Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Unclaimed Treasures

The first one I read was "A Long, Long Way." I loved it. It was a sad story, but the writing was amazing. When anyone asks me to recommend a good read I tell them

"Anything by Sebastian Barry."

He writes about a time in Ireland that was already gone, or slipping fast away, when I was born. I caught the last wisps of it and it left a lasting impression. I often think I would have been more at home in that time, that I should have been born fifty years earlier; when people got around in a horse and trap; when there was no TV and no need of it as people talked to each other, played cards and visited their neighbours. Of course, I'd be a hundred now, or gone myself.

Rise gave me "The Sacred Scripture" for my birthday. And once again I was off, preaching the gospel according to Sebastian B. She laughed when I told her the ending took me completely by surprise. She's a canny one that; had it all figured out before she got there.

Then a friend, to whom I had lent "The Sacred Scripture," lent me "The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty." And after I had devoured that I got "Annie Dunne" from the library.

From the first page, it swept me away to the hills of Wicklow, to the small farm where Annie Dunne and her cousin, Sarah, were living out their old maid lives in quiet desperation. It made me think of Auntie Bid, my very sensible mother's free spirited sister. Who was daft about a man who ditched her for another, broke her heart, and made her crazy.

[She's on the right in the picture and that's Dee on the left]

When I was born, Auntie Bid came to stay, and minded me while my mother went back to work as a nurse. Years later, when my uncle's wife started having babies out on the farm, and another one came every year, like clockwork, Auntie Bid had herself a full time job.

But we saw her regularly. Once a month she'd come in from the country, armed with her infamous List. She'd sit and have a cup of tea with my mother, then whisk me off to town to search out all the items on The List. She was exhilarating company. She was cheery and happy, always ready with a smile or a joke. Half way through the list we'd give up, and hie us to the Dainty Dairy for coffee and marzipan cakes. This, I thought, is living!

She was known like a bad ha'penny at the drivers' testing office in town. She took the test at least once a year, scared the daylights out of the examiner, failed miserably, but, nothing daunted, went home determined to practice and do better next time. She never did pass the test.

After I got married and moved so far away, she wrote to me regularly, and loved to be sent photos of her grandnieces and nephews.

Turns out the happy smiles and cheeriness were not enough to get her through. She fell into depression, and while living on the farm would refuse to take the medicine that kept her on an even keel. So now she lives in a nursing home. The cousins come and bring her home to the farm on Sunday afternoons. Last time I met her she didn't recognize me. She, who used to bounce me on her knee, and change me, and push me around in a pram. Bewildered beyond belief that she's still here when all of her generation are gone.

Annie Dunne says
"We will survive in the creak of a broken gate, the whistle of a bird, the perpetual folding and unfolding of the blossom of my crab apple tree, a thousand little scraps of crinoline fiercely crushed and fiercely released. Like the spider, although we will decay, something of us ever after will remain."

Auntie Bid may be fading away, but I have her smile and her carefree spirit locked up in my memory just as surely as Sebastian Barry has Annie captured between the pages of his book. Unclaimed treasures both, with so much love to give.

Want something good to read? Go read Annie Dunne. Or anything at all by Sebastian Barry.


Ali Honey said...

I hven't read anything by Sebastian Barry, so will look for them - Thanks.

Your Quilts in the Garden was fabulous once again. The setting is so much more exciting than inside a hall. I especially like the teal blue with curves.

persiflage said...

Such an evocative and beautiful post. It is sad but inspiring to read about those women whose lives were confined and constrained in so many ways, but who lived bravely, cheerfully and with spirit.

Pauline said...

Or written by Molly.

I never leave here without a smile and will carry that image of being heard in the creaking of the gate long after I've gone as a delightful reassurance of life after death.

Thimbleanna said...

You really need to put a warning at the beginning of your post when it's going to make me cry. What a lovely post. I've never read anything by Sebastian Barry -- thanks for the suggestion.

jkhenson said...

A wonderful post-memory filled and a sweet connection to family in your heart! You make me misty-eyed and remembering my family member friends. Thanks, Molly, as always, your writing is magnificent.

Julie's Journey said...

I love your memories. They touch something deep inside of me. I have now added Sebastian Barry to my must read list and will search them out at the local library. Thank you for sharing.

ganching said...

What a lovely photograph. They were a good looking crowd that generation.