Monday, June 21, 2010

My Uncle, My Mentor

Last week my Uncle Pa died. As I made my way home from Dublin after his funeral and burial I was overcome with memories of the man who helped and guided me through those perilous years, between fifteen and nineteen. Remembering how his shoulders shook, rising and falling in quick succession as he laughed at my jokes and listened to my stories. The man who tapped the base of his pipe into the palm of his hand to loosen the tobacco ash before empting the contents into an astray or  the fireplace. The man who drove his green Volkswagen down from Dublin every Friday and back again after the tea on Sundays. This man was my mother’s brother, the second child in a family of six.  She was the youngest of the family, he was fifteen years her senior.

My mind flooded with memories of the January we moved home to Ireland. Pa met us in Shannon. Looking back now I don’t know how we did it, but somehow my mother and all four of us kids managed to squeeze into Pa’s little green Volkswagen, with near on a dozen suitcases strapped to the roof and bulging out of the boot. It was a long tedious journey from Shannon to Dungarvan after our transatlantic hike. But we survived it and arrived home safely.

The next day my mother brought me to the same convent she had attended. I sat in the convent parlour as Reverend Mother, Mother Alphonsus and my mother discussed my future schooling. I was to be placed in the inter-cert class. The Reverend Mother insisted it would be a pure waste of money for my mother to pay the £20 late fee, allowing me sit the exam with my classmates. After much toing and froing, it was decided the discipline of the exams was the best course for me.

When we arrived back to the house, Pa asked how it all went. I jubilantly told him I was starting school on Monday and would be sitting the inter-cert with the rest of the girls in my class. I noticed his eyebrows rise slightly as he took the pipe out of his mouth and examined it intently.

“Is that right now?” he said as he looked over my head towards my mother who just smiled back at him.

He turned to me saying if I was determined to do this, he would gladly help me. I beamed with joy. He was in my corner.

I said, “That’s great.  I am going to need all the help I can get. I have about 1200 years of history to learn. A rather intense English program to tackle. Not to mention Irish geography.”

I know it was a bit cheeky, but hey I was a teenager!

“Well that is one tall order,” he replied.

Let me add, this was the first week of February and the exams began the second week of June.

“I suppose we better make a start. Well Ann, can you tell me where Kerry is?”

Delighted with myself I replied, “County Killarney!”

He smiled weakly, looked at my mother and said, “We have a lot of work to do here.”

The word that warmed my heart in that statement was “we”. Uncle Pa had decided right there and then he was with me in this. I wasn’t alone. At that moment I believed I had this inter-cert thing under control!

That very afternoon Pa drew a map of Ireland, divided it into the four provinces and at the side of the map listed each county under its province heading. I was to learn the spelling of each county and where they were located on the map. I was read about the lives of Robert Emmet, Daniel O’Connell, and Charles Stewart Parnell and write an essay on each for the following Friday. And so began what became the pattern of my days with my Uncle, my tutor and my mentor. I went to school from 9am – 4pm and then attended study from 5pm-7pm, Monday to Friday. I arrived home from study and after a cup of tea and quick bite to eat resumed my studies until 11-11:30.

Pa arrived home about 9pm on Friday evenings. After a cup of tea I would sit to the table with him and hand over all the written work he had assigned me the previous weekend and then discuss any problems or questions I had. Our routine was study and tutoring on Saturday afternoons from 2-5. This was the time my inaccuracies would be addressed. Then working on the next chapter of history from the books he had gotten to supplement my schoolbook. Sunday afternoons from 2-5 were spent exactly the same way. Sitting at the kitchen table with my uncle surrounded by books learning another chapter of history and more geography before he headed back to Dublin that evening for another week. I did my daily schoolwork and Pa’s weekly assignments. He gave me his weekends in order to allow me fulfil my desire, to do the inter-cert. He guided me and prodded me and sometimes he got frustrated with me, but even in his frustration I felt supported. He never made me feel like I was wasting his time. His time was my time.

Pa took holidays during exam week. He revised with me, prepped me and supported me. When I arrived home after completing my history paper, we went into the sitting room and he closed the door. He paced the length of the sitting room as I related the answers I had given. He didn’t say one word during this time. When I finished, I nervously looked up at him. He had stopped pacing, his eyes were moist, and he took both my hands and pulled me up off the sofa and gave me a big bear hug. I knew then and there, I had passed my history paper. I cried with relief and joy, I had not disappointed him.

In loving memory of Patrick J. Nagle.


Brigid said...

Ann, what a beautiful tribute and what a truly wonderful man and I love your description of him and the pipe smoking.
I am so sorry you lost someone so dear to you and I hope he'll always watch over you and yours.
God rest his soul.

Niamh said...

This is a lovely tribute,Ann. What a kind man your uncle was. And you were some brave teen!- Tackling the intercert with only a few months to cover the curriculum! Maybe he was a bit braver though, he might've known what you were facing into! County Killarney!lol

Al said...

Oh Ann, I am so sorry for your loss.
He sounds like he was such a wonderful person. You are so lucky you had him in your life.
Take care.

Ann Best said...

This is beautiful. I assume you have put this in some "book of memories." Not only is it beautifully written, but it is a wonderful tribute to a man who was always dearly beloved and such a huge part of your life all these years. What a loss you must feel. But he will always be close to you. And I love this picture you posted of him. Such a handsome man. His great character shows through his face. Thanks for sharing this.

Susannah said...

What a beautiful tribute Ann - sorry for your loss.

Nicole MacDonald said...

Sounds like you were incredibly lucky to have had such an Uncle.

Old Kitty said...

Oh Ann!!! What a wonderful tribute to an amazing amazing man!! What a beautiful relationship you and your uncle had. It really is special and unique and you have captured this beautifully here.

It's so sad to hear of his passing. I am so so so sorry. But he lives on - you've done him proud!!!

Take care

Jan Morrison said...

You really make him leap off the page! He sounds like the solid base of your loving family.

Watery Tart said...

I'm sorry to hear he's gone. He sounds like a wonderful person to have had in your life, and a great influence, that I'm sure you are passing on.

Theresa Milstein said...

Ann, I'm so sorry about your Uncle Pa. Thanks for sharing such a nice story. How lovely he went out of his way to help you catch up on all that history.

As children and teens, we all need adults in our lives who gives us something different, special that our parents can't. He sounds like he was that kind of person for you.

Jackee said...

What a great memorial. Certainly the type of man I would have loved to have known, especially the adorable pipe and jacket! What a great Pa for sure.

Thanks for sharing, Ann. My heart is thoroughly warmed!

jinksy said...

It's not often youngsters can find such encouragement - how lucky you were, and what lovely memories you now have.

Barbara Scully said...

Ann this is a lovely tribute written straight from your heart with tons of love and affection, making it a beautiful read for those of us who didn't know Pa. What a wonderful man. It must have been such a gift to have had such a powerful bond with this man.

I have no doubt he will be continuing to watch over you into the future!

Thanks for sharing these precious memories!

KarenG said...

I love this! What a great man!

arlee bird said...

Very nice tribute. There's nothing much better than support from one's family.

Tossing It Out

Jen said...

What a wonderful man, I'm sorry for your loss Ann but I love that you still keep the spirit alive!

Talli Roland said...

Oh, you have actually made me start crying at this. Seriously - I can just picture the pride on Uncle Pa's face at what the two of you accomplished. He sounds like such a special man and I'm so sorry for your loss.

Travis Erwin said...

My condolences.

Olive said...

What a beautiful tribute Ann and I'm so sorry for your loss. Take care, Olive

Lydia Kang said...

What a heartfelt tribute. How wonderful that you had such a rich experience with him.
Take care,

Anonymous said...

Hi Ann. I'm sorry to hear your uncle died. You've written a beautiful tribute to him. You are an amazing woman and your uncle would be (is) proud of your accomplishments. I'm missing our chats and look forward to next fall. PF in EC

Rachna Chhabria said...

Hi Ann..its a touching tribute to a wonderful man who supported you completely.