A London nursing home. The shape of a figure beneath the sheets. My grandfather could just about whisper. He wanted a cigarette and a glass of whiskey. “Come up on the bed here, young fella,” he said, gruffly. It was 1975 and I was 10 years old and it would be the first — and probably last — time I’d ever see him. Gangrene was taking him away. He reached for the bottle and managed to light a cigarette. Spittle collected at the edge of his mouth. He began talking, but most of the details of his life had already begun slipping away.
Long wars, short memories.
Later that afternoon my father and I bid goodbye to my grandfather, boarded a train, then took a night boat back home to Dublin. Nothing but ferry-whistle and stars and waves. Three years later, my grandfather died. He had been, for all intents and purposes, an old drunk who had abandoned his family and lived in exile. I did not go to the funeral. I still, to this day, don’t even know what country my grandfather is buried in, England or Ireland.
Sometimes one story can be enough for anyone: it suffices for a family, or a generation, or even a whole culture — but on occasion there are enormous holes in our histories, and we don’t know how to fill them.
[Photo Credit: Grant Howard]