Saturday, February 20, 2010

A Tale, a Tale...

Vanessa Delaney, Clontarf

A tale, a tale, have I, A tale of contemporary Ireland! I have many tales. But each one gets discarded because the participants are still alive and may not want to be included in my scribbles. Still I cannot resist telling this tale of two tales which is in essence completely true.

I think of a friend’s girlfriend 10 years ago, pregnant. A girl who had been told by her gynaecologist that she would probably never conceive. So when her parents heard their unmarried daughter’s news, they celebrated and said what a great man he was and all sorts of other wonderful things that make a man grow about 5 inches! His parents were distinctly not of like minds with her parents at the time when, over a half bottle of whiskey, I first heard the news of the imminent baby. His parents appeared to be ready to disown anything to do with his girlfriend and their soon to arrive grandchild. He was torn between protecting his girlfriend, now pregnant with their child, and maintaining what had up to then been a very close relationship with his, up until then, warm and loving parents. Now he was being asked to question their values and it felt as if he had to choose whose side he was on. It just didn’t seem right. I told him a story that I held up to myself as an illustration of how best to behave in times when you want to say to your family “to hell with the lot of you”. Or some worse wishes! With the confidence built up by my own personal experience and helped by a large glass of whiskey, I told him a story that promised him that if he ignored his parents’ disgust and visited and telephoned them as normal, all would be well. When the child is born, all will be forgotten and there will be no grandparents more doting.

The story I told him was this:
It was around 1986, we were all at that age when we were falling one by one into settled relationships. Some of us had a few failed relationships under our belts. Some were sticking with the one man and were heading straight for marriage. One friend, Gillian, wasn’t so lucky. There was no more welcoming shoulder to cry on when you had a broken heart or were simply in need of comfort. But despite her warm and bubbly personality, Gillian didn’t have a man of her own. Gillian was born with a large strawberry birthmark on the left hand side of her face and it seemed as if all too many people struggled to see beyond this. Nobody was probably more deserving of a good man than Gillian but they were just not appearing.

Then one night while out with friends, Gillian and Niall found themselves laughing and smiling in unison. They soon shared many laughs. Over the weeks and months that followed, at times we witnessed big dirty laughs and at times we witnessed that warm laugh that you hear when it is not so much that something is funny as that two people are just plain happy together. And so everyone should have been happy, delighted, elated. Especially, Gillian’s family. Their only daughter had found a good man.

But, no, Gillian and Niall are different religions and her family was horrified that she would even consider marrying outside her religion even though the number of eligible males of her religion in Ireland can at best be described as seriously limiting, even if you are a stunning looking drop dead gorgeous model. Her extended family said things about Niall that are best not repeated. Horrible letters were sent from sister-in-laws with all sorts of threats. Gillian’s mother didn’t ring Gillian but still Gillian did ring her mother. Many phone calls ended in tears although her mother would not always have been aware of Gillian’s tears. There were long silences from a mother to Gillian, her only daughter. It went on and on. There was much hurt. There was much confusion. Gillian spoke openly and honestly to Niall about it all. He felt deeply for her and said that much and all as he loved her, he could never ask her to choose. Throughout this time, Gillian never missed a birthday or a family occasion. She sent her brothers, nieces’ and nephews’ birthday presents as usual. She held her head high and rode slowly and painfully through it all.

Gradually her family realised that this guy was there to stay and gradually they were drawn to seeing him as the warm, loving man he is and was. The seeds of bitterness had been planted but when Gillian hadn’t watered them, they had withered and died. I remember the happy wedding as the father of the bride walked proudly down the aisle with his beautiful only daughter.
And so it has come to pass for my whiskey sharing friend and his now wife and now, two children and their doting committed Grandparents.

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