Dear Mary,

‘Write a letter to someone I admire’ was one of the aims on my ‘To Do’ list for 2013. It was only yesterday, when checking to see how many items I actually managed to complete, that I discovered this one almost slipped through the net. With a last flourish, I plan to right that situation now.

Dear Mary,

It was a privilege to have known you, even if it was just a few short years. Well into your 80s when our paths crossed for the first time. I well remember the day. A tiny effervescent bundle with snow white hair framing an open smiling face and eyes that sparkled like diamonds.

The stories of your young days and wartime working in the drawing office at Shorts Aircraft factory, in Belfast, were fascinating. Water Polo, your favourite sport is one I am only familiar with, from your tales. You made it sound like so much fun. The tricks you played on dancing partners, the guys you liked and those you did not.

You were always contented with your lot in life, yet never married, despite being so admired and had many suitors through the years. – Your sister Madge, confided that to me. You were so proud and generous with you time for your niece and nephew and later their children: your grandnieces and grandnephew. They all loved you dearly.

You loved to hear Jack sing, and on mornings that we were collecting you, he gave the front passenger seat an extra dusting for our treasured passenger.

Having stopped driving years earlier, you were never afraid to walk the busy road to the corner, no matter what the weather, on the off chance you might catch a bus to Belfast. If none materialised, you had no problem accepting lifts from total strangers, who often went out of their way to take you to the destination you were headed for. I have the feeling those sparkling eyes won them over! Following these adventures you always came back with amazing life stories that they shared with you along the journey.

The hours we spent together thinking, talking and working on craft ideas were so rewarding. You had so many items at hand to solve an intricate or difficult project problem, and always made it fun. I loved the set of tiny real glass buttons that you gave me. I used two of them on Elly’s wedding outfit to attach the tiny hand made bag, for her items ‘old, new, borrowed and blue’. I know you would smile at the idea of me sitting up in bed, in the hotel on the morning of the wedding, making the bag by hand – beading included! The buttons did their work well and brought you close to our hearts on the day.

Your house was a treasure trove of furniture and well loved items from your late mother and grandmother’s homes. With each visit I found a new treasure that I had not noticed before, each had a story and your eyes danced as you lovingly recalled the memories. Nowadays young people must have ‘new’ and all modern conveniences that ping, sing or are touch control. Nothing these days is made to last, no stories or history to pass on, yet on many occasions, such as in our recent power cuts, it is the old reliable items from a previous age that see us through.

I must tell you about a wonderful young girl, Catherine or Kate as we called her, that I had the great pleasure of working with, after I was widowed. Kate, met the man of her dreams and often shared her tales of her romance and the fun that she shared with Peter and his sister Lois. The names were familiar, but I did not think any more about them.

Eventually Kate & Peter became engaged and a wedding was organised. I was privileged with some fellow work mates to be invited to the evening do! Chatting over morning coffee break at work, we ‘girls’ decided we would like to go to the church and see our friend actually get married, then meet up again in the evening to join the fun.

I arrived at the church early and sat into the back row. I noticed a woman moving about in the chancel and realised, even at that distance, that I knew her. Mary, it was Mildred, your niece! It was only than that I put two and two together and realised that Peter the groom, was your grandnephew! What a small world. Lois too played her part, she was a bridesmaid.

Peter & Cate are well settled into married life and now have three young children. Mary, you would be so pleased with Peter’s choice, they are well matched, a steady couple with many shared interests.

While Elly was here a couple of weekends ago, she was driving past where you lived, The house has been totally rebuild, but as Elly said “I am glad Mary’s house was built in the style of the old one!” It looks well and you would not be displeased.

As this year draws to a close, I spent some time thinking about and reliving memories of friends, alas no longer with us, who made an impact on my life. Mary, you left a mark on my heart in the nicest possible way.

For that I thank you,

Your forever friend,

Marie.

Tomorrow, I will run through the list to see where I fell down!

Babies

Ward Miles Scot was born in July of 2012, fragile and tiny at 26 weeks, three and a half months premature. Over the following 15 months, his dad, photographer and filmmaker Benjamin Scot chronicled his son’s progression from the frailty of 101 days in incubation to full health.

This reminded me of a true story I told a few years ago on my old blog. I am unable to link to it, but I feel it is worth retelling.

Donal’s Cot

Donal weighed in at 2lbs which is just short of a Kilo. He was a very premature baby that his mother carried for less than six months. He had no hair, eyelashes, eyebrows or nails and his skin was porous. He was not expected to survive for very long so the Paediatrician suggested taking him home. His actual words were “He might as well die at home as in here!”

Donal’s homecoming was not as easy as it sounds. His father was sent to find a ‘small’ cot/crib which he did, and it was ready and waiting for the new occupant when he arrived with his ill mother and a nurse. The nurse lived with and became part of the family over the next six months, she was called ‘No-No’ by Donal’s two year-old brother, and the name stuck. To this day if you say the name ‘No-No’ to any of the family they know exactly who you mean.

The Paediatrician soon arrived and set to work.

He gave precise instructions about feeding and cleaning the baby. Donal was not to be washed or bathed in water! His skin was to be cleaned with olive oil and cotton wool.

Food was to be administered by medicine dropper, every hour on the hour!

He rigged up a large light bulb over the cot to provide extra heat for the premature baby and it was to remain on night and day. Being wintertime the temperature was quite low. A fire was lit in the bedroom and kept going day and night.

Each day was a milestone, but there were many, when they fought to keep the baby alive. The Paediatrician was a regular caller and was delighted with any little improvement.

The danger stage eventually passed and Donal was introduced to bottle feeding and began to put on a little weight. The first size baby clothes fitted and slowly the pleasure of washing and bath-time became part of the daily routine. The light was removed from over the cot, but Donal slept in it for a full year.

With Donal’s move to a normal sized baby cot the little one was cleaned, covered and stored in the loft. It was used again with pride for the arrival of each of his four younger siblings.

The little cot appeared for the first time 62 years ago. There were no incubators, or ‘Baby Units’ in hospitals like we have today, the only clothes for premature babies were dolls clothes. Houses had no central heating and washing was all done by hand. Nappies were rinsed, then boiled and when washing was complete they were line dried. The feeding bottles were sterilised by boiling. A baby was hard work back then!

The little cot moved through the family for the arrival of each new baby. Cousins, nieces and nephews all started their lives in it. I spent my early months in it as did Elly. For Donal the most precious moment was the day he placed his own daughter in the little cot. Now once again the cot is stored away and who knows, someday Donal might be blessed with a grandchild to sleep in that very special Cot.

The post above was written on October 29, 2007 – six years ago. Since then Donal has been blessed with two granddaughters the latest one born a couple of months ago, almost a world away in Sydney, Australia. The proud grandparents have just arrived home from a month singing, dancing round the room, and getting to know the latest arrival.

UPDATE: The video link above about Ward Miles Scot, a very premature baby seems to have been removed. Born at twenty six weeks, the tiny baby was almost invisible for tubes, drains, monitors and huge pads over his eyes so large they covered his face.

UPDATE 2: Barbara found a new link to the video and has added it in the comments below. Perhaps it is better there to show how different the treatment is for premature babies these days.

 

Donal had none of that. He clung on to life by a thread for so long, some said he lived for spite! BUT with tender loving care he made it through.

92 ~ Part 2.

Yesterday I told you that ‘92’ was built the year I was born. Granny, almost the age I am now, moved in a couple of months before I was born. She sold her corner shop that she lived over and worked in, since she married my grandfather in Aug 1909. He told her that he wanted to mark the occasion of their wedding with a gift and asked what she would like?

“I always wanted a shop.” she replied.

Her wish was his command and she happily raised her family and worked in the shop even after my grandfather had died in his sleep in 1942. She was tipped off in 1946 that there were to be major changes in the area, with the loss of many of her customers, so she heeded advice and sold her business.

Numbers 90, 92 & 94 Herberton Road

Numbers 90, 92 & 94 Herberton Road

By the time Mammy got to see number 92 from the outside, never mind the inside, Granny had settled into a routine. Mammy didn’t like it at first sight. Perhaps it was after the snow blinding whiteness of the previous months, the fact it was not the ‘home of her childhood’ that she was used to visiting, and the post wartime rationing that gave the place a dark drab look. That feeling stayed with Mammy for the fourteen years that Granny lived there.

We had no problem with visiting as Granny filled the house with laughter and sunshine. We loved the chance to go and stay with her. We went in pairs. I think Granny suggested it that way in case we got lonely.

Our days were fun filled. We were each asked what we would like for dinner, something that never happened at home. Mammy made one dinner for all of us, take it or leave it. No matter what she made it was tasty, we were hungry, so the plates were cleared in double quick time.

We might be in the middle of lunch when Granny would ask “Will we go to the pictures”? That question was always met with a loud chorus of “Yes, Yes, Yes! So once the dishes were cleared, we all trooped off to the pictures/movies for the afternoon.

One day, whichever brother was with me, tripped over his feet and grazed his knee. Granny Florence Nightingale soon had the patient cleaned up, with a ginormous bandage and a sucky sweet – she knew how to do it! 😉 She soon had us giggling and said that if the leg had not healed by tomorrow she could put the patient on the kitchen table and chop his leg off. Well now! We knew all about having legs off!

Our other granddad had a wooden leg. The fact that he died in 1922, when daddy was eleven, had nothing to do with it. We had heard enough stories from daddy and our uncles to know exactly what to do! Sure the boys had spent many an hour walking round the house with a ruler tied to the back of their knee to practice, in case they ever needed a wooden leg.

Granny told us she had a wooden leg, we were at the table at that time, so there was plenty of surreptitious peeping under the table cloth to check it out. Granny must had enjoyed our face making and voiceless conversations across to each other because she let it go on for quite a few minutes.

Eventually she told us it was not ‘her’ leg, it was a spare wooden leg and it was out in the coal hole. Now the coal hole was not actually a hole. It was a shed in the back yard where she kept the coal. Come on now, if I can have a cupboard under the stairs – in a bungalow, then Granny can have a coal hole, that is not a hole! Right?

So once again, when the dishes were cleared, we were marched out to the back yard. Our footsteps shortened and slowed the closer we got to the coal hole door.

Granny disappeared into the darkness.

We heard a bit of clattering and banging and wood scraping along the floor… then…

Granny appeared with the wooden leg of a table in her hand! It had a claw foot. I do not know whether we were relieved or disappointed, but we stood in mouth open silence for a couple of minutes. Granny laughed heartily and in minutes we were laughing along with her. You know to this day, I can still see Granny standing there in the doorway with that dusty old table leg with the claw foot, and hear her laughing.

Bath time was another high point. Granny made paper boats for floating and sailors hats for us to wear. She wore a hat too. I cannot swear, but I think the same pattern of folded paper was used for the boats and the hats.

The two of us were put in the bath together and we played happily while the dirt soaked off, then she washed our hair, our faces, necks and ears, while we washed down as far as possible, up as far as possible, not forgetting to give possible a scrub! All the while we were led in a chorus of sea shanties.

I remember staying with her on a St. Patrick’s day holiday weekend. We were all dressed and ready to go out, when re remembered we had no shamrock to wear on our coats. When we told her, she had a solution. Granny turned to a plant sitting on a shelf of the Hall stand. It was evergreen and shamrock like, though the leaves were at least ten times the real thing. Quick as a blink, she had broken off a bunch, divided it in two and pinned it on our coat lapels! We were wearing more ‘shamrock’ than any American President ever held in that cut glass bowl!

Slowly things began to change. Little things.

Granny would forget where she left her glasses, she might not remember where she left her purse. She would ask us the same question over and over again.

During school holidays we spent more time with Granny. She was minding us, but we were actually there to mind her.

She might send us to the shop twice for the same message. The dinner might be served without the potatoes, because she forgot to cook them. Our evening mealtime got earlier and earlier.

She soon made tea at 4pm. Every day.

By eight o’clock, we were starving again, growing children had hollow legs, remember. Mammy warned us to check that the gas was turned off after Granny had made the meals.

Granny would leave lights on, not put the guard in front of the fire and a time or two burnt her self on the gas stove.

My uncles and aunt noticed changes too when they visited. So it was decided for her safety that she should not stay living on her own.

She was still lucid and agreed that living alone was no longer the ideal. Of all the families, ours was the one where she felt most comfortable, but she refused to move in with us saying she would not be able to hold off interfering if we children were being chastised, so a residential home a short bus run away from us was selected.

Thus ended her fourteen year stay at number 92.

Granny lived in the home for about seven years, my brothers took it in turns to visit her each school day on their way home. The would check if she needed the evening paper, if so, one of them would go and buy it for her. I would go to see her in the evenings, my school was in a different direction.

In the early days she was able to go out alone and often hopped on a bus to our house. she would stay until after the evening meal and daddy would drive her back. One of us always went with him to take her back to her room, hang up her coat and make sure she was comfortable.

Slowly she deteriorated, her bag would be hidden in case somebody stole it. One day mammy walked across the room to open the window and outside on the window ledge, two floors up, was a bundle of bank notes rolled and tied with a rubber band.

Mammy lifted the bundle in and asked Granny why it was out on the ledge. It was Granny’s pension she had collected it that morning and put it out there for safe keeping. From then on, with the agreement of her siblings, Mammy collected the pension, gave her some pocket money and paid for what ever was needed. One of my uncles already looked after the major finances.

We were on the slippery slope….

  • Granny began to think I had been at school with her.
  • She introduced daddy as her son and not her son in law.
  • She never remembered having any previous visitors that day, even if we knew she had.
  • She constantly longed for sausages, telling us she had not had one for years.

Then there was the man.

She would point to the bottom of her bed and tell you about the man there. “He was no trouble. Very quiet. See those children? He is very good to them. He never laid a finger on them!”

She slowly sank away from us. On a good day we could steer her back to happy times and her eyes would light up for a few minutes.

Several times she became ill and we thought it was the end, but she rallied, never quite reaching the same step on the ladder of life.

She finally had a turn, but we had seen this so many times before, the staff were wonderful. Mammy, daddy and I were with her when she died.

That evening, at the dinner table daddy suggested we go en famille to say our goodbyes, so when the meal was over we drove back to the home. We gathered around the bed and daddy let us in prayer. Suddenly one of my younger brothers began to laugh heartily. Daddy stood up to his full height and asked for an explanation. My brother told him that Granny was always playing dead with us, and any minute now she would sit up and say: “Ha Ha. I fooled you all!”

We all began to laugh, Mammy and daddy included. It was how Granny would have wanted us to see her off: With laughter.

That was 12th July 1968.

We still talk about her and recall the laughter.
We loved the bones of her. Back then we never heard of dementia or Alzheimer’s, we just saw her as getting old, frail and her mind closing down. We laughed with her and never at her. We loved her.

RIP Granny (1884 – 1968).

92 ~ Part 1

Numbers 90, 92 & 94 Herberton Road

Numbers 90, 92 & 94 Herberton Road

During glorious July this year, my sister and I found ourselves with time on our hands one day, while waiting to collect a friend. We decided to go walking in the area, soon we arrived in a street that jogged at my heart strings. The three houses above played a part in my early life.

I knocked on that door in the centre, but got no reply. I wanted to ask for permission to take a photograph. We came away and walked on a little further. On our return we walked on the opposite side of the street. It was from there that I took this photo.

Heading back to find our friend, we travelled lightly, as I recalled visits behind that closed door.

Looking at the photo as I gathered my thoughts the other night, there seemed to be something wrong. It took me a few minutes to work out what it was.

When I frequented No. 92, the pathway was the width of the front doorway, you can see a line in the concrete where it was extended. The gate was removed, the pillar to the right was repositioned and new double gates fitted, the wall remains the same height. The steel framed windows have been replaced with PVC double glazing, All par for the course in a house of that age.

My problem is with the house on the left (No. 90), the wall has been replaced and the gateway moved to the other side of the garden, In the ‘old’ days,the paths and garden gates were side by side separated by a railing.

92 was built the year I was born.

Granny had moved in before I took my first breath. Mammy was not around when decisions were being made, she was far too busy in bed.

Yes, Mammy was confined to bed in a nursing home for months before I was born, it was one of the coldest and harshest winters in living memory. She had been sick all throughout the pregnancy and bed rest was prescribed in the hope of allowing me to reach full term. Alas, that did not happen.

There was no shortage of snow that bitter winter. Of the fifty days between January 24th and March 17th, it snowed on thirty of them. The snows that had fallen across Ireland in January remained until the middle of March. Worse still, all subsequent snowfall in February and March simply piled on top.

‘The Blizzard’ of February 25th 1947, was the greatest single snowfall on record and lasted for close on fifty consecutive hours. Nothing was familiar anymore. Everything on the frozen landscape was a sea of white. The freezing temperatures solidified the surface and it was to be an astonishing three weeks before the snows began to melt.

One quote I saw said:

‘It was pure black frost, night and day constant, and the snow was as high as the hedges. You couldn’t go outside the door without a good heavy coat on you. And there was no sky to be seen at all, or no sun.’

Daddy somehow managed to visit Mammy in the nursing home, he had to bring in fuel to light a fire in the hearth to heat her room (It was long before the days of central heating in Ireland), that heat came in the form of turf, hand cut from the family bog in County Clare, the previous summer.

Mammy never carried any of us for more than seven months, one for barley six, but six of her nine pregnancies still survive to this day. That barley six month sugar bag, born with no eyelashes or nails and porous skin, arrived two years ahead of me. He was fed by a medicine dropper every hour on the hour, was said to have lived for spite, but this month he is in Australia to meet his new granddaughter, his second.

No more than Mammy all those years ago, we never got inside No. 92 today, did we? I will return to it tomorrow and share my memories.

What is your favorite movie?

Down the years several movies left a mark on my memory. Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the first film I was taken to see in the Cinema by my Granny. I came home worried that my brothers might go looking for brides in that same fashion!

High Society I remember more for the giggling incident of the black slip* than the movie itself. Oh I did like the fashion, big houses and the singing, but the story made little impact.

Some of the others through the years to remain with me include:

  • To Kill a Mocking Bird (1962)
  • Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966)
  • 84 Charing Cross Road(1987)
  • Shadowlands (1993)
  • The King’s Speech: A Courageous Journey(2011)
  • The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011)

Over the last couple of weeks, during resting spells with my foot raised I had the opportunity to watch several movies on the Big Screen with surround sound at George & Elly’s.

These movies included:

The Intouchables
Les.Misérables
Scent of a Woman
Quartet
Life of Pi
Made in Dagenham

Life of Pi made a big impact with the scenery, the animals and the story. It had not alone me, but my female companion engrossed for the duration. It was only when Richard Parker, a Bengal tiger, roared and pounced forward that my companion barked ferociously and jumped on my knee. It was not in fear but to protect me and she continued to bark at the screen until things quietened down once more, then she jumped back to her seat to watch the next part.

watching Life of Pi

Buffy watching Life of Pi.

 * The Black slip is a story for another day!

The topic What is your favorite movie? was given to us for today by Shackman. He has stepped back into the shadows for the moment, but we hope that in due course he will return to our weekly LBC party. The names of all the other members are to be found in the sidebar. I have popcorn, so are you coming on the rounds with me?

Photographing the Alphabet ~ S

S ~ Shelves

Shelves overflowing with Bric-à-brac

Shelves overflowing with Bric-à-brac

I wonder how many items above you owned or used? The ceiling light shades bring back memories from my childhood and we had one of those old glass washboards, it came from my paternal grandmother’s home in County Clare.

Glass Cabinet, sometimes called a China Cabinet

Glass Cabinet, sometimes called a China Cabinet

I remember visiting homes where bric-à-brac had a place of honour on mantelpieces, cluttered tables, and shelves, or was displayed in cabinets with glass doors to display the items within while protecting them from dust.

Shelves filled with oddments of willow pattern crockery

Shelves filled with oddments of willow pattern crockery

Willow pattern tea sets with large breakfast cups were in everyday use in my other granny’s kitchen.

“Bric-à-brac” nowadays refers to a selection of items of modest value, often sold in street markets or shops like the one above.