Leaving Old Eliza

He was not the first of her children to leave. A daughter had parted for England years before. But there was always the chance to see her again. This parting was different.

Death had not yet intervened in her immediate family. This was like a death. They both knew that they would not meet again.

My father sat on the low stool gazing into the fire. Elbows resting on his knees, the thumbs of his interwoven hands continually twirled around each other, first one way then the other. Since he had sat down he had not looked in his mother’s direction.

‘Aye’, he said at last.

‘We’re leavin’ the morra at ten o’clock. The bus is comin’ for us.’

He continued to gaze into the fire and avoided her eyes. The silence was broken by the collapse of a turf in the hearth, a shower of sparks rising to the sudden, popping sound.

‘You’ll write,’ she said,

‘when you get settled.’

It was a statement, not a question.

‘Aye’, my father answered as he got up to go.

My uncle Mark spoke to his departing back.

‘We’ll likely see yous in the mornin’ before yous lave.’

Old Eliza followed us to the door. My father turned to face her. On the threshold her frail shrunken figure was silhouetted against the firelight, her face in the shadow.

Above and behind the house a patch of light lingered in the north-western sky. Behind us lay the lough, its troubled waters lapping gently at the hulls of the swaying boats and against the rocks lining the shore.

My grandmother , her free hand on her son’s shoulder, spoke in a strong voice.

‘Goodbye, then and God go with ya.’

He embraced her compulsively with a strangled sob in his throat, then turned and waked swiftly away into the night.

The budding rosebushes lined the grassy loanan to the road. He waited at the stile there for me to catch up with him. We walked in silence to our home a half a mile away where the light of the kitchen window, glimmering through the trees was our guide.

They would never meet again.

Final Morning …

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