Every Christmas Eve I place a lighted candle in my window – less for any cultural or religious reason than for fear my granny might appear and scare the wits out of me.
She always claimed that such a gentle flame helped guide lost souls home. I think she may have been theologically mistaken and its purpose was to assist the Virgin Mary and St. Joseph find a safe spot to deliver the baby Jesus; still I never disagreed, for my granny was a formidable woman.
It wasn’t that she was inflexible; she merely went her own way without regard for the world or its ways. In fact she was of an extremely sympathetic nature and, when given, her love was unconditional and never withdrawn despite all grievances, real and imagined.
I don’t think the term “drama queen” had been coined in her day, but it summed her up to a tee. There was little she couldn’t make much of.
She shed copious tears every time she heard “Too Soon To Know” by Roy Orbison. She claimed he had written it in honor of his wife who had been burned alive. I’ve never corroborated the veracity of this showbiz tragedy – sometimes ignorance is bliss with regard to family statements.
She claimed to be married to “the most unimaginative man in the world.” And perhaps she was for I never heard my grandfather reply to this particular charge, often as it was hurled at him.
In fact I don’t think I heard him say much of anything to her; men back then didn’t say a whole lot to women, especially when children were around. He must have murmured “sweet nothings” on a number of occasions, however, for they had five children not counting three that died soon after birth. She missed those three souls dearly and often whispered their names.
Silent though her relationship was with my grandfather she called out mightily to him as the undertakers wrestled with his coffin the night he died; my father matched her grief in sheer blasphemy as he labored unsuccessfully to unhinge the jammed door of the bedroom.
Through gales of tears my granny cried out that she would soon be joining my grandfather. My father, a rather salty and unsentimental merchant marine, in the midst of all this keening declared loudly that, “this goddamned door will have to be crow-barred off.”
When such a tool could not be located he removed the windows instead and we managed to lower the coffin into the hearse through gale-force wind and rain.
The shenanigans did not stop there. My grandfather was a much-respected man and the ensuing well-oiled wake reached riotous proportions. So much so that when we arrived at the graveyard two days later amidst the still blowing gale, the conditions were, in the words of the race-horsing community, extremely soft.
My two brothers and I along with three of our male teenaged cousins had been conscripted to carry the coffin from the hearse to the graveside on woefully hungover shoulders. Lo and behold, the youngest cousin slipped on the wet clay of St. Ibar’s cemetery and, but for a leap across the grave by my ever-profane father, all half-dozen of us would have ended up six feet under the coffin.
Regarding this save, my Uncle Sean was heard to murmur that if Wexford ever had such a goalkeeper, Kilkenny would have won far fewer All-Irelands.
My father was apparently not blessed with great imagination either for later that night after my granny had retired to her own room, spent from his labors he lay down on my grandfather’s bed. His last words before slipping into coma-like sleep were, “out with the old, in with the new.”
As Malachy McCourt once opined, “I come from a long line of dead people.” I suppose we all do. Whatever imagination I’m blessed with, I daresay my granny had a large say in it.
So, this Christmas Eve, in her honor, I’ll light a candle in the window for I know she’s hovering out there somewhere keeping a melodramatic eye on me. I just hope to God she doesn’t read this column.