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.