My (Maeve’s) mom died suddenly this past January. I’d like to tell you about her. She had beautiful, long, red hair, fair skin and freckles. She was one hundred percent Irish and her name was Teresa. My dad always said he loved the sound of her voice on the telephone. Warm, deep, rich. I liked the sound of her voice too. Happy to be talking with me, comforting, empathetic. Her nickname for us was, “lovey.” When we were younger, she called my brother and myself her “bummies.” I joked that Glenn was an adopted “bummy.”
In public, my mother preferred to be in the background and was happy when my more outgoing father was talking. But she was comfortable in more intimate settings and would often tell us about her childhood, most of which was spent on a farm in Ireland. Her Irish-immigrant mother traveled frequently with her between Brooklyn, NY and Ireland. My grandfather, who helped Ireland gain their independence from Great Britain, remained in Brooklyn and faithfully worked at the Post Office.
Mom, Grandma Ireland (our family name for her) and Aunt Annie lived on a farm near Castlebar, Ireland. They had a cow named Love Dove, a dog named Topsy and a duck, Goo Goo. She told us about boiling Guiness with butter and sugar and how delicious it tasted or eating dilisk (a type of seaweed) boiled in milk. She went to a one-room schoolhouse in Snugboro. Her older brother, John, biked to the town of Cong, to watch the filming of “A Quiet Man,” with Maureen O’Hara and John Wayne. Her memories made Ireland sound like an idyllic and charming place, which it is. (My maternal grandparent’s names’ were Patrick and Bridget, two great Irish saints).
When I first met my husband, Glenn, he told me that one of the things he appreciated about me was that I was receptive. This puzzled me and seemed to go against the grain of feminism, which is part of the air in which I matured. Didn’t he appreciate my wit, my intelligence? Yes, he did. But I was also able to receive him and others. To give space. To leave room.
Mom did this. With dad and my brother and myself, with Glenn and our relatives. She accompanied us on our journeys. She listened and empathized and tried to help. She laughed and cried with us and she and my dad gave us money to support our dreams and current interests; buying me skis, an electric piano and a guitar.
Since returning from teaching English in South America, she encouraged me to practice my Spanish. Consequently, we’re close friends with a Mexican-American family with whom we speak a blend of Spanish and English.
Mom was super-generous and she loved to have a feeling of bounty, whether it was at our Irish-style brunches, Christmas Eve buffet or going with me to Pizza Hut after a high school day or as adults to tea shops. “Have whatever you like,” she liked to say with a flourish.
Whatever Mom tackled, she did well. She had neat handwriting, was organized and very punctual, preferring to be a half-hour early than cutting it close. She didn’t learn to drive until I was four (having lived most of her adult life in New York City) and was a cautious driver. She didn’t like highways and instead of traveling on one, she’d find an alternative, circuitous route. But she was steady and measured and I enjoyed weekend trips with my parents to Vermont. She’d have her map highlighted with her route, although every once in a while she liked to explore a new road. It took me a while to see that although a trip on these slower, quieter roads took longer, it ended up being a more peaceful trip. I find myself traveling them more and more.
As a young adult, I was thinking of going to law school. I bought some formal dresses to wear to my summer job in a legislator’s office. Mom had trained as a nurse and had worked for a short period of time but was mostly a homemaker. As I thought about my future career, I wondered what she would think if I were to wear heels and suits to work each day and my domain was more in the workplace than the home?
I’ve ended up working in education, both in school and through the Church. The day my mom died, my dad and I stay over at the hotel where my parents had stayed near the hospital. At breakfast the next morning, I looked out and saw a law school campus. I thought about how mom didn’t make a seemingly huge impact on the external world but she made a HUGE difference in her family’s life. It felt cozy to be with her. We felt loved and everything felt right, regardless of what may have been happening in our personal lives or on the world stage. I miss hearing her perspective on things but imagine what she’d say.
A few last things I’d like you to know about mom is that she was funny. She had a dry wit and made interesting and astute observations about the world around her. When I was in a pressurized situation at work in which I was being blamed for a student’s behavior, mom quipped, “I wonder if ______ knows how many problems he’s causing?” Being able to laugh with her made it better.
She loved Agatha Christie novels and true crime stories. She was curious about what makes people tick and wondered about the darker side of human nature. She was an avid reader and even as a teenager, would spend afternoons in the library reading. The Irish have a long, literary tradition and her father gave her a love of reading. As an adolescent, she recommended some wonderful books to me, such as “Cheaper by the Dozen,” and the Betsy Ray series by Maud Hart Lovelace.
Growing up, she and my father would often sit companionably, reading their respective books. In later years, they switched to books on tape, listening while driving in the car or walking on the treadmill. They also loved watching old movies and shared many with my brother and myself.
Mom had a strong, sociological bent and could tell you populations of different cities and national trends in different countries, the workplace, etc. She had a thirst and love of learning.
We miss her greatly but look forward to reuniting one day in heaven.
May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace.
THANK YOU for the many wonderful expressions of sympathy so many have shared!! And Happy Fourth of July to you and your family.