Thinking of all the little things of family
GENERATION EMIGRATION:I LEFT IRELAND for good almost 30 years ago. On that eerily still June morning when I was about to go, my mother reached into her apron, and pressed 20 folded pound notes into my hand that she’d somehow salted away. But she was too distressed to utter any words.My leaving was straightforward enough – or so it seemed at the time. I boarded the ferry at Dún Laoghaire and caught a one-way flight from London to Melbourne. And although I didn’t know it, I was about to live at the opposite end of the world from my parents for the rest of their lives.
It’s all the little things about my parents’ lives that remain in my memory to this day. Not necessarily their struggle to raise 10 children on a modest size farm. Rather, it was their matter-of-fact, no-frills approach to getting on with life.
I remember my mother trying to learn to drive in the back field one Sunday afternoon – and my father in the front seat, instructing. We all gathered to watch the reversing, swerving, black Morris Minor. We heard him yelling and saw her exiting the car. And she wasn’t game to ever try again.
I’m told that in her last decade, she started going to Mass every morning. Maybe she liked the curate. My sister said she’d cycle the two miles on a dodgy bicycle in all kinds of weather.
One year she cooked a turkey for my April homecoming; to make up for all those Christmases I’d missed, I guess. She knew I loved the stuffing. It was too long roasting. She must’ve underestimated her new fan-forced oven. But I was touched by all the trouble she took.
She tolerated a man who would come around in a Ford Anglia van, usually after children’s allowance day, with cheap sheets, towels and blankets.
Business was done out on the road at the gable of the house. “Mam,” he called her, touching his cap, in-between showing her his wares.
For years she baked soda bread every evening; right up until the night she had her stroke. In minutes she’d have the dough flattened, crossed with a moist butter knife, and in the oven. Lathered with marmalade while still warm, it was irresistible.
She was a woman of few words. “Sure I’ll put you on to your pa,” she’d say after a few minutes at a loss when I’d ring, and she’d slip away.