Ciara and I are reaching an understanding. I understand that I have changed the shape of her relationship with her mum from a straight line to an emotional triangle and Ciara is beginning to realise that I am not a miserable old grouch all of the time, I am a miserable old grouch just some of the time! However, reaching this understanding, has been, at best, a psychological power struggle and at worst, a full blown war……..a war of nerves….everyone’s except Ciara’s……..but she has given us some laughs. She’s three now and misses her papa so much. She can be heard as Anne has heard her, talking earnestly on her ‘phone to him. The latest feedback is that papa – in his white jumper – is happy and laughing and is up in heaven with his angels.
‘Where are we going today?’
‘We’re going to Glasgow – to the shops.’
‘No, no, no, Nana, we’re not going to the shops today we were at the shops the last morning, and I don’t need to go to Marks and Spencer……….I need to go to the nother nursery ’…………..
‘We’ll probably go to the nursery after we’ve been to the shops..’…….
‘No, no, no, Nana we need to go to the nother nursery now……’
‘Ciara !’ Anne sends a gentle warning shot across Ciara’s pretty pink bows.
‘Anne …….’ I say in wavy tones and give her the look that says : Don’t fall for it…she’s looking for an argument…….ignore it ……. like I’m doing….
‘That’s not Anne, Nana, that’s Mum !!’
I smile sweetly and say nothing.
‘Nana, Nana, that’s Mum I said!’
“So it is, darling,’I respond soothingly.
‘You’ve not to say Anne, Nana, you’ve to say Mum !’
I cannot help myself. I fall.
‘But Anne’s not my mum, Ciara…….she’s your Mum.’
‘No, no, no, Nana, she’s Webecca and Caitlin and Sawamawee’s Mum too.’
‘That’s right, darling……..and your Mum……….but not my Mum…..’ I venture to clarify sweetly. ‘I’m your Mum’s Mum…’ I add daringly.
‘No, no, no, Nana. You’re Nana, you’re not Mum I said!’
‘Mum………’Anne says in wavy tones……..you’re falling for it…’………..
‘ No, no, no, Mum………….that’s Nana!…….you’ve not to say Mum, you’ve to say Nana!’
‘But Nana is my Mum, Ciara.’
‘No, no, no, you’re my Mum!! I said that the last morning!!’ The little cheeks are flushed with frustration at the stubbornness and stupidity of her pupils. We are desperately wanting to laugh.
‘I think we should go, MUM,’ I say to Anne, ‘before relationships break down entirely!’
‘Okay, NANA. I think you’re right !’
‘No. I used to be Wright……..but that all changed when I met your Dad……..I mean your PAPA…….’
‘Oh, Mum !!!’
‘NO, NO, NO, MUM, THAT’S NANA I SAID.’And that sounded like the last words on the subject to me.
We’ve played many games in the car as we motor from A to B not least of which is the Nonsense Word Game – the more syllables the better – which Ciara really enjoys. So pretty soon, words like ‘Whojeecumwhiffle’ and ‘Thingumeebob’ were rolling off her tongue.
She started to use them, however, in her own unique context much to Anne’s dismay and embarrassment. It took place while the obligatory ‘comfort stop’ was being observed, along with a good number of other customers, in a Marks and Spencer’s Rest Room. Anne, I mean Mum, having, at long last, secured a situation ‘vacant’, bolted herself, assorted bags and a chattering Ciara behind the non sound-proof door. A stream of observations and questions preceded an unusual silence as Ciara was ‘enthroned’.
‘Are you alright, darling?’inquired Anne politely for she could see by the earnest expression on her Little Angel’s face and the tell tale reddening of her complexion that some pressing business was afoot.
‘Yes, Mum, I’m okay,’ she burst forth loudly, her voice projected by the sheer force of her bodily endeavours, ‘I’m just doing a big whoooooooooooooojeecumwhiffle!!!’
Anne was motionless. She could only imagine the faces of the ‘ladies – in – waiting’ on the other side of the door. Mortified, she attempted to hurry Ciara on but this was not to be. ‘No, no, no, Mum, I haven’t finished yet. I’ve still to do a thingameebob !’ Anne s breath was now coming in short pants. All she needed now was for Ciara to bring some ‘Tillietoodolums’ into the commentary for her to feel utterly gigumphic!!!
Of course we still go to the nurseries on a regular basis – no, not because Ciara so decrees – but because we want to , we need to go. It is medicinal. It heightens the senses, enhances the mood and strengthens the resolve. There is always something new to discover, something beautiful to admire, something wonderful and awesome to contemplate. It is ‘Plant food for the Soul’, it is our sanctuary, our retreat, our ‘haven’(….that’s almost heaven…..) and the only place in the world where I can still buy something for Hugh…………………
The car turns automatically through the gates. I scan the still, silent rows until I pinpoint his stone then fix it with my gaze until the car stops in its familiar place. It is raining now and I persuade Anne to stay in the car with Ciara. I walk the short distance to his grave and stand, outwardly still and silent. I read his stone and pray that he can read what is engraved on my heart. I know he is not here and yet I know he is – for he is everywhere I am. His little garden boasts a variety of blooms and plants carefully chosen for their colour, their hardiness, their shape and form ……….decisions pondered and debated and made soberly and tenderly on our frequent nursery visits. I walk softly over the dewy grass and bend down to clear away some withered leaves. My heart fills to bursting as the words and music of yet another song echo in the marble halls of my memory. In my head I sob uncontrollably to the imaginary accompaniment of ‘The Londonderry Air’.‘Danny Boy’ always makes me cry. My father could sing it so well but seldom did. Yet many people who have no ear for a tune sing it so badly and often do. Hugh was with my father on this one.
Anne’s mum, Annie, however, loves it deeply and once, on a visit to our home she begged Hugh to play it for her. Wine had been consumed. I was moved to sing. Annie was moved to tears.
‘Promise me that you’ll sing that at my funeral,’she pleaded emotionally.
‘Promise me that you wont!’ hissed Hugh, flatly…..
A few deep breaths later I return to the car and Anne relates the conversation which has taken place in my absence.
It went as follows:
‘Mum, is Nana sad?
‘Yes, darling. She misses Papa…..I miss Papa too.’
‘Are you sad?’
‘Yes, I’m sad too. You see, Papa is my Dad, so…..’
‘No, no, no, Mum. Papa is not your Dad .’
‘Who is my Dad, then?’
‘Thomas is your Dad.’
‘No, Ciara. Thomas is your dad. He is not my Dad he is my husband.’
‘ No, no, no Mum! He is not your husband!!!’
‘ Well if he’s not my husband and he’s not my Dad, who is he?
‘He’s your………….. DOCTOR!!!’
I laugh aloud, much to Ciara’s disgust.
‘Well, Anne’ I say, ‘we all know how busy Thomas is …..but I didn’t know you had to make appointments to see him.’
‘Nana, Nana ! You’ve not to say Thomas……you’ve to say Dad!!!………..’
Here we go again……………….
So I do as Hugh would have done long ago. I‘switch off.’
And so I am moved along through days of sunshine and rain – over steep hills and through deep valleys, in safe and sure company and in a world now strange and unfamiliar. I never did like going anywhere by myself – Hugh knew this. Yet in my head, I often now, journey down the long forgotten paths and trails uncovered by this upheaval, to places where I’ve been and yet have not, for in the crazy rush of living life, I fear, like many, that I have missed so much and long with all my heart to experience it again. I pass, on my solitary way, many young and old familiar faces : some dear, some dearer, some near, some nearer, some remote, some gone . Each face evokes one memory or another which tugs at my sleeve and whispers, ‘Stay awhile .’ And so, I stop and think and with my sighs breathe life into the faded tableaux of yesteryear and smile and laugh…… and weep.
‘Have you got that bus pass yet?’ Marie asks hopefully, knowing at the same time that the answer to her well worn question is still in the negative.
Marie tries so hard to jolly me along. I know that her motives are sound and well meaning but I feel that my obvious lack of enthusiasm disappoints her.
I have known Marie since my early teens, through school, college and teaching, crises, joys, and tears. She is my dear friend and despite her best efforts, she cannot help me right now……..this is something I must do for myself…… still I know she’s there.
Marie and May have organised another night out and I am happy to see them. We sit around the table with some other friends and talk about holidays. Ellen and Agnes have been to so many exotic places and I am content to sit back and listen…….or am I listening….?……I know I am looking at those who are talking……I can hear their voices…………. but am I really listening…?….I feel I have chosen the wrong clothes to wear…..I should have worn what I put on in the first place…… shouldn’t I, Hugh?…..
I can see him shaking his head in mock despair.
But how will I ever know if I look right?…….I trusted your judgement implicitly………….I relied on your opinion, on your approval………your honesty…. your admiration.
Before this, I could step out swaddled in love and wrapped in care, sure in the knowledge that, at least, one person in the world liked what they saw…………..
How strange it is to realise that you are not the love of anyone’s life anymore……………….
‘Mosie…………I’m still here……….I can hear you……but pay attention……….May’s talking to you.’……
‘Haven’t you been there, Maureen?’ I look at May, blankly. I know that she’s been there…….. and still is…………
‘Las Vegas. You’ve been there.’
‘Oh, yes. We went with Patsy and Kenny…….it …..was amazing.’ (Is that the sum total of your contribution?!)
Agnes has some casino experiences to recount and I thankfully resume my pretend listening mode …………Names of places fill my head :San Francisco, Petaluma, Strawberry Point, The Golden Gate, Yosemite, Sausalito, San Simeon, Monterey, Carmel, Los Angeles, San Diego, Mexico ……….and then Washington. What a holiday that was! Three whole weeks in the USA…………tiring but exhilarating. Gosh, I could have told them some stories……..
‘Why didn’t you, Mosie?’
They’re our stories…………..I don’t want to talk about them……..yet……..maybe I just can’t be bothered………..I just want to go home now……….I’m tired pretending to enjoy myself……….’
‘Look around the table, Mosie. Don’t you think everyone here has made just as great an effort as you to be present? Look outwards for a moment. Can you see behind the smiles? All of your friends have suffered sorely over the last few years……a husband, a brother, a sister, a mother……..try to focus on others for a while……give yourself a break………..time will pass……as it does………
‘We are born straddling the grave’……..who said that…? I wish it had been me……I smile inwardly as my father enters my thoughts.
‘I hate when that fellow looks at me,’ he would say with mock seriousness’…. The fellow to whom he referred was the local undertaker. Certainly the family firm in question has dispatched nearly all of my close and extended family over the years – the deceased ones of course – with great care and dignity……‘I just know he’s sizing me up,’and he would shake his head sadly as if acknowledging the inevitable, adding nobly, ‘We die that they may live.’ He would then launch into all the undertaker jokes he knew and we would all ‘die laughing’. I thought then I would live forever.
When my mother passed away she was taken to the funeral parlour of the same family firm. I had never been on the premises before but knew of its location. Patsy and I went together to pay our respects. It was a situation fraught with tension and emotion.
‘We have come to see my mother,’ we advised the receptionist.
“Her name?’ Busy multi-tasking she made no effort to make eye contact.
‘We have no such person here,’came the cold and brusque reply.
‘But we know for a fact her body was brought here this morning.’
She lifted her head and looked at us with a wonderful ‘dead-pan’ expression.
‘Try the Undertaker’s next door. This is an Engineering Workshop.’
There is such a fine line between laughter and tears. Thank God for a sense of humour.
Martin, who organised Hugh’s funeral, has just that. He is the third generation of the family and a contemporary of Anne and Joe. Consequently when he came to the house, and after he had extended his condolences, school stories were exchanged in abundance. Laughter rang through the house as familiar names from the old school staffroom were recalled and their respective ‘ipsi dixits’ hung out to dry.
I remember looking at Martin’s face…..so young……how does he cope with such a job……..such sadness, misery, despair, solemnity…..Between stories he would ask essential questions, offer suggestions, give advice, listen and watch and reassure.
‘Don’t worry, I wont let you down,’ he would say earnestly.
No, I say to myself as a bizarre thought pops impishly into my head, but you’re finally going to let your old teacher down…….about six feet…………..
There is no doubt Martin made it easy……easier than I thought it could be but then he knew his clients and could therefore interact appropriately. Such an approach would not be acceptable to everyone and therein lies his skill: I observed in one week, that he is sensitive, flexible and efficient and has a good sense of humour. Were these qualities ever recognised during his years at school I wondered, or was he condemned by some unenlightened teachers to a bleak future in some ‘dead-end’ job. I’ll bet they never dreamed how prophetic their assessment was or how successful he would become. He is literally following in his father’s footsteps as his father before him had done, to the dead-end of the road travelled eventually by us all.
‘I find it difficult when it’s one of my teachers,’ he confided to me in all seriousness.
Perhaps he gets a sense of incredulity that those who had once been so confident, so knowledgeable, so authoritative, so influential in his young life, should now be assigned to the classless society of the soil……….under his direction.
I prayed that Hugh had put at least one song in his heart to lighten his daily burden.
….to be continued….