In a Word ... Wisdom

Our pandemic woes are real, but Grandma Tess could provide welcome perspective

Flake, from Old English flakka, for ‘flat, level, particle’

Flake, from Old English flakka, for ‘flat, level, particle’

 

My maternal grandmother has been in my mind lately, particularly as things went from bad to worse even as a new year arrived trailing a word of hope – vaccines – and enthusiasm took a battering from soaring Covid rates.

Finding myself in times of trouble, Grandma Tess comes to me, speaking words of wisdom: “Sure, it could be worse.”

She would add, “and you’re better off than most”. She was also my godmother.

Her long life spanned the first eight decades of the 20th century in Ireland and more. She lived through two World Wars, the War of Independence, the Spanish flu pandemic, the Civil War, a world depression, Ireland’s economic war with Britain, the Emergency, a TB epidemic, a polio epidemic, the oil crisis of the 1970s, more forced emigration and unemployment in the 1970s, and into her 80s. Then she died.

Through it all, she and my grandfather raised a family in conditions that could be described as “frugal comfort”. They were happy people.

She wouldn’t dismiss the gravity of our situation now, but she might suggest, and with some authority, “It could be worse”. And, against the great span of events in her life, it could be.

There has ever only been one glitch to her wisdom. Her daughter, my beloved mother, in whom I remain well pleased, decided to advance on it.

Every Christmas Day, to the point of ritual, she would eventually survey her greatest annual achievement of a glistening bronzed turkey and honeyed ham presiding magnificently on a crowded table surrounded by more vegetables than would feed the Defence Forces.

Then standing back, before letting us undo it all, she would pronounce “and to think of all the children starving in Africa”. It was not quite the sauce we needed, even deterring the (few!) more sensitive among us momentarily as we conjured up images of crying babies with flies at their eyes and bones protruding even as their bellies were swollen.

Nowadays Mam is no longer able to so charm us at the Christmas dinner table, but all is not lost. We now have charities to shower us with vivid images of starving children at Christmas in their annual exercise of unashamed emotional blackmail to mark the season of goodwill.

Wisdom from Old English wisdom; wis ‘learned’ plus dom ‘ judgment’.

inaword@irishtimes.com

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.