Remembering my Nannie Muriel, who taught me about Ireland
She treasured flowers, smiles, tea and conversation. Her spirit lives on in my children
Jennifer, her sister Sheelagh Nannie Muriel.
When I think of my Nannie Muriel, I recall her energy. Her spunk. Her zest for life. Her honesty and faith. Her Irish strength.
Growing up in New Jersey, I always wished my cousins and relatives lived nearby. I can remember special celebrations and birthdays that seemed…. empty. While my friends had large first communions and graduations with extended family, I longed for that.
You see, my parents were not American. My father was from Dublin. My mother was born in Canada to an Irish mum and English father. Shortly after my dad emigrated with his parents and brother to Toronto, he met my mother through her older brother. They socialised in a church group, and soon were married. After three children were born, they moved to the States. In Chicago, their fourth child was born-that’s me.
As life took it’s path, we found our way to New Jersey. I always recall my childhood fondly. There were trees to climb, friends to go on adventures within the woods on Northern NJ, and visits to family. Special visits. I so looked forward to each and every visit with my relatives, but especially, my Nannie Muriel.
Nannie (Muriel Whelan Brunt) had a twinkle in her green eyes that could not be matched. She was petite. She was smart and spry. She was like a magical Peter Pan. She had faith that could not be rivalled, a deep love of watching baseball and her beloved Blue Jays, a passion for gardening, a competitive streak whilst playing bridge with dear friends, a deep love of the sea, and an open heart that listened to every word we shared.
Every year, I had the opportunity to visit her in her apartment, all decked out in shades of the “perfect”, “not jammy” shades of pink. Over tea, we chatted about life’s latest adventures. She often told me fun stories of the love of her life, (gone for many years), David. He was so dashing and elegant in every black and white photo she shared.
She told me of performing in plays in Ireland. She was quite proud of her performance as the “Cat” in Dick Whittington, and “Peter” in Peter Pan with a young theatrical troupe. She spoke in her lilting voice of beloved visits to the Irish Sea. Remembering gardens that she adored, she would show me beautiful flowers that she pressed into lovely books, cards, and frames.
I treasured most of all when Nannie would come to stay with us in the States. There in New Jersey, we created a rock garden with my siblings in my backyard several times. She always spoke fondly of the New Jersey soil and flowers. We cuddled with our dog, read books together (I loved her animated voice), we enjoyed hard boiled eggs with toast, pressed flowers from gardens, and enjoyed simple treasures in life with my parents and three older siblings.
She often came to stay at our cottage in Cape Cod. I can picture her perfectly with her striped, vibrant beach robe, large sunglasses, thick sunblock, perfect shade of lipstick, and light vanilla-lavender perfume. Fearlessly, she swam most elegantly in the crisp Cape Cod waves, loving every minute.
When I was at university in Washington DC, she sent me lovely letters and visited while I performed in summer stock in New Hampshire and Vermont. I can recall one perfect moment, with her arm on my waist, looking out with her at the beautiful hills with a light summer breeze. She spoke of Ireland. She told me she was proud of me. Even now it brings tears to my eyes.
Shortly afterwards, I met my husband Mark. She adored him. She told me to marry him or she’d take him off to Paris with her. We often chuckle about that. When our daughter Maeve was born, it was such a joy to see her hold her at just four weeks old.
A year or so later, my beautiful Nannie left us. The day prior, she called me. “My dear, don’t be sad but I’ll be dying tomorrow. Never be sad for I will be watching after you always.” She asked me to hold the phone to Maeve’s tiny ears, and we heard her speak to her, telling her she loved her, and would always watch her.
My other three children never had the opportunity to know my Nannie. For them, for all four of my children, I decided to write down stories of her. Somehow, that grew into a children’s book series, Muriel’s World.
In the books - Muriel’s Robin, Muriel’s Garden, and Muriel’s Christmas - the spirit of my Nannie lives on. Muriel’s Robin is my own version of a bedtime story she often told me. In Muriel’s Garden, I share her love of gardens, and the lessons learned through patience. In Muriel’s Christmas, I touch upon her love of Christmas time, a time dear to us all since many of our Christmas memories were with her-right down to her perfect Irish shortbread cookies.
My Nannie enjoyed the simple things in life. She treasured flowers, smiles, tea and conversation. Her Irish spirit lives on in my children, and I hold dear in my heart every lucky memory.