For the past few weeks, I’ve been hanging out, two days a week with Mary P; not to be confused with Mary Alice. Funny how Irish women, tend to have “Mary” names (for the record, my middle name is…Mary). What has made this experience so much fun is Mary P is in control of her faculties. She’s 92 years of age and loves to tell me stories of what it was like growing up in Syracuse, NY; getting married and then moving here to raise a family. “My kids keep telling me I should be writing all these stories down…so they can pass them onto their kids. You would think by now they would have created their own stories to pass down…” She tells me, just before opening up another chapter in her life.
When I first came to her house to interview, I was nervous. I brought along my references; just to cover my bases and was a little frightened that I wouldn’t be able to make it work. Mary P put me right at ease. She took one look at me and said, “Ah, kid, red hair, I always wanted a child with red hair”. Her daughter Colleen looked at her mom and said, “Mom, ask her what her maiden name is…” She did and I responded. “Oh, your Irish too? You’re in kid”.
Mary P had twelve children. One of her favorite stories involves her husband, when they were first engaged. “He asked me how many children I wanted to have. I said, ‘Oh seven or eight’. Well that almost ended the engagement right there and then. He was thinking more like three or four”. Then she laughs. I sometimes study her face, when she’s telling me these stories. You can see a wisp of a smile cross her face, at the feelings these memories have evoked.
Mary P is similar to my own Dad, in that they still have elephant sized memories and can recall the smallest of details, like the color of dress she wore to her sisters christening, 80+ years ago. The other day I was telling her about my father’s family and for the life of me, I had forgotten the names of my Grandmother’s sisters. In fact I could only remember one of the sisters–but couldn’t recall her name. I look at her with wonder that her memory at 92 is so much sharper than mine at 48. “Marsha, we didn’t have the distractions you have in your life today. We only had children.” Another time she’ll say “I’ve noticed lately I’m having trouble recalling some names. It’ll come to me in the middle of the night you know…” I smile when she says things like that and say “Well at least you have an excuse…”
We’re a good team. I get to brag about my children and she continues to bless me with her history, charm and witticisms. “Did you know I went to fat camp as a kid? Not because I was too fat, but because I was too thin. Can you imagine…? I gained 22 pounds before I was sent back home”. No I can’t imagine, except while listening to Mary P.