My mother's name was Bridget Flynn. One of eleven children, she was born just outside of the town of Loughrea, in county Galway, Ireland, on 23 November 1906. Eight of her siblings stayed in Ireland, so I have many cousins there. The house (greatly modernized) and land are still in the family, owned by my cousin Martin Flynn, with whom I am close. My mother immigrated to New York sometime in the early 1920s. She married my father, Patrick Winch, in 1930. I am the youngest of their five children (first came Kevin, then Patricia, Eileen, and James).
Known as Bridie, my mother died on 14 January 1962, at age 55, after a long struggle with breast cancer. I was 16 at the time, and took her death very hard. In many ways that loss has marked me for life, and its aftermath has certainly had an impact on my writing. I had forgotten about the poem included here, which was written in 2005 and has never before been published.
was funny, smart, and tough, with a bountiful supply of Irish farmgirl wisdom:
you have to eat a pound of dirt before you die, she'd say. Or: you'll be better
before you get married. Or: you could
talk the cross off an ass. I would guess that the photo above was taken when
she was about 17, probably not long after arriving in the U.S. But since she
came here as something akin to an indentured servant, I wondered about the
stylish outfit she is wearing in the photo.
My cousin Mary Winch suggests that the photography studio may have
provided it. My mother missed Ireland all her
life, but loved New York and hated going beyond the city limits. The photo below is one of the last I have of
her, taken by the back door of the Dew Drop Inn on 114th Street in Rockaway
Beach, Queens, in the summer of 1960. Rockaway was "The Irish
Riviera" in those days, and we spent all or part of the summer there when
I was growing up. She was already sick when the photograph was taken, but not
Memo to Bridie Flynn
Your eldest son says he is dying fast, but he’s been claiming
that for years and still seems solid and hardy. Your middle son’s life
is an ongoing party of which he is the host. Your youngest son
has a job with his own little cubicle. He walks a lot, listens to music.
Makes tea every hour and a half or so, like all the Irish.
For your elder daughter, life is a very happy
social event. She lives in a doublewide in Florida
with her husband, who just turned seventy-five. She loves
to talk, but her health isn’t too good. Your younger daughter,
the family beauty, is also the most spiritual of us all.
You’d be ninety-nine if you were still alive. But you found
it necessary to die in 1962. Jesus, Mom, 1962! Kennedy
was president. I was in high school. Even I, your baby,
am now older than you ever were. I knew there was no God
when you died. I knew there was no afterlife when you
failed to visit me from the beyond. I know there is food,
sex, music, books, sleep, art, movies, friends, talk, love.
Please tell me that’s enough. Just once, pay a little visit.
Tell me what I need to know before you go.
(ed note: This post first appeared here on May 9, 2010)