From Micheline to Dad: “ I hear your advice to light a candle and quench the dark”
Dearest darling Dada,
Were you lonely in that tuna tin in the bowels of the airplane from Tokyo? How did you feel with your very own air way bill? You went there on holidays at 80 and came home in a coffin.
We couldn’t tell Mama that you were on a separate flight to her. She would not have been able for that extra crack in her heart. It was enough for her to wake up at the opposite end of the double bed and find you dead in Ger’s flat.
Your only son and sons-in-law took that tuna tin into the back yard and used secateurs to open it. I ignored those men that day when they banished me to the house to protect my sensibilities. I wanted to be there, Dada.
I remember in 1997, when mobiles weren’t as common as they are today, that mine went off in the back of the car as we pulled for home in the hearse. My friend did not know you had died. I couldn’t speak. I stole those lovely cotton white towels which the Japanese embalmers swaddled you in. And I bawled into them those first few nights when I borrowed your bed. The house was full and Mama had to sleep downstairs. She fell out of bed in Castlebar with the shock of her new reality. I could still smell your sweat and hair oil from your pillow.
I remember you often and smile. I remember you visiting me in the day room at hospital and sitting on a pouf. You looked ungainly but it mattered when you told me that the light was coming back into my eyes.
When you honoured my wishes at 18 and didn’t send me to the UCD Arts Block, I appreciated it. You always said that a week of travel was worth a year in university and you could see that I wanted out of boring formal learning. I wanted work and I wanted road. You wisely said that college could wait.
It has been a circuitous and bumpy road at times. But I hear your advice to light a candle and quench the dark. You often said it if I pointed out your dirty shoes as you leaned against the Aga in the kitchen. You could have been out with a lovely Mayo farmer inspecting a boundary dispute and dragged the dirt in across the kitchen floor. There was no deep philosophy with that aphorism. You just meant get out the polish box.
I still call on our patron saint Anthony. And I am not in arrears. I still love Cadburys. These were your humble pleasures and they continue to sustain me.
I liked it that you made a note of topics to talk about when we’d meet and I understood your prudent ways when I called home from abroad. Unlike Mam you never wasted language with “This must be costing you a fortune.” You’d just say “SHOOT” and we would be off. I continue your tradition of slipping into cinemas for 90 minutes of quiet and bliss. I have taken over your lucky number eight and I’m glad you got your deepest wish to die at 80.
On the way down from the airport chapel we lost the hearse in Lucan. The others, my seven sisters and John indulged me on that journey to Mayo and we slowed the hearse in Rathowen, in front of Granny Moran’s and again in Frenchpark where you and Mama courted. The precision of miles and the cost of petrol in 1951 meant that ye met half-way between her parish and the county town.
You got your plain deal coffin Dada and all those other little wishes. I can still feel you in my bones; you’re in the atmosphere and memories we all hold. You taught us how to lead interesting lives. And you knew that God saw everything but the neighbours missed nothing but you taught us to follow our own North Stars and not bother with soft talk.
Oh and Dada, I am still dying my hair and you were wrong. It has not come out in my face – so far.
Thanks for helping me get my first car and for taking me off the road from South Tipperary to Castlebar. Thumbing was getting trickier in 1982 and I knew when I told you that the red Renault 4 with one careful owner had a Padre Pio sticker that it was the one for me. You always said to keep the faith and I have. Maybe not your version but my own and it helps.
You were a curious mix of prudence, shyness and wisdom at home and extravagant generosity when it came to travel or learning. I often wonder were you born a feminist or did having eight daughters and a strong wife make you one. You certainly weren’t afraid of strong women and you taught your girls to take risks and just go for it.
Slán a Dhaídí, feicfimidh thú arís
PS. 31 years later I’m going to UCD. This time I’m ready.....