I am very fortunate to know my relatives personally rather than as estranged figures in stories from my mother’s childhood. What I mean by this is my great grandmother, Nana Lily, lived until just after my 12th birthday. One year prior I had been standing in her living room the day before departing from Dublin when my brother emerged with a hot water bottle. In the States, the red rubber hot water bottle is something we only see in cartoons. In Ireland, we often receive them with fun, trendy and cute covers as Christmas gifts (one of my all-time favorite gifts might I add).
Nana Lily, sat up in her chair as a smile worked its way across her face. My aunt Claire recounted tucking the water bottle under the duvet to keep the bed warm each night for Nana Lily. With that Nana proudly proclaimed “Yes, right under my bum where I fart on it!” My germaphobe brother had a look of distraught cross his face as he tried to choke down the laughter at hearing our refined elegant Nana use the word fart. I was stunned, but Nana, along with Claire, my mother, and my Nana Colette all erupted into laughter.
My Fourth Birthday, notice the two cakes, I wanted Rugrats and Barbie. Absolutely spoiled, and forever thankful to my Nana. The living room I stood in that day was in the house, with the beautiful apple tree in the backyard, where my mother lived until the age of six. My mother grew up among her aunts and uncles and grandparents. Her parents, my Nana and Gerry (we always call our grandfathers by their first names don’t ask me why) were a young couple starting out. By the time my mother was six and my grandparents had 3 children and it was time to buy their first house where they hosted my 4th birthday almost thirty years later.
Although my grandparents and my aunts and uncles (I refer to them as my aunts and uncles, the great is irrelevant) still live in Ireland, I am lucky to travel often and in return they come over Every few years, so they are truly my family. They are not estranged relatives I see every now and then but true aunts, uncles, and cousins, I text every day (our Viber message has 22 members ages 14-71). Nana Lily even made it to the States, a woman who once put cornstarch on her face to hid her tan, flew, on a plane, to New York City twice.
When my mother recounts memories from the house filled with her four aunts, two uncles, parents, and grandparents they aren’t foreign memories of people I must imagine, no, I can hear the way they speak, I know how quick witted Clare is and how giddy my Nana, aunts Francis and Therese can be. I know my uncle Richard is essentially my mom’s older brother, I know the thrid child of the lot and oldest boy Gabriel or Gay, has always been gentle, soft-spoken, and sweet.
The first of my two favorite stories about Gay is when my mom met my aunt Mary. Mary was wearing a yellow “boob tube”, a tube top. Every Irish family has a ‘dark one’, Marry is the dark one with beautiful brown hair and eyes and even now her skin always seems to have a bit of a tan, so I know she was killing it in a yellow tube top. What I love about the brief memory is I know my mother was little and looking at her sweet uncle Gay with a stunning, trendy and kind girlfriend. She says she remembers being happy because Mary was the kind of girl everyone wanted Gay to find.
My absolute favorite memory is when Grandad Farnan (My great grandfather who I, unfortunately, did not ever meet) went outside to speak to someone. My nana and her sisters would send my mom out to listen to such conversations whether it was granddad speaking to someone or one of the girls speaking to a boy because she was cute and little and probably didn’t know what the information she relayed meant. For some reason this time she was not allowed out. Fighting to go outside, Gay picked her up, put her on his lap and began to explain why she couldn’t go out. Holding her he explained in his soft-spoken manner, that it was too cold and if she went outside her hands would be rough like his. He held her, “See you have soft thin skin, and feel mine, it is thicker because I am older. So, you have to stay inside here with me right now, but when you are older, you will have thick skin like I do”. He was about 20 years older chatting with her until eventually, grandad came back in.
I believe that is my favorite story because my family is hilarious. They are all very quick and the funniest people I know. (They all think I am too serious but the truth is we can’t all be the messers, someone must be there to laugh). Most stories I hear are hilarious moments or reminiscing on the fab outfits they used to wear (they still wear fab outfits actually) and winning best dressed at different festivals. Gay, most certainly had a sense of humor, but he also has a way about him, this story is the only way to really explain what exactly it was.