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Now that I'm a grandmother

By Mary Manning / January 26, 1987

WHEN I was a little girl in Ireland many years ago, I often spent weekends in the country with my grandmother. She was a widow. She lived in Killiney, just south of Dublin right on the Bay to which one traveled by what was known as ``the slow train.'' I used to be ushered into a second-class carriage by Mother in Dublin, and I was met in Killiney by a cab driver called Kane, who drove a very, very old horse. Both driver and horse were usually half asleep. Grandma would be waiting for me in the front hall with Bridget, the housekeeper, and an Irish terrier called Boy. ``Poor darling! You must be dead tired.'' She looked out at Kane's cab and dispirited horse with distaste. ``There you are Kane. One and sixpence, and I wish you'd feed that poor animal better. Come in, darling. Not the horse, Mary, I mean you.'' Laughter and kisses followed.

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Bridget took my suitcase upstairs and I followed Grandma into the drawing room. If it was winter, a big fire was burning in the grate and later on the gas lamps would be lighted. There was no electricity in Ireland then. Upstairs we used candles or oil lamps. A tea table was laid out beside the fireplace.

We sat down and Grandma patted my shoulder and said, ``How is school, darling? I'm sure you are doing well. You're such a great reader.''

``Miss Molyneux, our teacher, is reading `The Bride of Lammermoor' aloud to us in English class while we knit khaki scarves for the boys at the front,'' I replied, holding my hands to the fire.

It was 1916 and World War I was in full swing. In Ireland we were fast approaching the 1916 Rebellion. My father was an army doctor somewhere in France. That year I was 10 years old.

``What a beautiful idea,'' exclaimed Grandma, ``listening to a great book and doing a good deed at the same time. After supper we shall read together as usual. Let me see - how far have we got in `David Copperfield'?''

``Janet! Donkeys!'' I laughed; ``Remember David's aunt, Betsy Trot-wood?''

``What a memory you have! Well, you can read to me while I crochet. Goodness, I think you've grown taller since I saw you last, three weeks ago.''

I preened myself in front of the mirror. I wanted to be tall because the FitzMaurice-Mannings (hyphenated because they kept marrying each other from force of habit) were all tall. Grandma was of medium height and retained her slender waist and straight bearing to the end of her life. There were only a few strands of white in her brown hair, which still swung to her waist. I used to watch her doing her hair in the morning before the mirror. She held one long strand between her teeth while she coiled the other strand into a coronet on top of her head. Then the first strand was released and coiled somewhat lower down. ``I've worn my hair this way since I was 15,'' she once told me proudly.

At 6:30 we had supper in the dining room - usually scrambled eggs, our own eggs, toast, and homemade jam. Grand-ma's mysterious sister, Aunt Sophia, joined us for supper; she always wore black and an expression to match. After supper she would disappear to her room with a gloomy black cat which slept on her bed. She had had a sad life, we were told. Her husband had left her, for some unknown reason, shortly after they were married and there were no children. Grandma's only unmarried daughter, my revered Aunt Louie, lived mostly upstairs, where she had a bedroom and sitting room-cum-office. She was a writer, a labor leader, and a powerful personality. She usually worked late and had a tray brought up to her room.