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.
James Dickey said,"There are so many selves in everybody, and to explore and exploit just one is wrong, dead wrong." Thank you for joining me as I strive to discover those other selves. I hope you enjoy reading my endeavours. I would be delighted to hear your comments and feedback. You all come back now hear! Ann
I am a wife and mother of four, made redundant by children who insisted on growing up. I divide my time between Wisconsin and Ireland. I am a writer, who has finally decided it’s time to brave the big scary world and try to get something published. I hope you enjoy my efforts!