Our third and youngest son, Jesse, took the flight from Shannon on Easter Monday. I drove him up. His mother said she couldn’t come because of the Bridge Congress but I know it’s because she’d be too sad.
His two older brothers are already in OZ, one in Sydney and one in Melbourne. We had hoped that they would all end up in the same area, maybe share accommodation, but it wasn’t to be. Jesse is going to Perth. A relative is a carpenter over there, legal, with his own business, so he’s giving Jesse a start. Jesse’s straight out of FÁS and has a City and Guilds in carpentry.
My wife, Marge and I traipse to the Post Office in our turns to buy booklets of €1.10 stamps matched with ten Air Mail stickers. She writes letters to each of them each week, cuts out wedding pictures from the two local newspapers showing lads who went to school with them who got married. She sends the odd obituary too of older people they would have known. Sometimes Marge has to buy a second or third copy of the newspaper to send one to each son. I argue that she could photocopy the page, but she says, ‘no, there’s nothing like having the originals.’
Each son had his own bedroom at home. Their mother cleans and airs each room once a week, has left all their posters and stuff just as they left them. She Skype’s each lad once a week too and sometimes I’m allowed join in at the tail end.
Anyhow, we are making dinner, not a special or Sunday dinner, just a regular weekday dinner. I am peeling the parsnips and Marge is scraping the carrots. She chastises me, ‘you’re doing them too thick’.
‘Here, you do the carrots and I’ll do the parsnips’.
We have to time the dinner well because she’s a follower of Coronation Street and Fair City and must be sitting down after dinner in front of them. I hate ‘soap operas’, am usually washing-up while they’re on. I sweep the floor and check the hall, stairs and landing in case they need a bit of a hoovering. I have become very domesticated since my carpentry business folded.
I buy my Irish Times on Saturday and cut out the crossword and post it off to Philip, – he’s the middle son, the one in Melbourne. I add little yellow Post-Its with local sports results: Dr Crokes 1–12, Austin Stacks 2–8, that sort of thing. He could get any results he wants off the Internet but getting them from his auld fella has more of a kick in it.
I play golf and Marge plays bridge. She has no interest in golf and I have even less in bridge. We do have lots of friends in common though. I could be playing golf with the wives and she playing bridge with the husbands. If we weren’t in love and Catholic and normal and happy, I guess some of us would be having affairs with each other. At golf and bridge the main topic of conversation is… children abroad. It’s endless. And not one person says their offspring is lonely, or hasn’t found a job yet, or experiences prejudice, or is finding things hard, oh no, everything’s wonderful. Wonderful my arse. I am loneliest when I think of grandchildren, and if we’ll ever have any. And if we do, they will be Australian grandchildren, and how can we really be hands-on, loving grandparents from this distance.
I go to a lot of soccer, Gaelic and rugby matches, am a ‘member’ who gets all the Munster tickets. It’s the one thing I get ‘down’ about. None of my three sons are here to share it. I bring the brothers, the nephews, other mates, but that’s not the same. My lads get to see the more important matches though, on the Internet or in the Irish bars. They ring me on the mobile afterwards and we ‘eff and blind’ on the ins and outs of the game
Our mahogany dining room table that easily sits eight but at a push would seat ten, was the cornerstone of our dining room, of our whole home really. Around it were numerous birthday and Christmas dinners and such. When Martin, our eldest, was home in the summer, we had three Sunday lunches at the table, but it felt huge, huge. Marge decided it was better pushed back to the wall than in the centre of the room. ‘Looks less vast’ she said, so the three of us shoved it back. She was worse than she has ever been this last time, when Martin went back. I was all choked up myself, but Jesus, Marge was very bad.
Jesse, our youngest, has promised he won’t do any gambling over there. I don’t know where that obsession came from. When they were growing up, Marge and I took them to Tralee Races one day, each year, during the Rose of Tralee festival, they’d have their pocket money saved up and would bet their 50 pence each-way or whatever. A good healthy introduction to the whole scene, the same way as we always went to Mick O’Neill’s pub after a day at the seaside, I’d have a pint, Marge a ‘medium’ and the lads a two litre bottle of Coke between them. They’d have a game of Pool in the back. Taking them to the pub at such a young age didn’t make alcoholics out of them! Which is why I can’t figure how Jesse started heavy gambling. He had a job here for a while but we had to arrange with the employers to collect his wages every Friday; then dole him out some money bit by bit. He’d have lost the lot by the time he’d get home otherwise.
Marge collects silver, antique silver and it comes out for special occasions. Today she is polishing them, an annual task, one she takes very seriously. She had an interest in them long before she met me when she was left a collection of a late priest-uncle of hers and continued collecting those lines and eras. A London silver brandy warmer from around 1770 has pride of place in our cabinet. I joke that it’s obsolete since I never warm my brandy in it, but there you go. My joke is met with silence. Once when the boys were small my wife nearly had a fit when she came home and they were using the silver as weapons in some kind of ancient battleground play. She has to ‘take stock’ of them all the time. How she thinks any of them would disappear is beyond me, (with only the two of us here). She says she remembers Uncle Gaybo on the radio having a tale of a woman from whom one of her friends was stealing little knick knacks from the house. And she merely wrote a note and put it in a prominent place. The note said ‘Stop it. We know you’re at it.’ Just that, ‘Stop it. We know you’re at it.’
Martin, our eldest (he’s the electrician in the family), crafted lights into the display cabinet. One of them shines particularly on a long handled soup ladle by Patrick Connell from around 1785. I whistled last Saturday when I saw one in the Irish Times’ antiques page and they claimed it would fetch between €5,000 and €7,000. A few months ago, a reporter from the local Kerryman newspaper was doing a series on collectors and wanted to come and interview Marge, but we decided against it, no point in advertising the fact that we have all of this stuff, especially as we plan to make quite a few trips down under in the future.
In the supermarket I run into Martin’s first girlfriend. She has a little boy of about four now and a toddler. She’s married to a teacher and she’s a teacher herself. She asks after Martin, Philip and Jessie and says to tell them she said hello. She smells of sweaty armpits with all her rushing and racing I suppose and the smell lingers in the aisle after she’s gone. I recall another occasion where we were all sweating together, cheering on Martin and the local club from the stands on Fitzgerald Stadium in Killarney. She must have only been about sixteen then. God,time flies.
With the boys gone my wife has very little to think about but much to worry her. This week all that’s bothering her is what’ll happen to our antiques when we’re dead. We even argued about it. I said, ‘the boyshave their own lives now, if they wish to have items shipped out to whatever part of the world they’re in, so be it. But if they don’t, they don’t. They might contact Mealy’s or Sotheby’s and get rid of everything, or might not. And so be it.’ I made her cry then, I hate that, making her cry. But I always make it up to her in my own way in time.
Most weekday afternoons we drive to the Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre for a coffee and a short walk. They market this place as ‘soft’ adventure tourism, it used to be the town dump once upon a time. We love it here.
‘The birds and wildlife haven’t found it yet,’ I say, ‘don’t know it’s there.’
‘I suppose you’re right,’ she says.
‘They should put it on Twitter,’ says I, and the two of us have a good laugh.
‘Speaking of tweeting,’ Marge says, ‘Jesse was just on. Apparently Philip is seeing someone in Melbourne.’
‘Oh,’ I say, ‘I’m delighted.’ Maybe a girlfriend at last. I had always secretly wondered if my middle son, Philip, was gay. He has certainly never brought a woman home, and him twenty-six now.
‘Yes,’ my wife continues, animatedly engrossed in her smart phone, ‘apparently she’s Italian. He’s re-tweeted stuff about her now.’
I don’t understand all this computer stuff. Marge is the techie person in our house. Jesse did explain Twitter to me though and was telling me how it was originally called Jitter and then Twitch. The fella who invented it must be a millionaire.
After introducing water charges they are now abandoning them,’ I say to Philip, our middle son, on the phone, ‘did you ever hear the likes of it.’ My wife is listening intently as she’s preparing lunch. We both wonder if he will mention anything about this alleged relationship with this Italian woman, but there is nothing forthcoming. His mother releases the phone from my hands. Her only news for him is that a second ALDI store is coming to town. I throw my eyes to the ceiling, wondering what on earth that useless piece of information is to him.
Every Sunday we take a longer drive. This week we go to Castlegregory. We haven’t been there since the boys were small. We are surprised at the erosion. We stand in a spot where you used to see only sandhills everywhere and now you can only see the sea.
‘Do you remember Martin and Philip pushing Jesse in our old push cart down the sandhills?’ Marge asks. I nod and put my arm on her shoulder. Soon it rains so we sit it out in the car with the weekend newspapers. We see a young family with two little boys and a baby. It would have been us thirty years ago. Marge reads out the notice of a forthcoming antique auction and I start to grumble under my breath that ‘we need another antique like a hole in the head’. She laughs at my reaction, she laughs and laughs and says; ‘it’s ok Pat, our collection is complete.’
Noel King was born and lives in Tralee, Co Kerry. In this, his 50th year, he has reached his 1000th publication of a poem, haiku or short story in magazines and journals in thirty-eight countries. His poetry collections are published by Salmon: Prophesying the Past, (2010), The Stern Wave (2013) and Sons (2015). He has edited more than fifty books of work by others (Doghouse Books, 2003 – 2013) and was poetry editor of Revival Literary Journal (Limerick Writers’ Centre) in 2012/13. A short story collection, The Key Signature and Other Stories will be published by Liberties Press in 2017.