With Love from your Eldest Grandchild
Memories. Without substance. Borrowed.
From conversations. From other peopleís senses.
Thin like the cardboard in the childrenís shoes.
Stories of my Irish grandparentsí lives and their love.
An entire town pays its respects.
Thereís a full page spread in the newspaper
remembering the wild boy of the town
and a quiet, Catholic girl, watching him force the swing
higher and higher. So they meet.
So they dare. To run away and marry.
Her parents frowning under the weight of tradition,
their expression easing as he becomes the favourite son-in-law.
He cycles 30 miles for meagre-waged work,
crosses the sea to demolition in bombed-out Coventry
while she scrubs her floorboards white
and shines her windows with vinegared newspaper.
Back home his hand tickles the trout
and his ferret finds a rabbit or a hare.
In an orchard he climbs for apples
and gathers some wood. He sells them to his neighbours.
Mass is ending as he enters the church.
Her faith is deep, it fights her chronic asthma
all the way to the last rites and back.
Over and over. Like the chopping on her broken finger.
The altered figure on the Vincent de Paul voucher.
And everybody knows what he does and what she does.
For a good man and the woman of the house
all is forgiven. Grand days. Grand parents. Yes they are.
School lunch is bread, jam and cocoa.
When home meals are shared, the parents have none.
Each night the eldest childís only chemise
is dried on the smuts heated up from the range.
She swears she will never have an empty cupboard.
She is just 16 when she finds work across the sea.
They can always add a potato to the pot,
but her life goes well and her brother soon joins her.
Memories. A man, old for his years,
a brain tumour and a bed in the mental hospital.
Then the funeral procession through the town.
The widow lives on with her two younger children,
she listens to Mario Lanza on the wireless,
praying at night for the Lord to take her as well.
Her children grow and close up the house
and they take her across to the heathen land.
Memories. The fragments I still hold.
Only six weeks for a three-year-old to know her,
the child who hides behind a frail body,
as her daddy comes home with a smack in his hand.
Nanny in Ireland save me! and she does,
but she leaves to live with her sister up North.
She dies of a broken heart:
itís Valentineís Day, 1964.
For me, there is no sound of him whistling in the kitchen,
no bacon fat dripping on his chin,
no knock on the door with its God Bless All Here,
no invitation to pull up a chair,
no smell of the flat bread that she cooks in the pan.
All of these belong to somebody else.
If you have any thoughts on this poem, Susan Wilson would be
pleased to hear them.