......and Tara. Our little landlady was daft,in her own prim way, about that lovable mutt! We had agreed that he would stay on as her lodger!

Miriam and I met once again in August, when she came to our wedding, wearing a stunning hat and looking elegant and willowy, as usual.

She moved to the west and bought a house by the sea. We wrote letters back and forth, and when I came home for a visit with my eighteen month old daughter, we met and had lunch together, and she marveled at, and cooed over my beautiful baby. She was still an unclaimed treasure. Stupid Irishmen. Can't recognize pearls when they're under their noses!

More babies came along and my letter writing skills fell into disrepair. But we connected, sort of, one more time, in the summer of 1989. The OC had gone ahead of us to his new assignment in Germany, and the children and I were spending some time with my sister and her family in Ireland before joining him. I contacted Miriam and we arranged a day to meet. I was to bring my offspring along for her inspection and we'd all spend the day together, enjoying the bracing air at Salthill.

Great plan. But you know how great plans go. This was before cell phones, and the phone system in Ireland at the time, was nothing short of antiquated.

The fabled GB was traveling to Salthill, on business, on the appointed day, and packed us all into his car, bright and early, and disgorged us in Eyre Square a few hours later and went about his business. I wasn't familiar with Galway, so we streeled around looking for a bus to Salthill. It may have been summer, but someone had forgotten to tell the weathermen we were coming and the west of Ireland should be on its best behaviour and arrange for some warm and balmy weather. It was raw and blustery and the children were restless. The sixteen year old, the same that Miriam had bounced on her knee when last we met, was in eye rolling mode; just a little bit annoyed with this latest hare-brained scheme of her mother's. The two year old didn't like being squeezed into the stroller, and those in between were still hoping this would turn into an adventure.

It did. But not quite the kind they had in mind.

We found a bus, paid our fares and trundled off to Salthill. We telephoned Miriam, but no-one answered. So we set off on foot from where the bus deposited us, to find her house. At last we were on her street, and there was her house.

With a note on the door, full of apologies. She had forgotten that she had to go to a funeral that day! And the phone system being what it was, and her having lost my sister's phone number, and the Bawn-lets getting increasingly dissatisfied with the shape of the day, Molly was not in danger of winning mother of the year!

Hugging our inadequate sweaters about us, we decided to walk along the promenade, or rather, we were buffeted briskly along by the blustery wind. We found a pub selling sandwiches and fed the hungry and disgruntled, and thusly occupied ourselves 'til GB met us at the appointed place for the thrilling ride home.

After that, having no car in which to get about, I gave up any notion of meeting with Miriam. We may have exchanged a few more letters, but gradually, as one does, we lost touch.

Next time I'm home I may give it another try. Assuming she's still around. If I found that she was, I'd want to meet her in Salthill....On a blue-skied, blustery day. We'd walk along the promenade, arm in arm, bundled in warm jackets and woolly scarves against that bracing, salty air. And talk about old times, when we were young, about Peader and others, about how fast that year flew by, how fast our lives flew by, before we learned to savour the sweet moments that are here, and then poof! They're gone.