Archangel Michael, Banshee, Dementia, Gargie, Ghost, Grandmother, Ireland, Irish Mythology, Kleptomania, Leonard Teale, Life After Death, Loss, Memories, Piano Accordian, River Liffey, Sailor's Hornpipe, The Blarney Stone, The Gift, Walking stick, Wild Irish Rose, Writing
My wild Irish rose.. the sweetest flower that grows. You may search everywhere but none can compare with my wild Irish rose.
Even the most romantic of poets, using all the poetic license they could muster, could never have called my grandmother, Gargie, a sweet little colleen… No.. not Gargie.. To have called her that would be so inaccurate, it would actually be an insult to her. This lady, who played such an enormous part in my life, could much more accurately be called a wild Irish rose. Her name was Agnes but we all called her Gargie.
I have nothing against sweet little colleens (colleen being the Irish equivalent of girl or lassie).. but Gargie had the largest personality. Her passion for life was gigantic and she lived it to the fullest. She faced hardships most of us, in this day and age and in the Western World, could never even begin to imagine. She developed a tough exterior, whether as a result of those hardships or not, but inside was a devoted mother who would have gone to any lengths for her children. She was one in a million and I’m so proud to have called her mine.
Gargie was, to me at least, always old. I know all kids think that of their grandparents but Mum was nearly 40 when she had me. Gargie died at age 83 when I was only around 14, so she was, in fact, getting up there when I was little. I don’t remember her without a walking stick, or her snow white hair and wrinkles. I know she once walked straight and proud, but the lady I remember had a stoop and was slow when she walked. Her hands were gnarled and swollen with arthritis and when I see photos of her now, I think how frail and small she looked. Fortunately, her personality was so strong, that I never thought of her as frail. To me she was as strong as steel and about the bravest person I knew.
I’ve mentioned in other blogs, how she came to Australia as a WW1 bride. She left her family of 13 behind her in Ireland and started afresh here with her new husband. She had 9 kids, the oldest being 13 and the youngest only 3 months, when my grandfather died, leaving her to raise them, during the depression on her own. I’ve been a single mother and I know how hard it is. I often hear women bemoaning the difficulties of raising kids on the single parent pension and just having all the responsibility to yourself. I’m not saying it’s not hard, but here, in Australia, we have a welfare system that sustains at least life, if not luxury. Back then, there was no such pension, so she had to work her guts out to provide at a time when people in this country were completely desolate.
I’m not going to go into huge amounts about her life and tribulations. They aren’t the things I remember the most. What I think of when she comes to mind is the crazy, over the top things she did and thought that made us laugh out loud when we discussed them. They still make us laugh today. I think of the love and kindness she showed and the wisdom she imparted without even realising it. She was a tough old biddy with an immovable opinion but I adored her.
She told me stories when I was a little girl about her life in Ireland. The tales of the Liffey River and the Blarney Stone fascinated me and she made me promise that one day I would go back to Ireland for her. I promised I would. This year I hope to keep that promise. I learned the Irish folk songs she loved and she would sit and listen with her eyes closed as I sang them to her. She had a lovely singing voice of her own when she was younger, so I was told.. but I don’t remember that. She always had an old ladies voice when I knew her. I believe she also played the piano accordion and danced a mean Sailor’s Hornpipe too… but those are things that I have no recollection of whatsoever. In her honor, I’ve decided to try to learn the piano accordion.. Now I just have to find one to practise on.
Now, the Irish are a very superstitious race of people and she was no exception. Whenever the greyhounds down the road would howl, she was convinced she was going to die, as she thought it was the Banshee’s coming for her. A banshee is a female spirit in Irish mythology who warns of an impending death by wailing to the family. So Gargie was convinced every time she heard them that it was her time and they were warning us of her impending doom. The fact that the greyhounds wailed for dinner at the same time every night didn’t gel with her, as her hearing wasn’t fantastic, so she didn’t always hear them. She was convinced for many years her time was up.
When I was a very young girl, she had a dream one night that the Archangel Michael appeared to her and told her the day she was going to die. She, of course, denied that it was a dream, but was in fact an actual visit. Michael told her clearly that she would die on November 25th. Trouble was, forgetful old Michael forgot to tell her what year he meant, so every year coming up to November, she readied herself for her passing. She had a real fear of rigamortis setting in as she had seen a corpse when she was very young, and because of rigamortis, they had to break bones to put it in a coffin. It stuck with her (as it would) and since her poor old body was so gnarled and curled up, she was determined on November 25th to be as ready as she could possibly be. So she’d put on her best nightie, lay as straight as she possibly could all day, sometimes with her hands folded across her chest before sleep, just in case. That way, if she went, she wouldn’t have to be manipulated to fit in a coffin. (Just for the record… she died in July)
She used to sit and watch TV in her later years and doze in and out while she watched. She hated the Aussie actress, Liz Harris because she was married to Leonard Teale and I think Gargie had a bit of a crush on Leonard. So she would watch TV dozing in and out through all programs except for Homocide, which he appeared in. Of course then, she would have trouble sleeping at night.
Now, she was definitely the world’s most impatient woman. If she wanted something, she wanted it yesterday. So someone told her that if you couldn’t sleep, you should take a nip of brandy and it would put you right out. So although she was a teetotaler, she got Dad to go buy her a bottle of brandy. That night, she took a nip and 5 minutes later, was still awake.. so took another nip.. A few hours later, we were disturbed by a weird sound coming from her room. Mum went out to find her stark naked, lying on the floor of her bedroom, drunk as a skunk. She was put back to bed, covered up and slept like a baby but woke up with the worst hangover in the morning. This she attributed to an allergy to the brandy. There was only a tiny amount left in the bottle which she said she must have knocked over and spilled. We never corrected her.
I went to bring her a cup of tea one morning and she held my hand, as she always did, to thank me. When she touched me, I pulled away as I had got an electric shock from her. I went in to Mum and told her what had happened and Mum, who couldn’t feel electricity at any time, told me I was imagining it. When the bush nurse came down to see Gargie an hour or so later, she screamed to Mum to turn the electric blanket off. Gargie had wet the bed, just a bit but enough to cause the blanket to short circuit and the electricity was running through her.
As she got older and slightly senile, she started to pinch things. Just mild kleptomania but it was amusing at times. She would visit people, then when she came home, someone would take her for a drive while we searched her room for new, interesting things.. then they’d be given back to their rightful owners. Although she used two walking sticks and moved as slow as a snail, if she saw a pen on the table, she’d make a run for it to grab it.
It never worried us really as we knew where everything was. Though there were some things that were really annoying. Like the day she stole my French homework I’d been working on. Now I wasn’t the world’s greatest student at the best of times so imagine trying to explain to your teacher that your Grandmother stole your homework. It was probably the only time I was telling the truth about why I couldn’t hand homework in but I wasn’t believed. On Grand Final day of my brothers’ football league, she stole their football stops for their shoes and we had to take her out for a drive really early so we could get them back and get the boys on the field in time to play.
The lady next door to us was an avid footy fan and one day, our team, Drysdale, was playing a team who’s colors were Dark blue and light blue. The neighbour who had a very loud voice, yelled out after a questionable decision on the field.. “YOU HAVE BLUE EYES UMPIRE”, meaning he was favoring the blue team. Gargie was stunned at what good eyesight she had to be able to see the umpire’s eye color at that distance.
She was generous to a fault and I can remember her being so generous if we ran an errand for her. She bought me a beautiful doll’s house once. I still have it to this day. It was handcrafted and had real carpets and lino and windows. Oh I thought I had died and gone to heaven. I’d never had such a beautiful thing in my whole lifetime. I can’t wait to have grandchildren who want to play with it like I did.
When she was younger, she was an incredibly gifted craftswoman and some of her specialties were knitting and embroidery. So when I had to knit a “gonk” for school, which was a sampler of 4 different stitches, made into a soft toy, I waited till Mum wasn’t around, and asked Gargie to show me how to cast on.. I came back a while later, and she’d completed the whole thing for me.. Unfortunately, Mum realised it wasn’t my work and pulled it apart and made me start again. If I’d hidden it, i could have got away with it.
I believe she was a woman who had “the gift”. She was certainly superstitious and believed some crazy stuff, but she also was able to see things others couldn’t. When her husband passed away, the hospital asked for his body for science as they said his lungs were interesting. She was shocked at the bluntness of the doctor who asked and as a result she refused. The next day at the funeral, she told Mum that he had appeared to her at the graveside, but only the top half of him and he told her not to cry as he wasn’t in the grave. Everyone thought she was crazy but Mum believed her and they never again went to the graveside. Years later, well after she died, Mum looked at his death certificate.. It clearly states that he died one day, was buried the next and his body was released the day after his funeral. I have the death certificate and that’s definitely what it states. Maybe she really did see something.
The week before she died, she told Mum that her son (Mum’s brother Kevin), who had died years before had just driven up the driveway. A few days later, she called for Mum again and told her that my grandfather, Fred, was standing right near her. I think then, Mum knew that her time on earth wasn’t going to be much longer. As I’ve mentioned before in Astral travels with my aunt, the morning before she died, she told us she’d been to Ireland the night before. We knew she was telling the truth. She saw what so many are too closed off to see.
I went and visited her grave the other day when I was back in Victoria for the day. I told her I was going to finally go to Ireland and I could almost feel her joy. Although she died in 1976, I still miss her and can often feel her around me. Oh she occasionally drove me crazy, especially with her clackety false teeth and her pinching homework but she was just the most gorgeous woman. When I visit her homeland, I will kiss the ground as soon as I land.. grateful to Ireland for giving her to us. I will dip my toes in the River Liffey as she used to and will kiss the Blarney Stone although she told me I didn’t have to do that because I was born with the gift of the gab lol.
There are so many stories I could tell you about “my wild Irish rose” but maybe I’ll save some for a later date. I’m going to go play some Irish music and meander awhile in my garden of memories. She is always worth remembering.
She is dearer by far than the world’s brightest star,
And I call her my wild Irish rose.
Happy Meandering.. Livvy