Kippers on Thursday. Bombs on Friday, is a memoir. It covers a ten-year period spanning the mid sixties to mid seventies when, as a child I lived in London and Dublin. My Irish parents moved to London from Dublin in search of a better lifestyle than they could have had in Ireland. The time came when like many other Irish people living in London, my father decided to go home. I was a transplant. I had a refined British accent. Unlike my classmates in the all girls convent I was sent to, I did not speak gaelic. Gaelic is taught in Irish schools from kindergarten on.
Our move to Ireland came at a time when the IRA bombings were at their worst. Anglo-Irish relations were strained. There was a great distrust in Ireland of anything British. This, I discovered later, included me. In this memoir, I examine our family life during this time period. I also explore the political and social situation in each country. I have found links between the intensity of Anglo-Irish relations, and instances that occurred in our family, and my school life.
At this time, I am working on the first draft of this memoir. I will present excerpts from various chapters. The excerpts will not be in chronological order. I would welcome your comments. I would like to hear from you what it is you would like to know more about as each chapter progresses.
Memoir is a glimpse into a person’s life. It does not have to tell the story of an entire life. Think of it as a series of photos of a particular time, or a collection of home videos. For me, the most important thing about writing memoir, is to acknowledge continually that everyone’s truth is their own. My truth is what I believe – what I remember about this part of my life and history. There will be other people who see things differently. Memoir can stir a lot of emotions in family and friends who might have shared some of your same experiences. Others might have a different take on the situation. It is important to respect these other truths. It is important too, that the writer maintain her truth as she writes. Historical facts in this memoir are checked for accuracy and referenced in the book.
So here goes! What follows is an excerpt from an excerpt(!) from a chapter in the book. This chapter is called Nana’s Purse.
Why does heaven always have to be in the sky? I opened Nana’s purse and it all popped out, purgatory, my childhood memories and all. Nana came to me in a dream. I was lying down in my two-and-a-half foot wide, cling to the side of the wall bed. I was a child again. Nana floated above me – the way dead people do. The people who make it into heaven. At least, that’s what I believed as a child. It was in the days before cream-cheese and Bagel-fake-angels lounged around on clouds.
I didn’t actually see Nana in my dream, not at first. I just knew it was her. When I woke up and looked into the air above me, I imagined I could see her hovering above my bed. I imagined her long, age-stained hair, frayed and broken with the memory of hard graft. There were other times too when I imagined Nana watching over me. Times when I wished she couldn’t see me, like the time when David touched me on my sweet-sixteen never been kissed Birthday. I’m not sure at what stage they sacked Gabriel as my guardian angel, but Dad was pretty sure Nana had taken his place.
I don’t know what Nana wanted in those dreams that came more and more often. Perhaps she was trying to protect me from the occasional cruelty I experienced from Dad. Sometimes I thought Nana was there in the room with me. Sometimes I thought the purpose of her presence was to rain down guilt for my teenage explorations. Over the decades Nana’s presence in my dreams became comforting. When Jacqueline died, a little girl I would not meet until I was in my late forties, Nana would hold me in my memory of her love for me while I heaved grief into the universe.
I might have lied about the last dream I had of Nana. I’m not sure, but I got what I wanted because of it. Dreams can warp your sense of truth and reality. Since Nana died in the late 1960’s, I have never been quite able to get Nana’s purse out of my mind. Still, after thirty-eight years since Nana’s death, that little red leather coin purse calls out to me, and I’m not sure why.
I have always wanted to own the purse, and on this day, the day I would confront him for the first time in years, I knew my father would continue to resist giving it to me. I was determined to get Nana’s purse and I prepared myself for the struggle to extract it from her son. Whether the dream was a concocted way for me to rupture the purse out of Dad, or the plea of his mother through me to get Dad to give it to me, it didn’t seem to matter. All I know is it worked. I got the purse. By forty-nine years of age I was well-practiced in manipulation.
I am fifty years old and sitting in the sunshine of a January California day. I am a long way from the north of Ireland. I can only try to imagine Nana’s Belfast. I am decades away from the 1925 drawing of the boundaries between northern and southern Ireland. The boundaries that separated six counties in the north from twenty-six counties in the south. I am decades away from the pain I later understood that Nana went through when she officially became British. I did not experience the battle the Catholics of Northern Ireland endured in their pursuit of a unified Ireland. Unlike Nana, I did not have to cower under the kitchen table and watch as British soldiers raided her Belfast home and shot and killed her brother. He was a victim of the struggle to unify his country. All I know about this event is that it happened. The details are hidden in my father. Another of his secrets. The secrets that he taunts me with during his frequent bids to exert control over me.
“Those fucking Brits.” My father yelled throughout my childhood. “Those fucking bastards,” he continues to call the British.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
How reliable is our memory? Sometimes it is enough to think, to imagine, to journey into our memories. At least into what we think are our memories. I have a good long-term memory. I remember events in the vividness of smells, of color, of sound, of conversations. I remember classroom drills, imitated, repeated phrases of high-school French lessons. Bébé a déchirez les papiers., we repeated after the record in Mr. Williams’ beginning French class. I think I remember my first ice cream at the age of two. Perhaps I don’t remember it. Perhaps I remember the photograph of a chubby child holding an ice cream cone, her face smothered in deliciousness.
The purse is not red. It is not leather either. It is not the symbol of a cared for woman, cozy in her retirement. It was once white. It is plastic, aged, brittle and torn. It is worn away at the edges, tired foam exposed in the corners. Memory. What can I tell you?
My father listened, tears creaming his eyes at the tale of my dream. He took the purse from his jacket pocket. He handed it to me. I couldn’t wait to open it. We were eating spaghetti. We were sitting opposite each other in the Italian restaurant favored by business men. We sat heads bowed as I clutched the purse. We sat in the clatter of the business of lunch-time; competing voices of business men trying to impress potential customers and drowning our attempts to talk to each other. Drowning my attempts to remember – to close my eyes and draw Nana toward me. As I held the purse in my hand, the heel of my hand embracing the spot where Nana once held it, I forgot about food. I was satiated with memories. My father watched as I opened the clasp slowly and carefully. I took out two crumpled ten shilling notes. “There were three.” My father said. “I kept one for myself.” I felt cheated, robbed. Who will own that orange note when he dies? Whoever discovers it will not have the memories of Nana. My father’s new family, one of his sons the same age as my daughter, did not know the woman who made hot buttered toast for me after school each day. My father’s new children, one of whom is two years younger than my daughter, did not drink the steaming hot chocolate of a snowy day that followed the stamping of icy wellington-boots on the back doorstep. My father’s sons did not know Nana, the woman whose arthritic hands cocooned my snowball-ice-burned fingers. My father’s sons will not deserve the third orange ten-shilling note.
Now as I sit in the warmth of this California day, I do not open the purse. All I want to do is hold it, feel it, clasp it in my hand the way Nana would have done.
Friday is pension day. It is the day that Nana goes to the post office with her book of money. The man behind the counter takes the book. He rips a page from it, pounds a corner with rubber ink. He hands Nana some cash. She folds the notes, opens her purse and tucks the paper money tight inside. There are coins too. There are three-penny bits, and sixpences, all shiny and new. Nana hands ne a three-penny bit and I stare at it. I feel the rough engraving of the Queen’s head. I press my fingers against the words I cannot yet read. Older coins stain my hand and smell like the newspaper on Sunday, but this coin, one not destined for the collection plate at Mass, promises joy, melt in the mouth rice- paper-flying-saucers with sour-sweet sherbet inside.
To be continued……