I spoke to old Tess on the telephone, midweek. My last remaining grandmother. Almost 90 and moaning about her poor memory. I laughed with her and tried to jostle her out of the self-pity which was beginning to saturate her every word. She says living is hard. Waking every morning wondering if today is the day the struggle and grind will finish.
I’ve thought – off and on this week – of our conversation.
And have concluded that thinking is a funny business. I sometimes wonder if we don’t all have internal monologues capable of rivalling anything Joyce could assemble on a page. Aren’t we all Finnegan’s Wake-ish? One random thought triggering another – seemingly unconnected – thoughts simply floating through the river of our lives. Thoughts whose only apparent connection is the weft and weave of what we are or have become; what we did or do.
My Irish granny, Martha, died long ago. She had no opportunity to tire of life. I recall her fire. The violence of her embrace. The intensity of her joy and rage.
Chain-smoking Kensitas Club; a collector of their tokens; delighting in the occasional treasure which mountains of them would yield: a teasmaid; an electric carving knife… She worked ceaselessly. A school-cleaner; a farm-worker; a keeper of the hearth.
I remember her tight short dark permed curls; her dark sallowy skin and the violet blue of her eyes.
She loved baubles. Clip-on dangly earrings. And was shrouded in the pungency of estee lauder’s ‘youth dew’.
She insisted on peony roses – huge big globules of petally crimson framing the window ledge; dominating the small front-garden. And intoxicatingly perfumed yellow roses. And curiously scentless blue moons.
She was a free and strong woman – pub-drinking when it was shameful. Defying gossips. Wrapping my gentle grandfather round her fingers and charming men indiscriminately.
She was a reader of tea-leaves. Nursing her own dark straight tea cup whilst she peered into the mystery of the future.
And a reader of the tv times.
She was a bigot. Insisting on stark protestant religions for her children. An Ulster woman by birth-right
When she died, all of the town turned out and the family swelled with the ferry-loads from ‘back home’. The Belfast step-sisters came to bury her too. And squabbled over her wardrobe: her coney fur coat and curly lamb; the gaudy paste jewels and beads; the elegant high-heeled shoes which her bunions had never allowed her to wear.
My poor mother has wept hot angry tears over their insensitivity: ‘She’ll have no need for these things now, sure’ they said.
Oh ‘catch yerself on’ she shoud have shouted back. But didn’t.
30 years on and I find myself longing for that fierce embrace and the look of ownership and pride which she always gifted me, her treasured grand-daughter, her own little mirror. And I find myself impatient with my only remaining granny who would seek to cast off the life which is denied so many.
Perhaps I too would be tired, at 90?