Mother

Kavanagh’s Christmas Childhood was ours, too

Monday, 25 December, 2017 0 Comments

The world evoked in A Christmas Childhood by Patrick Kavanagh is both magical and real, and for those who grew up in the rural Ireland of the 20th century, this poem from a Christmas when he was six years old captures that mysterious childhood moment when the ordinary becomes extraordinary. “One side of the potato-pits was white with frost,” he notes factually in one line but in another three whin bushes on the horizon are transformed into the Three Wise Kings. The passing of time, says Kavanagh, erases the innocence of childhood but it does resurface, especially at Christmas. Then: “How wonderful that was, how wonderful!”

A Christmas Childhood is dedicated to Kit and Mick Fitzgerald, honourable people, who made our childhood Christmas wonderful.

A Christmas Childhood

I

One side of the potato-pits was white with frost –
How wonderful that was, how wonderful!
And when we put our ears to the paling-post
The music that came out was magical.

The light between the ricks of hay and straw
Was a hole in Heaven’s gable. An apple tree
With its December-glinting fruit we saw –
O you, Eve, were the world that tempted me

To eat the knowledge that grew in clay
And death the germ within it! Now and then
I can remember something of the gay
Garden that was childhood’s. Again

The tracks of cattle to a drinking-place,
A green stone lying sideways in a ditch,
Or any common sight, the transfigured face
Of a beauty that the world did not touch.

II

My father played the melodion
Outside at our gate;
There were stars in the morning east
And they danced to his music.

Across the wild bogs his melodion called
To Lennons and Callans.
As I pulled on my trousers in a hurry
I knew some strange thing had happened.

Outside in the cow-house my mother
Made the music of milking;
The light of her stable-lamp was a star
And the frost of Bethlehem made it twinkle.

A water-hen screeched in the bog,
Mass-going feet
Crunched the wafer-ice on the pot-holes,
Somebody wistfully twisted the bellows wheel.

My child poet picked out the letters
On the grey stone,
In silver the wonder of a Christmas townland,
The winking glitter of a frosty dawn.

Cassiopeia was over
Cassidy’s hanging hill,
I looked and three whin bushes rode across
The horizon — the Three Wise Kings.

And old man passing said:
‘Can’t he make it talk –
The melodion.’ I hid in the doorway
And tightened the belt of my box-pleated coat.

I nicked six nicks on the door-post
With my penknife’s big blade –
There was a little one for cutting tobacco.
And I was six Christmases of age.

My father played the melodion,
My mother milked the cows,
And I had a prayer like a white rose pinned
On the Virgin Mary’s blouse.

Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967)


Our_WTC

Friday, 15 September, 2017 0 Comments

Our posts here this week have been dedicated to the 16th anniversary of 9/11. The focus has been the photographs collected by the Berlin-based artists Stefka Ammon and Robert Ziegler for their 9/11 remembrance project, MY_WTC, which displays tourist images of the World Trade Center.

Our final photograph is personal and was taken in October 1989. My late mother kept a diary of her trip to New York City and here’s what she wrote after her boat trip around Manhattan: “Seen World Trade Centre with its Twin Towers. Rise 110 Stories and 1,350 feet each and on one of them is a high pole to warn the planes not to fly too low.”

Mother with Twin Towers


Small acts of kindness and love

Friday, 8 September, 2017 0 Comments

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love.” — J.R.R. Tolkien

Small acts of kindness and love


Camelot in Cullane

Thursday, 7 September, 2017 0 Comments

“Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.” Those words from the Lerner and Loewe musical were written with us in mind for this photograph shows our very own Camelot.

Home, sweet home

The camera never lies and what it captured with its eagle eye one summer’s day was an Arthurian castle with walls, enclosures and fortifications. Here we were secure because father and mother had built something of substance that would protect us from the elements and shield us from invaders. Well, that’s how one young imagination saw it.

The court was the kitchen. This was where ambassadors were received, feasts were enjoyed, tales were told, games played, songs sung and plans for the upkeep of the kingdom were made. Despite the many demands of “business”, there was always time for tea because tradition required that knights, ladies, clerics and scholars had to be entertained. Substance was more than just putting food on the table. It was hospitality, it was generosity, it was decency, it was dignity. The Camelot of my parents was the whole result of their labour and their pride in it was reflected in the attention they devoted to its upkeep. Paint was applied, weeds were banished and flowers were cultivated during that “one brief shining moment.”


In Memory Of My Mother: Second anniversary

Wednesday, 6 September, 2017 1 Comment

Haruki Murakami once said: “No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories.” And as we wrote on this day two years ago: Our loss is enormous. Our hearts are broken. Our sorrow is great. Our hope is that our mother, Catherine O’Donnell-Fitzgerald (29 July 1928 – 6 September 2015), will smile up at us and down on us — eternally — because we will forever be in her debt.

In Memory Of My Mother

I do not think of you lying in the wet clay
Of a Monaghan graveyard; I see
You walking down a lane among the poplars
On your way to the station, or happily

Going to second Mass on a summer Sunday —
You meet me and you say:
‘Don’t forget to see about the cattle — ‘
Among your earthiest words the angels stray.

And I think of you walking along a headland
Of green oats in June,
So full of repose, so rich with life —
And I see us meeting at the end of a town

On a fair day by accident, after
The bargains are all made and we can walk
Together through the shops and stalls and markets
Free in the oriental streets of thought.

O you are not lying in the wet clay,
For it is a harvest evening now and we
Are piling up the ricks against the moonlight
And you smile up at us — eternally.

Patrick Kavanagh

Mammy


Never closer the whole rest of our lives

Tuesday, 5 September, 2017 0 Comments

When poets remember their mothers, they portray the complexities of a relationship in which the mother is both intimately known and yet oddly mysterious. In Seamus Heaney’s sequence Clearances, written in memory of his mother, he includes a sonnet about the beautiful ordinary moments that happened while he and his mother peeled potatoes in the kitchen. The silences are broken by “pleasant splashes” of water as the potatoes drop into a bucket.

But the next sounds we hear are of sobbing and of murmured prayers: “some were responding and some crying”. As his mother dies, Heaney recalls the peeling of those potatoes “when all the others were away at Mass” and “our fluent dipping knives — Never closer the whole rest of our lives.” The beauty of that moment is heartbreaking.

In memoriam M.K.H., 1911 – 1984

When all the others were away at Mass
I was all hers as we peeled potatoes.
They broke the silence, let fall one by one
Like solder weeping off the soldering iron:
Cold comforts set between us, things to share
Gleaming in a bucket of clean water.
And again let fall. Little pleasant splashes
From each other’s work would bring us to our senses.

So while the parish priest at her bedside
Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying
And some were responding and some crying
I remembered her head bent towards my head,
Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives —
Never closer the whole rest of our lives.

Picking the potatoes


Martha Gellhorn on men and mothers

Monday, 4 September, 2017 0 Comments

“I know enough to know that no woman should ever marry a man who hated his mother.” — Martha Gellhorn, novelist, travel writer and journalist, who is considered one of the greatest war correspondents of the 20th century.

Martha Gellhorn


People die only when we forget them

Saturday, 29 July, 2017 1 Comment

Let us be grateful to those who make us happy. They are the ones who save our souls. And let us declare that there is no death. People die only when we forget them. So let us remember my mother, who would have been 89 today, because if you remember someone, she will be with you always.

Mammy in Bally “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” — Czesław Miłosz


Mother’s prayer book miscellanea

Wednesday, 14 June, 2017 0 Comments

My mother’s many prayer books are interleaved with an encyclopaedic variety of scribbled notes, novenas, supplications, cards, clippings and, of course, prayers. For example, there’s a “Prayer to the Shoulder Wound of Christ”, an unused picture-postcard titled “Threshing in Ireland” and a faded newspaper cutting with the headline “Mother M. Solanus, Waterbury Native, Dies in Utica, N.Y.” Then, out of the blue, there’s this small item that contains all the components of a heart-breaking novel.

Mother's prayer book


The Homeric Argus of Alexander Pope

Sunday, 21 May, 2017 0 Comments

In Homer’s Odyssey, Argus is Odysseus’ dog. After ten years fighting in Troy, followed by ten more years struggling to get back to Ithaca, Odysseus finally arrives home only to hear that rivals have taken over his residence in hopes of marrying his wife Penelope. To secretly re-enter the house and spring a surprise attack on them, Odysseus disguises himself as a beggar. As he approaches the entrance, he finds the once-majestic Argus lying neglected and infested with lice. Unlike everyone else, Argus recognizes Odysseus at once and he has just enough strength to wag his tail. Unable to greet his beloved dog, as this would betray who he really is, Odysseus passes by (but not without shedding a tear) and enters the building. Thereupon, Argus dies.

Alexander Pope, who was born in London on this day in 1688, is the second-most frequently quoted writer in The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations after Shakespeare: “A little Learning is a dang’rous Thing.” His tribute to Argus is a classic, in the Homeric sense. The image is of Prince, our very own, always-majestic, Argus.

Argus

When wise Ulysses, from his native coast
Long kept by wars, and long by tempests toss’d,
Arrived at last, poor, old, disguised, alone,
To all his friends, and ev’n his Queen unknown,
Changed as he was, with age, and toils, and cares,
Furrow’d his rev’rend face, and white his hairs,
In his own palace forc’d to ask his bread,
Scorn’d by those slaves his former bounty fed,
Forgot of all his own domestic crew,
The faithful Dog alone his rightful master knew!

Unfed, unhous’d, neglected, on the clay
Like an old servant now cashier’d, he lay;
Touch’d with resentment of ungrateful man,
And longing to behold his ancient lord again.
Him when he saw he rose, and crawl’d to meet,
(‘Twas all he could) and fawn’d and kiss’d his feet,
Seiz’d with dumb joy; then falling by his side,
Own’d his returning lord, look’d up, and died!

Alexander Pope (1688 – 1744)

Prince as Argus


To My Mother on Mother’s Day

Sunday, 14 May, 2017 0 Comments

In 1842, when she was 11, Christina Rossetti wrote her first poem, To my Mother on her Birthday. Rossetti has often been called the greatest Victorian woman poet, but her poetry is increasingly regarded as among the most beautiful and innovative of the period by either sex. Her poem, To My Mother, is dedicated today to a great and generous, loved and missed mother. May she “long us bless.”

To My Mother

To-day’s your natal day;
Sweet flowers I bring:
Mother, accept, I pray
My offering.

And may you happy live,
And long us bless;
Receiving as you give
Great happiness.

Christina Rossetti (1830 – 1894)

My loved and missed mother