Sunday, December 9, 2012

Grandmother's 100th

     My late Grandfather’s favorite song was The Rose Of Tralee.  I remember him singing softly, “oh no twas the truth in her eyes ever dawning, that made me love Mary the rose of Tralee… ".  This would have been his Mary’s, (my Grandmother’s), 100th birthday were she still living. 

     Mary O’Hora was part of my life from the day I was born and losing her was a terrible blow.   The call came early one cold February morning.   I watched my husband’s eyes fill with tears as he handed me the phone.  For a second I hesitated, I knew I didn’t want to hear whatever was about to be said.  It was my Mother, telling me an aneurism no one suspected was even there had ruptured and Grandma was gone.  My first act was to retreat to my bedroom to offer prayers for her soul, (those Sisters of St. Joseph taught me well), and my next was to sob.

Grandma on the far left
     Being her only granddaughter, the two of us were close and I may have been ever so slightly spoiled.  Grandma delighted in buying me dresses, shoes, my beloved Easter bonnets and little white gloves, and yes, she bought me a pony; so what, lots of kids have ponies.  She taught me to make pie crust, inadvertently taught me to enjoy Manhattans by slipping me the whiskey infused cherries from hers and made me feel completely loved.  She could be strict too; there was no excuse for missing Mass on Sunday morning, or the Stations during Lent, and woe to the shop keeper who earned her displeasure.  Once after berating one for less than stellar service she turned to my ten year old self and whispered with a twinkle in her eye, “we aren’t Irish for nothing”.

     Grandma once asked me what I would like to have of hers after she was gone and though I didn’t want to consider such a thing, I answered," the Bible".  She bought it in 1931 when she married my Grandfather and it was massive, or so it seemed to a small child.  I would take the Bible from its place of honor on the inlaid table in her front parlor, and carefully lay it on the floor.  There I’d sit under the watchful eyes of the JFK bust on the television and Pope Paul IV’s photo on the wall,  leafing through its pages, transported as I gazed at photos of the Vatican, the far away deserts of the holy land and brightly colored illustrations of martyrs and saints.

     But there was more in the Bible.  Opening it for the first time after it came into my possession I found a newspaper clipping.  It was the obituary of Grandma’s father Edward O’Hora who died when she was a young girl.  From that obituary I learned his parent’s names.  There were memorial cards for long dead relatives and a few for people I couldn’t identify.  Tucked in way near the back was a little booklet titled, “Prayers of an Irish Mother”, compiled by Mary Dolan in 1934 and published in Dublin.  My favorite prayer in the booklet:
 St. Colmcille, who suffered pain and grief of exile, watch over the children of Ireland, scattered throughout the world.  Obtain for them solace and courage, and keep them true to God in every trial and temptation!

     What a fitting prayer to be in the bible of a woman whose every grandparent was a famine immigrant.  The famine seems so long ago, and yet my grandmother knew these people who were forced from their homes and country.  How I wish I had known them too, how I wish I had asked her more about them.  Mostly though, I just wish I could talk to herself today.
 Happy Birthday Grandma, I love you!


  1. That was a beautiful tribute to your grandmother. She sounds like she was a lovely woman. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. I'm so glad you took the time to remember your grandmother on her birthday by writing down these special memories, Ellie. It is sometimes more difficult for me to write about family members that I knew and loved than those ancestors whose stories I've learned second hand.

    I, too, marvel at the few "degrees of separation" between you and I and our respective Irish famine ancestors. It difficult to fathom how close we are to that time, yet how little we know of what they suffered.

    I love the beautiful prayer to St. Colmcille that you found in your grandmother's Bible and I add my prayers to yours for the people of Ireland scattered throughout the world.