Sunday, 6 December 2015

Que reste-t-il de nos amours?

Dear Reader,

Someone said to me a few weeks ago that I was an eccentric.  Now whether this is good or bad I am not sure, but I do know that in my family there was a true eccentric, my maternal grandmother, and  I thought perhaps that you might like to know a little more of her.  She was born into an Irish labouring family from Kilkenny, where her father worked on the land and her mother was a cook. She had nine brothers and sisters, all of whom had the same problems with bronchitis and coughs caught from the damp cottages they lived in.   So she was sent to Edinburgh to stay with an aunt who kept a boarding house, and here she met her first husband, a man thirty years her senior, a rich brewer.  She was very pretty with bright red hair and had a lively way with words, and she loved men and money.   After marriage, at the age of eighteen, she lived in great luxury producing two children, a boy and a girl.  The son was sent to Eton College and the girl was kept all her life as a companion. 

When her first husband died she was told that "widowers of wealth" went down to the south of France to drown their sorrows, staying in the best hotels.  So that is where Granny went.  Here she found my grandfather, a widower with eight children and a large house in Yorkshire.  I think she probably seduced him and he took her back to Yorkshire, much to the consternation of all those children, and married her.  She didn't like Yorkshire, or the eight stepchildren, and they bought a house in London's fashionable Mayfair where my mother was born.  After my grandfather died she retired to the Ritz Hotel in Piccadilly and lived there for eighteen years.  Eventually she was asked to leave the hotel because she told other guests that there were ghosts in the bedrooms, indeed that she had seen them herself.

She wore the most extraordinary clothes, always.  Her favourite coat was made of red velvet with a long train trailing along the floor behind her.  She wore this with a black hat and a transparent black spotted face veil under which were her round, tortoiseshell spectacle frames with blue glass lenses.  Going out with her in London, which I was frequently made to do, was embarrassing beyond belief.  She was, in very old age, extremely deaf so it was necessary to shout embarrassing answers to her excrutiating personal questions asked in the dining room of the Ritz Hotel.

Having said all this I was very fond of her.  Why?  Because she had the quick well known Irish wit, she was funny and she made me laugh.  Dear Reader, you will probably know by now that enjoying a joke, and generally having a merry time suits me very well, and I would like to say congratulations to Granny for having come a long way from the fields of Ireland with such spirit and tenacity.  No wonder she lived to the age of 98.

                                                                            *

Que reste-t-il de nos amours?

A kitchen somewhere in France,
a candle alight on a small round table
remains of supper not yet cleared,
two old women sitting silently,
listening to soft music.

"Que reste-t-il de nos amours?
Que reste-t-il de ces beaux jours?"

The two old women rise slowly,
start to dance,
gently holding each other close
crumpled hand in crumpled hand,
cheek brushing cheek,
no words spoken.

Is it of the once vibrant love
they had had together
that they are thinking,
or of other loves, or that life is short,
and each of us only has one turn at it,
that life is only made of moments
and that they have had their share?

"Que reste-t-il de tout cela?
Dites-le-moi".

The two old women dance on,
gently swaying,
to soft music no longer playing .....
                                                                      *

I wrote this poem after seeing the film "Iris" about Iris Murdoch's later life.


With very best wishes,    Patricia



3 comments:

Eugenie Teasley said...

I love this story about great-Granny, Trishpot! I'd heard bits and pieces of it over the years, but never all in one go. You describe her very well. I think some of her wit and tenacity has clearly lived on in her grand-daughters... xooxox

Anonymous said...

Beautiful and moving as always. I wish my family was as interesting.x

Rebecca said...

What a profound image of the two old ladies dancing. And wonderful to hear of your red-coated granny - what a woman!