Thursday, December 22, 2005

Biddy

My mother was raised for the most part by her Irish grandparents. Her grandfather was a mess sergeant in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. After the Boer War, he opened a restaurant in Kingston, Ontario, called Tierney's. Until recently, my mother had a drink every evening. In the course of that drink, her voice would rise an octave, and she would turn imperious. In the normal hours my father would direct my mother, as if she were an employee of his construction company. He rarely drank. "Alcohol,” my father would say, “never made anyone smarter." Alcohol usually made my mother laugh and sometimes made her bossy. In the evening my father would humor my mother and comply with many a drunken Irish wish. Sometimes I wished he'd roll his eyes, and lean over, and whisper, "Sober up, bitch."

Her name is Kathleen but everyone calls her Biddy. As she sipped her wine and as her voice rose in pitch, her words would tumble out faster and faster. A sip was a magical pill. Normally nothing was more important than propriety. But, glass in hand, she didn’t give a shit.

At her first nursing home everyone was limited to one drink a week. Although “little strokes” left her short-term memory problems, she was nevertheless cheerful and lively. Now she’s 90. She’s much frailer. I‘m leaving Friday to drive to Canada to visit.