I was chatting to a friend yesterday, as one does, and he mentioned that somebody was dead. I knew he was wrong, but even though I was the one correcting him, I could hear my late mother’s voice: “Who did you send to kill him?”
My mother, and many others of her generation, had a lively and ready store of all-purpose phrases. Who did you send to kill him? “If you die with that face, nobody will wash you”. Or, if you wanted to try something a bit risky: “Sure, won’t we be dead and rotten long enough?” My favourite as a child was “You should be shot with shit, so you’d be dead and dirty”.
When some ill-considered demand for money would come home from school, perhaps for a new book or a costume in the school play, my mother used to say “It’s soft the wool grows on them”. I still don’t understand the literal meaning of it, but I know what it meant. It was a recognition that those requesting this money had no experience of poverty, despite their vows. We went to religious-run schools for the most part. I’m pausing here as I write this, because I’m trying to find some way to imagine the people who ran these places, some point of commonality, but you know, I’m failing. It’s a gap in my education: who exactly were these twenty-two-year-old brothers and sisters? These overbearing virginal youths who so intimidated our adult hard-working parents twice their age? Where did these angry, sometimes violent young men come from? What happened to them to make them so enraged?
They certainly didn’t come from the rectangular redbrick blocks of inner Limerick. They had a different accent, a different demeanour and their culture didn’t feel like mine. I didn’t like the way they patronised my decent, honest well-read parents. I didn’t like it when I was nine, and I don’t like it now, looking back on it. The difference is that time has moved on and I wouldn’t accept such nonsense from a jumped-up labouring boy (or from anybody else, for that matter).
That was then and this is now.