Nickie O'Hara Tuesday, June 29, 2010
One thing that I do a lot is to think of my Mum. She should have had so many more opportunities in life but she didn't because of ill health. However, she always encouraged myself and my sister to be ourselves. I didn't deal with that too well when I was younger but the hindsight afforded to age and experience is amazing, isn't it? What you may not know is that Mum was a writer. Not a published writer, but she had potential. She tended to use her writing skills to enter competitions, write greetings cards inserts and create personal poems for special occasions. Because I was feeling a bit lost this week, I went upstairs to a drawer under my bed where I keep all my 'special treasures' and pulled out a folder where I have stored of some of her unfinished pieces. I found this (unedited):
If my father had been a more forceful character I would have entered this world as Arlene or Dolores, his favourite names at that time. Thankfully, my mother's choice won the day and I was christened Linda. It was the second most popular girls name in 1950 and my mother was always clued up on the fads of the day. Even though money was in short supply, her hemline was always in fashion.
My parents, Tom and Peggy, were a loving, hard working couple who were lucky enough to obtain a new, ground floor, council flat on a small estate in St Annes. In those days, just after the Second World War, it was a prized possession. All the tenants took pride in their properties. Windows shone, steps were scrubbed and gardens were tidy and cared for. No-one locked their doors for there was nothing to fear. The war was over and everyone was rebuilding their lives.
I was an only child, but I never felt lonely or isolated. I had friends in the neighbouring houses, I was loved by my family and until the age of six, life had seemed idyllic. It was at this stage in my childhood that I was to experience fear for the first time.
My mother was an Irish colleen, with raven hair and green eyes. She had been brought to England at the age of fourteen by a well-to-do Aunt as a companion for her daughter. She had never returned to live in Ireland again but had always kept in touch with her family. One day a letter arrived to say that my grandfather, who was known throughout the family as 'Daddy Connell', had been taken ill and was not expected to survive. So my mum and I embarked on our first big adventure together. We went 'home' to the O'Connell clan.
We sailed from Liverpool to Dublin on the overnight crossing. Unable to afford a cabin, we shared a couchette and a blanket and I encountered a drunken Irishman for the first time. It was not to be the last. The sea was rough and the ship full to capacity. I tried to get comfortable on the hard leather seat by snuggling up to my mother but, as the ship rolled with the swell of the sea, we had to cling onto the side to stop ourselves from falling off. I felt sick and the droning of the engines and vibrations didn't help.
I remember feeling utterly miserable and I wanted to go home. It was at this point that the singing started. A deep baritone voice somewhere out of sight.
"In Dublins fair city, where the girls are so pretty..."I had heard the song often as it was one of my mother's favourites but the volume of the refrain and the power of the singer as he came into view was terrifying. I hid beneath the blanket and risked an occasional peep. he staggered alongside us, clutching a bottle of beer. Each time he attempted to take a drink, the motion of the ship meant lips and bottle failed to connect and most of the contents spilled down his front. He didn't seem to care. I dare say his tank was already full to capacity. At the final "... alive, alive, oh!" he slid down the wall and slumped unconscious onto the floor. I thought he was dead.
"Don't worry, Linda," she said, "he's harmless. He's just looking forward to going home to Ireland."
It seemed I had a lot to learn about Ireland and its people. Over the next few weeks I would be terrified by a Banshee, fetch water from the village pump, attend an Irish wake, learn to count to ten in Gaelic and drink Guinness in Finnigans bar. It was not the ordered life I was used to but it was never boring.
So why have I decided to share this with you? Well, the story is about an emotional experience and it is one that I never knew my mum had written. It was tucked away in between two other pieces and a few magazine cuttings in a plastic pocket. I only checked in there because I wanted to see if there were any more cuttings. Was I meant to find it today? I also wish she'd spoken about her (my) Irish roots more but she never did. I want to know the rest of the story - what happened at the wake, what did she think of her first taste of Guinness, where did the Banshee come from? But she's not here any more to answer those questions. I was also surprised to see how similar our writing styles are. I've found a lasting connection with Mum that no-one can take away from me.