Do it or not. I struggled for a moment. It had been on mind ever since we’d decided to visit Ireland; one that had to be made, nonetheless. On the one hand, it could end well. We’d be made to feel welcome and would spend a pleasant time sharing stories around a place we’d grown to have in common. On the other hand, rejection; just a couple of nuts or frauds, deserving nothing much other than a door slammed with a little extra authority.
No real way to tell but the empirical one: do it.
They’d died within two hours of one another.
She—my grandmother (technically my great aunt as mom had been raised by her aunt and uncle; no matter, to me she was Grannie Mac)—had always spent the fall baking Christmas cakes, which she would place in Jacob’s biscuit tins and send all over: Scotland, England, Australia, the US and yes, several to Canada, including the one that would arrive mid-December in “the Christmas parcel” which contained, besides our cake, Christmas pudding, Beano and Dandy Annuals (among others), along with who-knows-what! A Christmas tradition that, 40 years later, still brings a smile to my face. You know the one—pure joy.
On that December day she’d collapsed taking a cake from the oven; a massive heart attack. My grandfather (technically my great uncle; to me, Grando MacCormack) helped her as best he could and then ran down the street to the Burtonshaws to phone for an ambulance. The fuss, the stress—it was all too much. He, too, collapsed; a massive stroke. Two ambulances were needed.
At the age of three Mom left Cork and went to Dublin to be raised by her aunt and uncle. Her sisters and brothers remained behind at Drawbridge Street. But, for her, home became Dublin and Da and Ma were replaced by Daddy and Mammy ‘Cor (MacCormack). Her home was at Abbeyfield, in Kilester, Dublin. Daddy Cor had served in the British army and England was not about to see her vets do poorly. They’d provided for them and their home at Abbeyfield was due as much to the spirit of justice felt by the British army as it was to my Grando and Grannie Mac’s hard work. After his service as a sergeant in the Great War, Grando (or Daddy ‘Cor—let’s stick with the former) had worked his entire adult life at the Guinness Brewery in Dublin.
How Irish is that? But I digress.
As vets tend to be, Grando was dedicated, hardworking and frugal. He saved; put money away, for those who would come after. He did it well.
Time passed and Mom and Dad met; personal ads in the Winnipeg Free Press—a story for another time, maybe. They married in 1959 and Mom moved to Newfoundland. She and Dad started a family, but Dad promised that she’d always be able to come back to Ireland each year. And so it was. As children, myself and my sister got to accompany her and sometimes Dad would come too.
Summers split between lengthy visits to Ireland and visits to Red Island. How could it be any better? Not that everything was perfect. Those were the times of “the troubles” of course, but you have to understand that even those nasty times could have only so much effect on so young a mind. Children persevere.
Then that phone call. It was December, 1978. I had just moved away from home that fall to attend university. 722-9821: I recall it to this day, the number of the phone booth at the end of the hall at my university residence; the only phone on the floor. It was my sister calling to give me the news. Grannie Mac and Grando had just died, within two hours of one another. Mom would have to go to Ireland for the funerals and to try and put everything in order.
At the time it just washed over me. I was still too young to really grasp it all. No, this was not the first loss; I was no stranger to grief—yes, another story—but this was something that could not be absorbed all at once. An ailing father and mother, exam week about to start and now this tremendous loss…but, still, children persevere.
Mom made arrangements and went to Dublin. Two funerals, so unexpected, but the tragedy did not end there. Grando had died first and that was significant. His will stated that his belongings would go to Grannie Mac and then Mom. When he died, everything became the property of Grannie Mac, who had no will.
Despite having been raised from age three by them, she’d never been legally adopted. She therefore had no title to the estate. It went to my Grannie Mac’s sister instead. Trucks came by and cleaned out the house. The bank account—and recall that Grando was quite a saver–was emptied as well; not by Mom. The Lawyers advised my Mom to contest it. The proceedings would take years but she had a strong case; a winnable one.
Mom said, “No. I am not doing that.” She let it all go and moved on; no bitterness, no blame.
She was like that. Besides, could there possibly be a better way to teach a son and a daughter a lesson on values?
Now, the house was another matter entirely. Her name was on the deed and so it became her property. She got advice on what to do, whether to leave it for use during the summers, rent it or sell it. Sadly she had to take the latter. Ireland, at the time, was still years away from any prosperity. Times were hard and the echoes of “the troubles” still rang through the country. Things could not be left “as-is.” The house had to go, else it would be vandalized; ruined within weeks. That was that. It want up for sale and was sold to Mr. Maurice Walsh, a solicitor, for 17,500 pounds, a reasonable sum at the time Mom took the proceedings and shared them with me and my sister, to pay for our education.
She was like that. That selfless gift to her children helped us in ways we could not have imagined.
And now, thirty-five years later here I was, standing at the front door of that very house, finger just over the doorbell. I pushed it.