On this, the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, I am finding myself reflecting on one of the most influential women in my life and the legacy that she left behind.
My Granny Marie was a wonderful woman. With a gazillion children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she was a matriarch in so many ways. I remember I used to be fascinated that she could list off all of the family members in order of age, often with their birthdays as well, up until some of the younger great-grandchildren started arriving and the list got too long to keep up.
The whole extended family was centered around her home, a little 3 bedroom bungalow in the countryside, where you went in through the back door, straight into the kitchen, and you might be treated to some culinary delights. There was “gleen glanny gloop” (with or without a spud thrown in for good measure), the best apple tart in the country (yes, apple TART, not apple pie), banana sandwiches, sugar pieces, the best toast (I don’t know why but toast made in Granny’s house was just…. different, somehow), all washed down with “two sups” of tea. At the right time of year, you might find yourself going home with one of her infamous cakes (with or without “curns”) — underappreciated and now, in her absence, sorely missed.
I have memories of the stools she had in her kitchen, round foamy seats covered in leather and metal legs. I’d turn them upside down and sit on them, navigating the stormy seas of the kitchen floor in this makeshift boat. The kind of activity that I’d probably give out to my own daughters for doing, yet making such fond memories that I still think about now. In later years, I remember sitting in the same kitchen, listening to Granny as she shared stories of her childhood, the Blitz, meeting Granda, and lots more. Some of these tales were harrowing, like the death of her little brother as they played on the streets of Belfast, hiding under the stairs with her family as the bombs fell; yet these were told in a very matter-of-fact way. She was a strong lady, they were different times, and you just got on with things. Other memories were funny; hearing the origin of some of the sayings that had found their way into family folklore (like “DO NOT. LET HIM. GET THE MILK!”), all delivered with that wonderful laugh of hers, as she threw her head back in amusement.
As well as a host of stories and interesting food, another thing that you couldn’t miss about Granny was her faith. She was utterly devoted to her family but was equally devoted to God. Walk from the kitchen into the living room and you could see that. Among the various family photos around the walls, you would see the Sacred Heart, pride of place, with the names of her children written underneath. This same image is now displayed in my own home, as it was passed on to me, partly because I asked for it, and partly because I was the one in the family who was “into all that stuff”. 😉
One of my funniest memories of Granny was when I called in to visit her on my way home from uni one day, and noticed something lumpy sitting in her front garden as I drove my scooter down the driveway and parked up in the yard. When I asked her about it, she said not to worry, that was just the Child of Prague. She had put Him outside in the garden to get good weather for such-and-such’s granddaughter’s First Holy Communion the next day. Only, in true practical fashion, she had put Him in a plastic bag so He wouldn’t get wet!
As she shared her memories with me, the faith was brought into things at every turn — instead of dates, important memories were anchored to feast days and holy days, Churches were used as landmarks to set the scene, her seven children each had saints names that held meaning for her. She told me she prayed for everyone daily, by name, and at one point she would have said all 15 decades of the Rosary (occasionally 20) every day. In her final days, there were times when family members noticed that her lips were moving in a rhythmic fashion — praying for her family and friends, even then.
Granny passed away on 7 January 2013 (the feast day of St Raymond of Peñafort OP, as I’m sure she would like to have noted) and life simply hasn’t been the same since. Not that it has been all bad, just that it’s not what it was. There are some people whose passing leaves too big a hole to get over, and, like many others, our family has had more than our fair share of grief over the years. But, like Granny herself, we just get on with things. And she has stayed with us over the last 5 years — an unsettled baby calming down upon hearing “Sweet Heart of Jesus”, seeing my own mother pull a particular facial expression or come out with something that Granny would have said, hearing the words “Ask your Mummy does she forget where I live…” 😉
And sure enough, as time goes on I see myself turning into my mother, just as she is turning into hers. But unlike when I was a teenager and the thoughts of that would have horrified me, I’ve come to learn that this is no bad thing. Anything but. It’s a legacy, I guess. Whether that takes the form of passing on the baton of faith to the next generation, rocking a child on your knee as you sing “Shush Wee Toady” (to the tune of Stabat Mater, no less) or knowing how to make a lovely pot of “gleen glanny gloop” in the depths of winter, it’s a legacy that I’m happy to be party to. And hopefully, when the time comes, I’ll do as good a job at passing on that legacy of faith, family and love to my own girls as my mother and grandmother did.
Pics are all mine. Please don’t use without permission.
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