Everyone should have an Auntie Mena. She shone at Christmas time

Family Fortunes: She had a tough life but her kindness and empathy was wonderful to the end

‘One year Auntie Mena gave me a branch to decorate myself’. Photograph: istock

‘One year Auntie Mena gave me a branch to decorate myself’. Photograph: istock

 

Everyone, child and adult should have an Auntie Mena. Ours was wonderful. Around Christmas time she really shone.

Her Christmas tree in my memory was stunning. I helped with the decorations and one year she gave me a branch to decorate myself. I made silver flowers, tied it to the back of a dining chair, and kept it until March.

She didn’t have an easy start in life. Her mother died shortly after her birth, and she lost her father before her teens. This didn’t make her selfish, she had a heart of gold. Though not very well off, she thought nothing of spending her money on everyone else. Woolworths was Mecca to us, we were taken regularly. I can still smell and taste the ice-cream and see the colouring books and crayons. When I started Irish dance classes she bought me beautiful hornpipe shoes.

Mena was a big woman in every sense of the word. Could be tough, loud, colourful and straight talking, but her kindness and empathy was wonderful. You could tell her anything. She was always on my side. When I was at school and complained about the nuns, she never questioned anything, just supported me. She would make all kind of threats against them. When I started work, and moaned about colleagues or bosses, she would get right into the spirit of it, and threaten all kinds of retribution. Her favourite threat was:

“Had I been behind her/him, I would have given them a stuff in the stomach.”

So consoling when you’re young, I could see them folding up with the punches and feel instantly better.

Mena was president of the ladies club and she invited me to their Christmas party. She baked the cake and everyone was admiring it. Her radiant smile remained when one crank remarked when the cake was cut, that the fruit had sunk. I thought she would explode, she kept smiling. I stood beside her.

“Just keep talking to me,” she said through her teeth. “If what’s in my mind comes out, the bloody roof will fly off.”

Her New Year’s Eve parties were hilarious. Her husband, Matt would produce his treasured violin and take hours to rosin the bow. They always ended up singing and never needed alcohol. No matter where we went for new year, we ended up in Mena’s, even at three in the morning.

When she became seriously ill, I visited her every evening, was with her when she breathed her last. As Christmas looms I hope somewhere she is at peace and still looking out for us.

The world needs loads of Auntie Menas.

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