My poor old Auntie departed from us in recent weeks, leaving all who knew her bereft and distraught.
We loved our Auntie and with good reason, since she was a kind and a decent woman who cared for everyone else before once giving a thought for herself, and such people are the ones who made us who we are. Such are the ones who gave us our decency, if we are lucky enough to have it.
People such as my old Auntie made me who I am today and I owe such people an enormous debt of gratitude for their kindness, their erudition and their generosity of spirit. I owe these people everything that made me who I am.
This kind Auntie sat with me when I was not yet three years of age and taught me to read and to write. This good and decent person was not an old Auntie in those days, but a bright and elegant young woman who took the time to share the gift of reading with a little child and I have lived my entire life in debt to that generous lady for making the effort.
Thanks to my kind young aunt, I entered primary school well able to read a newspaper, and for that achievement I can claim no credit. My wonderful Auntie was living testament to the power of thoughtful education.
Times pass, people decline and in the end I found myself sitting with my Auntie not just occasionally but almost every day. I found myself writing down the first-hand stories of the old days and I found myself engaging directly with a lady who came from a time I used to think of as the dark ages except that those days were the same as our days, just as our days right now will eventually be like those of our grandchildren, since in the end we’re all the same.
Auntie gave me many stories and in time to come, I’ll write about the Wire Man and about Wild Bill and about the beautiful French cat who loved to roll in the wrappers from the scented soap, but I won’t do it today. Instead, I’ll just tell you that I spent the last year or so getting to know my old Auntie, keeping her entertained and listening to her wisdom. I should have done it a lot more but I didn’t.
We spent much of that twelve months looking at old photos, driving around the wild countryside or sharing insane stories of the old days, but every now and then we shared a more intimate moment. I discovered that my Auntie had a love of the kind of food that I like to cook, and so I found myself bringing exotic offerings of whatever I thought she might enjoy, including curries fierce enough to burn through the door of a bank vault. All my old Auntie ever said was Perfect.
She came from a generation of Limerick ladies who were strangers to drinking and to coarse language. My old Auntie never raised her voice. She never set foot inside a pub and she never swore, because that was not the way of those ladies. The only time my Auntie’s lips encountered alcohol was once a year when a bottle of sherry was ordered in for visitors and then she might have indulged in a quiet sip, but no more than that.
In later years, my Auntie loved a curly bun from the Market on a Saturday morning, so I brought two. One for Auntie and one for me.
Sadly, I won’t be bringing any more curly buns, but in the days when we shared those quiet hours, I must confess that I occasionally transgressed. Now and then I brought a hip flask with a little shot of sherry for both of us.
Regrettably, my aunt’s language deteriorated a shade as a result of my visits, but maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Maybe, for all I know, that was a sign of increased mental activity.
Not too long ago, after the discovery of gravitational waves, she buttonholed me with a question: What did they find out in space?
Well, I explained, it seems they found out there are ripples in time.
Did they? said my elderly aunt. I could have told them that.
We buried my elderly, charming, endlessly erudite Auntie last week and of course I had to give a eulogy, so I decided to keep it simple.
It was this.
I got the better of the deal.
My Auntie taught me to read and write when I was very young.
Many years later, I taught her to drink and curse.