I am forever intrigued by the happenings and times memory enshrines, and also what, again without our permission, she discards.
Somehow, when I was about five, I was having tea with my father and mother by myself. This was rare as we were a large family. The table was by a window in the house my father built. The window looked out over a heather-covered moor that extended to a beautiful mountain with the ugly name "Scrig." I remember enjoying that I was the object of attention of both of them. They spoke fondly to me and talked of getting me a brown sweater. This is all I remember -- nothing but the tender warmth of that moment and the lovely scene.
I thank memory again for a moment when my mother caressed me. I must have asked why. I remember she said it was because I was her little boy. Memory chalked that up too as something tender to be forever recalled.
A small family has an advantage in that one-on-one occasions with a parent are more frequent. On the other hand, in a large family brothers and sisters are constantly practicing communication. But sometimes there are wounds from which an only child in particular is sheltered. Where siblings are boys and girls, they learn to relate warmly to persons of the opposite sex with an affection other than that of mating, something helpful in marriage. These advantages and disadvantages are relative, and can vary with parent, school, and neighborhood influences.
Shortly after coming from Ireland, I turned 12 and fell in love. Actually it was just before my twelfth birthday. I used to stand across the street from Helen Brocklin's for long periods hoping she would come out. I never got to talk to her alone. She and her sister came to our porch one day -- raising eyebrows in the family. It seems she had some interest too. Once, on a Sunday afternoon, I walked up Chew Street with her and another girl. We just happened to be going in the same direction. I was going to serve Benediction at Holy Cross Church. She said on the way, and these are the only words of her I remember, "If I had a veil for my head, we could go to church?" It was a nice spring day. And again our inner friend decided to make the occasion permanent within me.
Memory chastises, too, with good if painful outcome. I was about 13 and some friends were picking on a friend of mine named Dennis whom I knew before they did. I adopted their attitude. My friend said to me, "You too?" Our paths crossed off and on later in life and he was always friendly to me. But I never, to this day, forgave myself for my disloyalty. It's a bitter memory, but it protects me from betrayal of anyone again. Memory took the role of teacher and chastiser.
We were not a demonstrative family. No hugs and kisses and few loving words, but love was deep just the same. Perhaps there was a feeling that the love was unique and outward expressions would be inadequate and phony. Irish heritage may have suggested that hugs were for mating love.
I never saw my mother and father kiss or hug. At my father's wake, however, just before we escorted my mother away from the casket, just before it was to be closed, she knelt down, reached out and touched his hands.
They had come through a lot together from 1912 to 1978. They raised a large family, lost one, had worries and crosses, but much more joy and laughter.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
While stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, at the Retraining Command, every fourth Sunday I headed home to Philadelphia and returned Monday night. I shudder to think of so much driving for a short visit, but I was young then. I celebrated a 7 a.m. Mass at the Retraining Command (a radio host called it the Restraining Command, a function it did fulfill). Then I had a Mass at the Benmorell Naval housing area at 9 a.m. In those days we could not have food or liquids before Mass, so I had breakfast on the ferry that crossed Chesapeake Bay in an hour and a half. There is a wonder of the world bridge and tunnel structure there now. From the ferry it was about a five-hour drive to Philadelphia. After dinner at home and visiting siblings and their families, I drove back to Norfolk Monday evening. As I said, I was young.
My brother Danny was studying for the priesthood in Rome then. In the summer of 1955 my parents took a trip to Ireland and met Danny in County Donegal. I hitchhiked over on Navy planes to join them. Danny was scheduled to be ordained in December of 1956.
On one of my visits home, early in 1956, I asked my Mother if they were going to Rome for Danny's ordination.
"Oh no. Where would we get the money?"
I answered with a chuckle, "You didn't have money before and you went to Ireland."
In a quick switch my Mother rejoined in Irish construction, "Talk to dad, you."
We hadn't noticed that Dad was within earshot. Over my head, as if I were not present, he stated firmly to Mam, "You had your trip. What do you want me to do? Sell the house? Then where would we be?"
Do you remember how, in a major war, communiques were phrased by losing armies? "Our troops fought bravely and inflicted tremendous casualties on the enemy." And then adding that this took place at a town miles and miles back from where they were the day before. This has a bearing on our story.
Just one month after Dad's undeniably sensible outburst, I visited home again. The trip to Rome was so definite now that one would find it hard to believe it had ever been debatable. One thing was not definite. It would be nice to stop in Ireland on the way back and have the Irisih relatives see the newly ordained priest. Dad announced firmly, "There will be no stopping in Ireland on th3e way back." Shades of an army in retreat.
But yes. There was stopping in Ireland on the way back. Not only that, but Dad enjoyed the trip to Rome and the stopping in Ireland wholeheartedly. He was the picture of peace and happiness.
Now isn't that a model of how the loyal opposition, the party out of power, should behave? Go all out for your point of view but revel in the reverse when it comes to pass.
(This story is excerpted from "Foibles of Father Joe" (c) 2008 by Connell J. Maguire)