...when it seems that funerals are just going to have to become a regular part of life. I got a text from my sister yesterday to let me know that one of our aunts had died the night before. I know she was old, although I've never really known the ages of most of my aunts and uncles and always had to sort of go by where they were in comparison to my mum or dad. In this case, though it's actually my mum's brother's wife. My mum was the youngest girl and second-youngest altogether of her family and would have been sixty-nine this year. I think Uncle B. two up in age from her and Aunty M. was at least a couple of years older than him so I suppose she was heading for eighty at least.
After my sister died last year I started thinking about some of the people I hadn't seen for a long time, as you do at times like that, I suppose. Of course, stupid, stupid debt stayed my hand and I promised myself that I'd head to Manchester to catch up with family there at the end of summer. And now it's too late, because really, the person I wanted to see was Aunty M. and I had heard that she was getting old and frail, losing her sight and even going senile (but that was according to one aunt, who it seems had had a falling-out with her, so I don't know if it was really true and obviously would prefer to think not).
When I was a kid, almost everyone I knew had relations in England. Well, when there was no work and no prospects in Ireland, people went to England because it was close, or, if they could get the money together, to America. Things back then were obviously not quite like today and contact was mostly restricted to christmas cards, sometimes birthday cards, a couple of phone calls a year (sometimes having to shout because it was a cross-channel call) and then one week or so in the summer when the whole lot of them would arrive home en masse on the ferry. They'd be en route to Galway, where they invaded my aunt and uncle's farm (he being the oldest son and therefore the one to inherit the family farm they'd grown up on). For a few wonderful years, before my mum died, we joined them too. Including one memorable year where there were so many coming that we ended up hiring a caravan so that we'd have space to sleep. Other years, we'd be squeezed six or seven into a bedroom, with the older cousins in the sitting room - sleeping bags and floors and, if you were lucky, you did manage to get a pillow. I loved it, even if, most of the time, I was to be found hiding in a quiet corner somewhere away from the crowds, reading.
I wonder if it's because of that time that it didn't feel unusual to not really have regular contact then, with my relations in England. You'd catch up with everyone in the summer, or at weddings and funerals. Now I find myself asking why, since contact these days is so much easier, I didn't just find out what her phone number was and just call every once in a while to catch up. I only visited twice as an adult. Once when I was barely that and returning from having lived in Germany for a couple of years after college. They lived in London at the time and I inter-railed home so was travelling through England. I was only supposed to stay for one day, I think, and ended up staying for nearly a week. Had a great time.
Aunty M. is the one who we didn't have a lot of contact with when we were very young but then, when my mum got sick, she stepped up and actually moved in with us for the six or seven months. Her daughter was grown up and had a family of her own but still, she left her husband and home and came to look after us. And look after us she did. My goodness but that woman could cook up a storm. After my mum died and she went back home, she still used to come over to mind us when my dad and my step-mother went on holidays (usually twice a year for two weeks). My older step-sister didn't much like her, though and, well, she did favour us a bit over my step-siblings, although not half to the extent my step-mother did it in the other direction. I think I was fourteen or fifteen the last time she came, because my step-mother insisted she had been nasty to her kids and told my dad she didn't want her back in the house. She had more or less already done the same with most of my mum's family, which is why we mostly lost contact. And then it just never seemed to be properly re-established when we were grown up. Such a pity and I feel guilty about it but also don't know if I knew how to do anything differently.
She was very much a traditional Irish kind of cook (she was from Galway, too, although she met my uncle in London and didn't have a trace of an Irish accent left - I always think it's funny that people who moved to England lost their accents to the local ones quickly (it can happen during a weekend there) but people who moved to the US never do). So meat, veg and mashed potatoes. And then on Sundays roast potatoes, too. I loved potatoes. Still do. Once she realised that, she almost always gave me one or two just boiled ones when I was just in from school, before mashing them for dinner. When I stayed the week with them in London she did the same thing. I was twenty-one at that stage and had completely forgotten about it and then she came in from the kitchen to offer me the little saucer with a boiled potato on it to have before my dinner. It was nice to feel so looked after again for a little while. Goodbye Aunty M., even if I've only seen you a couple of times in the last twenty years, I will miss you.