Reunited with mum after nine months apart...

A reunion with her 91 year old mother, after nine months apart, was emotional for CHRIS DUNNE. Here she shares the beautiful story
Reunited with mum after nine months apart...
Chris Dunne and her mother Kitty Roche.

BEFORE Covid-19 broke out in March 2020, the longest period of time I didn’t see my mother was during the ‘winter of discontent’ in 1979, when there was a fuel shortage in the country due to an oil crisis in the Middle East. Because of the postal strike the same year, I also didn’t receive the fortnightly letter from my mother either - a practice she’s kept up for 42 years. Being newly married and a bit homesick the cut off from my childhood home in Oranmore in county Galway made me emotionally wobbly.

“You might as well be living in Australia,” my mother lamented when she and my dad undertook the 200km journey from Oranmore to Garryvoe, County Cork for their eldest grandchild’s Christening.

“It is a long way from home,” she said, coming from someone who left her own home in Rockchapel to seek her fortune in London at the tender age of 16.

“It’s a pity you didn’t marry somebody from Galway so you wouldn’t be living so far away. That lad you took to the Debs was lovely.”

Right Mum.

When people were looking forward to hugs, holidays, and hair-cuts after the hiatus the pandemic caused I was looking forward to heading down that well-travelled N20 to go and see my mum, aged 91, after nine months.

“Take your time, the roads are getting busier now with more traffic,” she cautioned in her letter received on Monday morning June 29.

Because mum, Kitty Roche, isn’t technically clued-in and a bit deaf we didn’t speak on the phone for months either. Snail mail was the only way of communicating and An Post provided lovely free post cards to each household to keep in touch.

“Don’t drive in the rain and stop off for a coffee half-way in case you feel tired,” she underlined in her familiar scrawl.

For someone who travelled the old Mallow Road, 20 bends in 20 miles behind chugging beet lorries, who for years dealt with car-sick toddlers on the side of the road, and bored teens who kept up the incessant sing-song, ‘are we there yet?’, having skidded on ice one Christmas Eve near the quarry in Buttevant, and once getting a puncture at 2am in Broadford outside Ennis - this was sage advice indeed from my concerned mother.

“Don’t be speeding on the motorway and don’t be on the phone.”

Some things never change! Yet, some things do.

Now, with new improved roads, the toll bridge in Limerick and the towns of Ennis and Gort by-passed, what was once more than a four- hour car journey is now just under three hours. But I wouldn’t be telling mother that.

Turning up the road at the church in Oranmore for the Old Schoolhouse I could vaguely make-out a frail slightly hunched figure standing outside the red gate. She had on the blue cardigan from M&S that I bought her for Christmas. Getting closer I could see her twinkling brown currant eyes squinting behind her long-sighted spectacles, looking out for my car. She had timed my arrival to the tee - no pulling the wool over her eyes! The journey had taken just under three hours.

“I thought I’d never see you again!” she said as she hugged and kissed me, brittle bones forgotten about. “It seems like forever.”

Always optimistic, having conquered colon cancer in her 70s, recovered from a couple of serious falls, and mastered old age, the Covid-19 virus wasn’t going to get her.

“I have nine lives!” she exclaimed when I told her how well she was looking. Even though she seemed to have shrunk a bit, she was still as large as life.

Her life didn’t change much during the pandemic.

Inside the Old Schoolhouse, the stove was still bellowing, the kettle still whistling on the gas hob.

“I walked 2km every day to the church and back,” she said.

“Kind relatives and neighbours got my shopping delivered to the door. I just missed going into the Hospice in Galway every week to get my hair done and have a cuppa with my pals there.”

She continued writing to her cronies in the UK, the USA and possibly the EU.

“Writing letters kept me going,” she said. “And I read the paper every day from cover to cover.

“And would you believe the over- 70s got free stamps?”

I wouldn’t believe it, but then some things my mother tells me are unbelievable.

“I have the electric blanket on since March so that your bed is aired.”

But it’s the end of June and 22 degrees!

“Make sure you put two spoons of tea in the tea-pot and let it draw,” mum reminded me for the millionth time as we settled on the well-worn comfy couch for a long-awaited catch-up.

Even though mum is a Corkonian, she favours Lyons’ loose tea over Barrys tea which has to be strained and poured into china cups.

“You’ve lost weight,” she said eying me with her practised motherly eye.

“I hope you’re still not running around the country interviewing people?”

No Mum. We had to stay at home and then only travel 5km before we could leave the county. I phoned people and used Skype.

“It’s not the same as meeting someone face-to-face though is it?” she commented knowing me so well.

I had to agree she was right about that and now that we were face- to- face and we could see one another, hug one another and talk to one another.

We spent the evening as mothers and daughters do, laughing, crying, and enjoying the ageless bond of just being together.

“Don’t turn off the blanket,” she said, getting ready for bed and taking her tablets.

“That bed could be damp.”

I doubted that as I slept like a baby.

Next day we went to the village and passed by our old premises, Roches, the pub that my parents opened in 1970 after returning from working for years in London.

Over a takeaway coffee in the car we reminisced about the ‘good old days.’

“Remember when the coach load of 14 yanks stopped off for Irish coffees on their way to Bunratty?” my mother asked me tears of mirth dripped down the creases of her cheeks. At almost 91 she has amazing re-call.

“They said it was the best-ever Irish coffee they ever tasted. Then when the coach left we went into the kitchen and saw 14 measures of whisky lined up on the counter that never went into the glasses?”

We laughed till we cried. We remembered the halcyon days of the Galway Races when the Cork contingent arrived in town for the festival; the early mornings when we gave the milk-man his breakfast as we cleaned up the lounge from the night before.

“And remember Big Tom and Red Hurley coming into the bar for a drink before their bands played in the marquee?” mother inquired.

Indeed I did. And I remembered sneaking out to the dances and sneaking in the back door in the early hours. Even when I avoided the 8th step on the stairs that creaked underfoot; mother knew the exact time I got in. She knew everything.

“I always knew you were sneaking out to meet the boy next door,” she said.

She knew how much I missed her during the pandemic. She knew how much I treasured our time together even more now that she was over 90 years old.

“I know you’re stopping off in Ardrahan to visit dad’s grave, she said as she showered me with holy water for the road back to Cork.

“Check there’s no weeds there.”

She knows I always do.

“I love you,” she whispered in my ear, kissing me as we parted ways.

How do I know she loves me so?

It’s in her kiss. That’s what it is.

We spent the evening as mothers and daughters do, laughing, crying, and enjoying the ageless bond of just being together.

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