Tag Archives: mum

A Fond Farewell

It was the middle of August and I was excited about heading away on holidays to Galway with some of my friends. A week away at a tennis tournament with the promise of parties and the chance to meet girls was all that we had talked about for weeks. It was going to be great, of course, and we couldn’t wait for it to start. For each of us it would be our first time away without parents, and we talked endlessly about what might happen. It was an exciting time.
A few nights before our departure my dad said ‘Make sure you go and see your granny; you know she’s not well.’ He had just been to visit her and he looked concerned.
‘Sure thing, I’ll go and see her tomorrow.’
‘Good, she’ll be delighted to see you, son. She’s always had a lot of time for you, you know.’
I blushed; then my mother smiled and poured tea.

The next day I took the bus across town and wondered just what was wrong with my granny. The look on my father’s face last night was something new, and dark. I had never seen anything like it before and it made me nervous. And now I could feel the butterflies buzzing about in my stomach, and it wasn’t good.
‘Hello,’ I said to Aunt Sarah when she opened the door.
She smiled quickly, trying to hide the same look of concern that I had seen on my father’s face. I kissed her, awkwardly, and we went into the kitchen, following the sweet aroma of coffee. My Uncle Leo was sitting, reading a newspaper and I noted his surprise when he saw me. We shook hands and he pulled out a chair for me. ‘Great to see you; how are you doing?’ he asked.
‘I’m fine, thank you. I’ve come to see granny. How is she?’
My aunt and uncle exchanged a look that wasn’t a happy one. ‘She’s not been well lately,’ my aunt said. ‘She hasn’t spoken to anyone for almost three weeks now…’
Silence.
‘Oh,’ I said nervously ‘I didn’t know. Maybe I should leave.’
My aunt turned. ‘No, no. I’ll tell her you’re here. You have a cup of coffee while I go upstairs.’ She squeezed my shoulder and left the kitchen.
I sipped my coffee and told Uncle Leo about my upcoming holiday. He told me of his memories of Galway, and assured me that I would have a great time. ‘I always enjoyed myself there, it’s a great town.’
When my aunt came back she had a broad smile on her face. ‘She’s fine,’ she said ‘and she’s looking forward to seeing you!’ The look she sent to my uncle was one of bemusement, as I went past her.
I skipped up the familiar stairs to my granny’s bedroom where she was lying in bed, propped up on two large white pillows. Her silvery hair was tied up in a net and her eyes were as bright as the sunlight streaming in through the lace-curtained window. The room had a faint smell of the fresh roses in a vase beside her bed. I leaned down and kissed her on the cheek, something I had done many times, and she gently touched mine.
‘How are you?’ she asked.
‘Fine, thank you. And you, granny?’
Her chest heaved. ‘I’m ok, but I’ve been better.’ She managed a grin, but I knew it was false.
For all the years that I knew her she was always an old person to me. There were more than sixty years between us, but I had always been able to talk to her, and she to me. She was the only grandparent that I knew and that was very special to me. I sat on the edge of the bed, her hand in mine, and we chatted about my coming holiday and what I was going to do when I left school the following summer. She listened carefully, gave me some words of advice but she was tired, and her head began falling to the side.
‘I must be going, granny’, I said and she opened her eyes.
She put her hand under a pillow and slid a £20 note into my hand. ‘Take it, and have a good holiday,’ she said with a mischievous wink. She squeezed my hand and I kissed her once more.
‘Take care granny,’ I said and quietly left the room.
Back in the kitchen I told my aunt and uncle that granny was fine and that I had to be on my way. My aunt insisted that I drink some lemonade before I left, and I was sure that £20 note was burning a hole in my pocket.
Less than three weeks later my granny died on a bright morning, drifting away peacefully in her sleep, my aunt, uncle and others with her in the small, sunlit room.

Many years later at a family gathering, my aunt recalled my visit. ‘You remember that time you came to see your granny, just before she died?’

‘Of course I do. You and Leo were there,’ I said.
‘Well what you don’t know is that before and after you came she didn’t speak with anyone.’
I was confused. ‘But…but she chatty with me that day.’
She nodded. ‘Well, all I can tell you is that she never spoke with anyone after you left. Not a single word.’ She put a hand on my shoulder. ‘It’s strange, don’t you think?’
I was speechless. Me, the last person she spoke to. I had never realised that, and my head was in a swirl. ‘Wow, I don’t know what to make of it,’ I said, thinking back to that day so many years before.
‘See it as a gift,’ she said leaning close. ‘You were the lucky one, remember that.’ She smiled and I nodded, slowly taking in the importance of her words. I had indeed been the lucky one and it is something that I am forever grateful, as ours had most certainly been a fond farewell.

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under Dublin, Ireland

Mum & Mozart – a short story

National Concert Hall (NCH)

National Concert Hall (NCH)

The line ‘If music be the food of love play on,’ always brings a smile, especially when I think about my mother. She was a music fan, a lover indeed, and the words from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night were something that she truly, deeply believed in.

Our house was never quiet when mum was around, as the sounds of opera singers and orchestras drifted merrily from big 331/3 rpm records that were treated like family heirlooms. They were her pride and joy, and she loved nothing more than tearing the cellophane from a new disc and placing it gently on the turntable. I remember the look of anticipation on her face as the needle dropped, scratched and hissed momentarily, before the strains of violin, piano, quartet or singer made her smile the broadest of smiles. It was transfixing, and one of my earliest, and happiest, memories.

Growing up with such a lover of music I was encouraged to get involved, and for many years I took piano lessons. Although I practised hard and often felt my mum’s hand gently squeeze my shoulder as she whispered ‘That’s nice, really nice,’ I knew that I was never going to be the next Mozart. It didn’t matter to her as long as I tried, but I grew to love the Austrian maestro and his wonderful works. Of all the great composers she introduced me to on my musical journey Mozart’s warm, inspiring and exuberant music is something that has stayed with me, and for that I will always be happily in her debt.

Mum’s parents were not themselves musically inclined, but she told me that they were always enthusiastic for her. They brought her to singing lessons, and concerts when they came to town. She remembered getting a record player that had to be started with a winding arm, and a box of new needles. The records were heavy, black vinyl plates that all too often became scratched and cracked. And so she spent hours in record shops and got to know the best places to go, and sometimes the owners gave her records for free because they knew she loved the music. She collected music by all the great composers and she was as knowledgeable of classical music as anybody I ever knew. I found a few of her old records recently in the attic, the sleeves dusty and torn, and I wondered how many times did she slide them out and put them on her record player. Countless, no doubt, I thought, and gently brushed them clean before putting them beside my CD collection. They may have looked awkward but their content was no different and just as enlightening.

As I grew up pop and rock music became a bigger part of my life. I listened to the radio and discovered The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder and countless other bands that I now cannot remember. The music made an impression, be it good or bad, and it was discussed endlessly with friends late into the night – our musical rite of passage. Some of us were fans of one band or another and we took great delight in defending our own personal favourites. We were committed to the music and I came to understand why my mother had such a love of this mystical medium. It was something that I could not touch, taste or smell but I could most certainly feel it. It could inspire and lift the soul and express a sadness that words could never hope to do. The magic of music is wonderful and it always had the power to surprise and make me feel better.

Years later I often took my mother to concerts in the National Concert Hall (NCH) nights out that I remember fondly. One particular one stands out, and the more I think about it the more I understand her love of music. It was a Mozart Night and the foyer was abuzz with excitement long before the start. We sat and had a drink, and my mother was bubbling excitedly looking at the happy faces and listening to the friendly conversations around her. ‘Isn’t it wonderful?’ she said, and I grinned a reply.

I led her to our seats and she immediately leaned forward and looked over the balcony at the milling crowd below and the stage beyond. Then she sat back, clasped her hands tightly and nodded her head slowly in response to some inner rhythm. When the seats were filled the lights were dimmed and the performers took the stage. A silence descended and you could almost hear the audience breath as one before the music began. It opened with a rousing version of the Overture to the Marriage of Figaro that was loudly applauded. Then we had some beautifully played piano concertos and the delicious Clarinet Concerto which is my own personal favourite.

Every so often I would glance at my mother and see the concentration and happiness on her face. But it was not until the singers took the stage that I saw what I can only describe as a transformation. My mother was an old woman, in her eighties then, but the singing seemed to unlock something within her and I was privileged to see it. During the Sull’aria, from the Marriage of Figaro, I heard my mother singing very quietly, like the whisper over my shoulder a lifetime ago. I had never heard her sing like this before and I was immensely proud. And when I glanced at her again I didn’t see an old woman sitting beside me but a young girl lost in music, bright-eyed with her life to live. When it finished she smiled at me and it took all the strength I had not to cry. It was a magical moment, and I’m sure even Mozart would agree that he had struck the right chord and that music is indeed the food of love.

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

1 Comment

Filed under Art, Dublin, short stories