Life runs in funny old cycles. Being looked after by your parents, then you raise children, then looking after your parents, the next bit after that is being the old person. I took my mother in law to the Songbook in the Everyman Theatre last night, which she loved, singing her little heart out. Looking around the room there were a lot of ladies like her, loving the old tunes, singing along and knowing every word. Now, I’m not ready for that yet but it set me thinking about what you lot, the thirty somethings out there, will do to entertain my generation when the time comes. We’re the disco era, rockers, growing old disgracefully and loving it. No happy, clappy singalong for us my friends, we’ll go out playing air guitar, or real ones for that matter, eating ‘happy’ cookies and being totally irreverent of everyone and everything, including ourselves. You’ve been warned 😉 Hope you enjoy the following story, it was published in the Holly Bough in 2015.
The Letter by Anne Elizabeth Bevan
The postman pushed his bicycle up the rough track to the old cottage door, his head bent against the wind.
Hello Mrs. Murphy, hardy day out, he said to the lady sheltering behind the slightly open door. Come in, come in, she said. Will you have a cup of tea, ah you will, to warm you for the journey. He sat at the kitchen table, knowing he had no use refusing. It’s beginning to snow out there, I won’t stay long today, he said. Mrs. Murphy didn’t get many visitors these days; all the old ones were gone now. Still, she loved the wireless and the very rare letter she got from that son of hers in New York; that and the postman’s visits kept her going. There you are now, she said, handing him the cup and saucer; she never used mugs, ruined a lovely cup of tea, she said. Have a biscuit Dermot, she said, proffering the plate of USA biscuits.
I’ve a letter for you to post, she said, to Daniel in New York; I haven’t finished writing the address yet. Will you take it with you? I will, he said, sipping the scalding tea and feeling glad now that he had come in. Good, good, she muttered to herself as she pottered about the kitchen looking for a pen. These biros are no use, not like the old pens used to be, the last one leaked all over the table. It was ruined only for the oilcloth. Finishing his tea, Dermot stood up and blessed himself. I’ll collect that letter from you tomorrow Mrs. Murphy, I’m anxious to get home today, the baby is nearly due and Katy is a little nervous on her own. Okay Dermot, safe home.
In the morning the snow had stopped and Dermot made his way in bright sunshine; he called to Mrs. Murphy. He knocked at the door and waited but there was no sign of the old woman. He let himself in; nobody locked their door around here. Mrs. Murphy, he called, it’s Dermot, can I come in? When there was no answer he made his way to the kitchen where the fire was burned down to a few embers in the hearth. Mrs. Murphy sat in the armchair, her head back against a soft cushion, where she had sat since eating her breakfast, peaceful. Taking his cap off, he said a prayer for her soul. Glancing at the table where he would never again sit for a cup of tea, he saw the letter, still not ready. Opening the wad of pages, he sat down in his usual seat to read Mrs. Murphy’s last words.
Dear Daniel, I’m writing to you for Christmas, just to let you know how everything is at home. The house is much the same, it could do with a lick of paint and there’s a slate missing on the roof; I haven’t seen it as I’m not able to get out and about anymore but I can hear the wind whistling through it every night. Maybe when you come to visit you’ll take a look at it for me.
Do you remember Bob Murphy over the back road, he was no relation of ours, but your father got on great with him. Well, his daughter is after moving in with him; he was getting a bit feeble to be on his own. He’s delighted with the company and herself and the chap of the Galvin’s that she married are expecting a baby in March. They’ve asked me to come up for the dinner on Christmas day, but I’m used to me own company so I probably won’t go.
Dermot, the postman, calls every day. He brings me anything I want from the shop and he’ll be taking this letter to the post for me when it’s done. You probably remember him, he’s a son of Pat Shaughnessy from the mountain road, over by Paddy Kelly’s garage; I think you went to school with his uncle Jimmy. Now that I think of it, it was their sister that was keen on you before you went away; she married some lad from Dublin, the mother was heartbroken to see her go away like that. She never sees the grandchildren; ah sure they’re all grown up now anyway.
I gave up keeping geese, you’d have nothing out of them and the fox got a few every year, no matter what I did with them; I’m getting too old anyway to be running around after geese but I miss the company of them around the yard. Life is very quiet since your dad died; it seems like yesterday but the years are passing quickly, it will be twenty next February, the day after your birthday.
It was a made match between me and your father you know and we never looked back. He never worked up much of a sweat but it was nice having him around the place all the same. It’s very quiet without him alright.
Do you think yourself and your wife will ever come over to visit, or are you still too busy with everything? I saw in the paper that it’s much cheaper now to get an airplane from New York to Dublin than it used to be. I’d love to see you and to meet your wife, I’m sure she’s a lovely girl. Do you think you could send me some photographs of your two boys, I’d like to be able to show them to Dermot or Bob Murphy’s daughter when they call in.
The doctor says that I’m getting cataracts but it will be a while before they can do anything about them; in the meantime my eyesight will be getting worse. I’m a bit frightened of that, your eyesight is a blessing and I love a read of the paper. Thank God that’s all that’s wrong with me though so I should be grateful for small mercies. That’s what Father Mathews says anyway; he calls once a week to give me communion, always in a hurry though, it’s very hard to get him to have a cup of tea. .
I don’t have much money but I save a little every week, Dermot puts some in the post office for me. It’s for you and the boys when I’m gone but hopefully that won’t be for another while, sure I haven’t even met them yet. Maybe in the spring you might get to come over, I can give you the money then to help with the cost of travelling. I miss you Daniel.
I have to tell you about my strange dream. I was sitting out by the stream that runs the end of the acre with my feet in the water. Your father came and sat beside me. I was sorry I woke up; it made me miss him all over again. He looked handsome, Daniel, very handsome.
Dermot stopped reading for a minute, looking over at the young girl in the old lady’s body lying back in the armchair, sorry now that he hadn’t called more often lately.
When I wrote last Christmas I was telling you that my sister Eileen, up in Clare, died during the year; I’m not sure if you got that letter. I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t get to the funeral but I didn’t have anyone to bring me and I wasn’t fit enough to go on my own. I did get a lovely letter from her daughter Mary; she was the one with the red hair, a lovely girl. She said if they’re ever down this way that they’ll call to see me. I expect they haven’t had time yet though with everything.
It’s just as well I couldn’t find a biro to address the envelope yesterday or I wouldn’t have been able to put this bit in, didn’t I dream about your father again last night. I dreamed I fell asleep in the armchair by the fire. Maggie, he said, wake up Maggie. Would you like a bit of a dance. Then he took me in his arms and we danced around the kitchen, just like old times. He was a great dancer, your father; I was the envy of all the girls at the dances. I saw you in the dream too Daniel, sitting at the table, singing along with your dad.
Dermot put down the letter on the oilcloth tablecloth and wiped his eyes. He took the telegram that he had come to deliver yesterday from his pocket. He hadn’t had the heart to give it to Mrs. Murphy when she was in such good form and he couldn’t see what harm it would do to wait another day; thank God he had waited.
The telegram said: Daniel died yesterday STOP Funeral Wednesday next STOP Will write later STOP Angela Murphy