The day after my Grandmother died we three children arrived with my Father to my Mothers childhood home. I was curious to see how grief would have affected her, curious even then about how people cope with loss and devastation on a grand scale, and noticed that she seemed harried and not quite herself, greeting us at the front door (which was seldom used) in a distracted manner, missing my cheek as I stood on tiptoe for a kiss. The smell of the laburnum hedge which we children all loved to shred much to my Uncle Olivers consternation, was at its strongest in the late August heat and the trains that hurtled through the gardens at the back (and on whose tracks my “senile” Grandfather had been found wandering in his pyjamas) evoked a note of normality that was strangely absent from the house. The relations had assembled en masse and people from all over had called in - Rossmore, Killeshin, The Hill, Castledermot, Pollerton, Tullow and Gowran. A parade of characters and personalities and newsy neighbours had taken up residence in the front room and were holding court over ham sandwiches and whiskey. There was a smell of cooking in the air and spent matches and scuts of cigarettes on saucers on the mantlepiece beside a picturesque blue ashtray that was enscribed “En Fumant pensez au Moi !”
It would be years before I would know enough French to translate it. I was still quite a small child.
“God, an’ I’m sorry for your loss, Missus” said Blind Bill from Castledermot.
The house was full with the remaining 10 children and their progeny. The cousins were running wild, daring each other to drain the dead men in the pantry and sneaking sips out of glasses and bottles. I am sure there were surreptitious pulls off fags happening out on the back step, especially with the English cousin with the long hair I had a secret crush on. My brother may or may not have been a willing participant, he has always been a bit of a Jack the Lad, and up to all sorts of mischief. Undertakers had been phoned and meat ordered and drink collected and now they were only waiting on the last daughter to arrive from England.
Maura Eilis Nash nee Dooley - whom I called “Emmy” after her initials - was a trend-setter and girl about town in London. Think “Doctor in the House” with Dirk Bogarde and you pretty much sum it up. She was a slender Irish Cailin with huge blue eyes married to a British Doctor, who had served in WW2 as chief medical officer in Her Majesty’s Navy. They met when she nursed him in a Sanatorium as he recovered from TB. Their story is a fascinating one with a twist Hollywood couldn’t make up. Someday.
Emmy skidded from arrivals at Dublin Airport into the back of her brothers car, applying her make-up on the way down, and insisted on being brought to the club for a stiffener before she could even contemplate viewing her Mother in Carpenters Funeral Home. What she did there is unbelievable for the time.
She took a photo.
In the days before camera phones, digital cameras, and all the other palava she took a photo of her Mother in the coffin. There was probably even a flash.
“Well” says my Uncle in the kitchen – through his teeth as he lit a cigar while lifting his brandy balloon, and balanced his Cromby on his shoulders “you won’t BELIEVE what your one did below at the wake”
There are nights when I am with Siobhan and I am taking photos of her while she is unaware or sleeping that this memory will come back. I will wonder if I am crossing some invisible line drawn in the sand, or worse, that I have gone so far beyond the line that I may as well keep ploughing on through the dunes to see what lies over the ridge of the next. I found that photo recently and saw for the first time the image that has been captured of a Mothers face in Eternity for Eternity. I will also feel a link down through the decades, an invisible gossamer thread that binds me to another Dooley woman, and ALL the Dooley women, a woman who sometimes at my shoulder I can hear whisper, “go on, tell it, tell it ALL!” Remember this.