The grandness of grandparents


A DAD'S LIFE:We’re away for a few days, to see the old man in Galway before Christmas. He hasn’t been able to shake some sort of flu and I’ve prescribed him with a healthy whack of grand-daughters. I do think they do him good, and him them. They don’t give him an inch.

The old signs that my sisters and I used to recognise as warnings that the noise had gotten out of control, or that maybe it wasn’t a good idea to jump from table to table in a restaurant, my kids ignore out of hand. They’re, like, seriously, what are you gonna do about it, old man? You’re certainly not gonna get out of your chair and come after us. Waa-haaa-ha.

The da can’t handle garlic. When we were small, this affliction (and no, it wasn’t an inconvenience, it was an affliction) had to be treated with reverential awe. We walked out of more eateries because of the whiff of garlic than I care to remember. On other occasions, a plate would be handed to him and the waiter would have neglected to mention what was in the sauce and, whoosh, we were off again.

Garlic was evil, I thought. I wondered was my dad some sort of head vampire. I noted the absence of crucifixes in the house, and fretted that if he was actually immortal, I’d never come into any cash.

But the most significant result of his garlic phobia was that I never got to taste the stuff until I met my missus in college. She practically grated it on her cornflakes. I learned then how good it was, how the more you added it to rubbishy student dishes, the less awful they tasted.

The kids don’t care about his affliction. Well they do; they don’t eat it when he is present because they know it makes him feel ill, but they take pleasure in having a feed of garlic bread before he arrives so they can threaten him with their breath.

He growls at them and they usually take this as a signal to assault him. He manages their assaults with a stoic defiance, but I reckon he loves it. Whether he does or not, they won’t be stopping for a while.

Senior in parentis

The first day of our visit I had a little work to do, so departed to the mezzanine area of where we were staying with laptop in tow.

The missus fancied a quick walk and left him in charge. I could sense him twitching at the prospect from where I sat, up above them all, but figured he’d be fine and got on with my business. A little while later I tuned back in to what was going on below.

He had the younger child laid out on one couch beside him, reading, while the elder was in the midst of a Brophy Senior tutorial on transitive and intransitive verbs, their uses and applications. She loves this stuff. The problem is I don’t know my grammar well enough to get into any detail with her. The da does. I reckon if the missus had walked long enough, she’d have returned to her daughter parsing sentences like a 1950s Etonian scholar.

It’s nice getting attention from your grandparents. They teach you many things, and in ways as if the information has been unearthed from a strange, wonderful world: the past. And the kids, even as they get to an age where they disregard everything their parents have to say, namely 11 onwards, offer a dispensation to their grandparents.


They take on board their advice because they know their grandparents are slightly more frail extensions of their parents. Bound to do their best by them without forever harping on about brushing teeth. And they’re right.

On the final day of the visit, we heard my granny had died. She was a remarkable woman in many ways, none more than the way she raised a large family and lived her entire life on the same plot of land in north Mayo, the type of life that only existed, in my head, in history books. My mother didn’t live that life, but she kept us in touch with it, and now that her mother is gone, it feels as if a line to the past has been cut. But what goes forward is what she taught her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

She taught me, among other things, how to milk a cow. In the world I now inhabit, probably a skill even less useful than recognising an intransitive verb. I’ll never forget it.

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