What I Learned About My Mother Through My Daughter
What I Learned About My Mother Through My Daughter's Eyes
Our second daughter, Gweneth Jean Mahoney, is, I think I have reported earlier, writing my mother's story, how a young British-Irish girl of eleven, leaving a warm and loving home in Northern Ireland for a cold and uncaring home with an aunt in Connecticut, made her way, a good one, in this new land by dint of her own courage and a lot of help from her sister.
As I read the first chapters of Gwen's narrative this morning (she is a wonderful story-teller, with a fine gift for description), my eyes filled with the possibility of tears several times. She managed to stir up strong memories hiding in me from childhood. Better yet, she brought me to an understanding of a relationship that I simply took for granted, as if it were just in the nature of things, like soft rain on a spring morning.
Through my own daughter's eyes and heart I have come to understand just why my Aunt Emily, my mother's older sister, was like a second mother to me. Because Emily had promised her parents when embarking for America that she would look after her younger sister, my mother, Winifred Evelyn Weir. And she did. Again and again. Without ever hinting it was a responsibility she would not have chosen.
My Auntie Em. She sent me to Heron's haberdashery twice every year, once before Christmas and again before Easter, to buy a wool suit or a wool jacket and flannel pants. Always wool. And my fondness for that fabric continues unabated into my seventy-second year.
My Auntie Em. She shared with us a bathhouse at Scofield's Beach on Shippan Point, to which we traveled in sunshine and the threat of rain every day throughout the summer, for a picnic and plenty of salt water. Our family couldn't afford the luxury of bathhouse rental, but Auntie Em, who, as I grew older, rarely made an appearance at the beach, took care of Evelyn and her Bobby.
My Auntie Em. During the lean times when my father was out of work and the only money coming in was from three roomers, Auntie Em fed us with meat and vegetables, all we could need, from her and her husband's grocery and meat provisions store downtown. She said she would add the cost to our account. But a bill was never presented.
My Auntie Em. When her son, my cousin Henry, six years older, played shark to my guppie at Scofield Beach, threatening to drown me, what did I scream? Well, of course, "Auntie Em, save me!" And she did. She always did.
My Auntie Em. Who outfitted me for college. Who never scolded me. Who allowed me free rein in her refrigerator. Who took care of me the way she promised she would take care of her younger sister when she left home and parents in Northern Ireland.
Before reading the opening chapters of Gwen's book, I did not fully understand or see as anything special the relationship of my mother and her sister, who lived next door to us through my growing years. It is a wonder to me that this late in life I might discover something new about a person who was so central in the formation of my soul.
Now I understand why we named our first child Elizabeth Emily. And now I understand why every Christmas I feel more than an obligation, a need, to have evergreen blankets placed not only on my parents' grave but on the grave of Auntie Em and Uncle Henry.
Thank you, Gwen. I await further personal epiphanies with the chapters yet to come.