Monday, April 30, 2012

'To grandmother's house I go...'

When I was a young child at school, it seemed to me as though I was the only one without a grandmother, and I felt this absence keenly. Even those children who had lost their parents, somehow managed to hang on to their grandmothers. Some were being raised by them; some had their grandmothers living close by, or at most a few miles away. It was easy for them to go to grandmother's house. They could hop a bus to visit, or drive a short drive to drop by.

To skip across the schoolyard and share in the chant, 'to grandmother's house I go', was not a part of my childhood, because my grandmothers and I did not exist in the same dimension of time. My maternal grandmother died when my own mother was barely five years old, and my father's mother died almost a full decade before I came along. For me, a grandmother was someone who existed only in old photographs, was rarely spoken about, and had long ago turned to dust. The facts of the matter did not dissuade me, though. They haunted my dreams, these grandmothers, and so I made a decision.

'To grandmother's house I go...'

It is not such a long journey, once I am in Dublin. It is grandmother Mary's house I decide to visit first. On the south side of the Liffey, it is in a neighbourhood that has always sounded like magic to me, Ringsend. I travel across a stone bridge, up and over the Grand Canal, and notice the ruins of an ancient mill to my right, a spray of deep green English Ivy across a wire fence to my left. I turn one corner, and then another; the house is about half way down the street. Among the rows of smokey red brick, I spy its silken black painted door, and golden door knocker.

I find myself slightly short of breath, as I stand across from the small row house on Gordon Street. Inexplicably, I search the upper windows for any sign of her looking out. A deep pain echoes in my chest, and tears begin to stream down my face, mourning the loss of someone I never even had a hold of, 'Grandmother'. I take the word and roll it around inside my mouth, 'grandmother', 'mother grand'. It sounds like celebration. I think about the word in Irish: 'seanmháthair', 'old mother', one who is old and wise, and takes care of you. I think about the word en français: 'grand-mére', 'great mother', like something which towers over you, towers over your life.

Leaving Gordon Street behind, I take my bicycle up and over the Liffey, travelling along the quays and then north into Stoneybatter, and Grandmother Anne's childhood home, another erasure. I am drawn directly to the little cream painted cottage on Ostman Place, with its bright canary-coloured door. I run my hand along the smoothness of its plaster facade. It is cool to the touch, and somehow feels familiar. Under the shadow of the afternoon clouds, I envision her face in the window, 'Grandmother', her cheek pressed up against the cool of the glass, waiting for her brother to return, listening for the strike of his boots on the cobblestone road. The sound which never arrived.

What is it I expected to find? Did I imagine that somehow gazing upon these stone buildings, and whispering the magical word, 'Grandmother', would bring these women back to me? Doors would open wide, welcoming arms would draw me in to sit before a turf fire, to learn all of their stories, and to share mine. It is too much to bear. I climb on my bicycle and travel back down the hill toward Collins Barracks and Irish History, away from family history, and grandmother's house.

Copyright©irisheyesjg2012.

10 comments:

  1. I agree with you and how you feel about the loss. I never knew either of my grandfathers. One died when my dad was three and the other died when my mother was thirteen.

    I also feel that I have missed out on a lot.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Claudia,

      As always, thank you for your comments. I feel the same way as you, that we have missed out on a lot.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. Jennifer, It's very sad you did not know your grandmothers. I am very fortunate to have grown up with both sets of grandparents, and believe they truly did enrich my life. It's great you are remembering them in this way, and I feel sure they know it.
    Ashling.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Ashling,

      Thanks very much for your comments. I am very glad for you to have known your grandparents. I hope that you have a lot of fond memories of your time with them.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  3. Borrowed from a booklet I once did and published:

    "Tears of Joy, Tears of Sorrow"

    Tears - - -

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Carol,

      Thanks for your comments; as always, they are much appreciated. Sorry to make you cry. :):)

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

      Delete
  4. Jennifer, I am sorry you never had a grandma for cuddles & confindences. I had no grandfathers but I had my grandmothers. Our maternal grandmother was very close to my brotyhers and I, as special as our parents. Have you been able to learn about them? stories? photos?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Colleen,

      Thanks for your comments; they are much appreciated. I have been able to learn the stories of both of my grandmothers. In fact, this blog was inspired by my desire to share their stories. Although I did not know them in person, I feel very fortunate to have been able to learn about who they were as women, and as wives and mothers.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  5. Jennifer, heartful and evocative stories, I felt your loss and sadness...a gap that can never really be filled. While my maternal grandmother died when I was not quite 4, I have dim memories of her somehow merged with her photo in my parents' room. I also had her sister, who I suppose treated me a little like a grandchild and brought me treats. She was very kind and I was close to her, but not as a grandmother. I was very lucky that my father's mother lived next door so I was very close to her and have many, many fond memories. It really is a treasure to have a grandmother...I only hope I'm leaving my grandchildren with some special memories for the future. Sorry, that all kind of rubs it in, it wasn't meant to, simply reiterating how significant the loss of a grandparent can be.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Pauleen,

      Thanks for your comments; they are always much appreciated. I agree it is a treasure to have a grandmother, and I think it's wonderful that you are ensuring you leave your own grandchildren with happy memories (not to mention a great family history).

      Cheers to you,
      Jennifer :):)

      Delete

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Cheers, Jennifer

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