Tuesday, December 10, 2013

'... and Paddy with his words at will'



You may recall my mother passed away just after Easter this year (may she rest in peace; please continue to pray for the happy repose of her soul). Going through her stuff, my sister found a letter from her mother, written in 1965, which my mother had kept until her dying day. She scanned it and sent me a copy. 

Reading through it, at first I wondered why she had hung on to it. It was mostly just bits of news about family, friends, and neighbours. But then I realised that a lot of the letter was about a visit we had paid to my grandmother not long before. 

My parents both came from Newmarket in North Cork. Like a lot of people in the 1950s they emigrated, for the sake of work and a better life as Ireland was going through one of its periodic economic slowdowns. It was in New York that my parents fell in love, got engaged, married in 1959, and had their three children. In the summer of 1965 they made their first visit home since leaving. My grandmother's letter was written not long after.

So, of course, that gives an added poignancy to my Nana talking about how much she'd enjoyed our visit and how much she missed us. It was the first time she had seen her daughter in over eight years and the first time she'd seen her grandchildren. And who knew when she'd see us again, if ever. I can imagine the letter must have torn at my mother's heart-strings. And no doubt she was especially touched by my Nana's description of her children, which I've copied above, but to save your eyes, I'll transcribe:

'But we really felt bad after our own Burkes. (some neighbours, also called Burke, had just been to her house on a visit) I can still see my Joan Marie with those curling black lashes and blue eyes, and she all about us, and Jim's good moods when he was so nice, and Paddy with his words at will. Billy was dying after them too, and Sadie (Billy & Sadie are an aunt and uncle who were still living at home); the grandfather calls Joan M his own girl.'

I checked my reading with my sister, and she thinks I have it right. She also thinks that my Nana's words about us indicate that she was a pretty little thing, my brother was moody, and I was a little chatterbox ... and for her and I nothing has changed!

As I said, my mom kept the letter until the end. Faded and stained, my sister found it among her things. From the creases and tears, I'd say it had been handled a lot. She clearly treasured it. Who's not to say it didn't play a part in decision, a few years after it was written, to move the whole family back to Ireland? In which case, it would have been a life-changing document, one that played an important part in a pivotal moment in the lives of her and her family. 

I have to say I'm quite tickled by my Nana's description of me (I would have been about three at the time). My sister showed the letter to a cousin and she picked up on the phrase at once, saying that it was a talent that no doubt proved useful in my ministry! 

To be honest, I like the phrase so much, that I'm thinking of changing the name of the blog to it. I've been blogging now for just over three years - it's probably time to give this 'space' a bit of a facelift. What do you think?

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