• Loretto Leary

Memories of a Wasp

“Time nor tide waits for no man,” he’d say each Little Christmas as the tree was stripped of its ornaments. There was a melancholic air to him at the start of each New Year. His mind needed to keep busy with real jobs, real work. My father was a man who liked being outside, hauling a load of turf from the bog or bales of hay home or working with the cattle. He didn’t belong to winter. He belonged to the three other seasons. Happiest sitting on the Massey Ferguson with something hitched on to the back of it, because that meant a hard day’s work.

Thirty years have passed since my father died and my memories of him are more alive than ever. I remember seeing him many mornings sitting at day break, drinking a cup of tea and staring out the kitchen window. That image is so unlike the man I really knew. Funny, active and charismatic; well loved.

Approx 1976. Mammy, Daddy, Billy, Mike, Phillip, Brian (holding the dog) Twins, Margaret and Loretto and Marcella in front. The most important one to know in this photo, is the dog. Ratsirs.

He would joke with some that when children start arriving in twos you have to stop. I am a twin. He would ask the teenage boys who worked with us in the bog during the summer to remove their earrings. Only women wear them things. He’d joke a young fella about the beginnings of a mustache showing, asking him if his eyebrow had fallen onto his upper lip. But by God did he know how to build a grogeen of turf so that it would dry properly. There was an art to it. He taught us all how to build this wigwam of sods to allow air to circulate and dry out the individual sods of turf.

Most of us, half of my sister Marcella, around 1971. Back L-R Maura, Mammy, Mike, Daddy Middle Row-Phillip, Brian, Billy. Front Row-Marcella , Margaret and Loretto

I hated working with cattle. Daddy loved it. He’d sit in the car in the middle of the field, turn up the radio full blast and wait for all the curious cows to nuzzle up to the car. Then he ’d lean on the horn and laugh as they scattered wildly across the field.

Snazzy dressers! Early 70's, outside the church in Portumna

Driving the cattle from one place to another was worse than a horror movie. And trying to get specific cattle into a trailer, I’d rather have a root canal. But again, there’s an art to it. He taught me how. Bring a group of them closer to the gate; the trailer is backed up to it and the door left open. Let one or two cattle free from the group at a time, corral the one or two you want to transport. Easy, right? - Until one cow charges at you and you end up running bare foot through sludge because your wellies are stuck in the mud, literally. The hay, the potatoes, the weeding, the bagging, the dragging, the stacking; he loved it all.

The only time he sat still was to eat or to watch the news, Dallas and Dynasty. He threatened to take the parlor door off the hinges if we didn’t stop coming in and going out, coming in and going out. Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang. But he never did remove the door from the hinges. He’d sit on his chair; feet resting up on the corner of the mantle, he’d laugh at the nicknames my mother gave the characters on television. I don’t remember them all, but he thought naming J.R. Ewing “suction-pipes” was brilliant. From that same chair in 1986 he slowly fell to his knees and air punched along with Barry McGuigan boxing live from Las Vegas. He cried when Stevie Cruz won. That was the second time I’d seen my father cry. The first was when his friend Packo died.

He taught me how to spell big words like breakfast, “you don’t eat when you sleep so you wake up and break your fast”- explained a balance sheet- “don’t spend it if you don’t have it” – and kind of taught me how to drive - until I forgot where the brakes were and crushed the fifty or so bags of spuds in front of the garage. Then I was called goose head. Truth be told, I didn’t mind him calling me that. But he refused to teach me how to drive, and that I did mind. He taught the others, but I was too much of a goose head and he didn’t have the patience to hear the gears screeching or the car spluttering. "Push the clutch, push the clutch!" I wasn’t even allowed to drive the Massey Ferguson, because....I was a goose head.

Then when I complained about not being allowed to drive the car or the tractor he nicknamed me The Wasp and that one stuck, like white on rice. I was known as The Wasp in my family. And I didn’t mind that nickname either. I was making an impact on him. Not a good one mind you. But an impact all the same.

“Time nor tide waits for no man.” Thirty years have gone. If he had lived on, struggled against the passage of time, he’d be 91 in January. It’s hard to imagine him at that age. I can only see him at 60. He didn't belong to the winter, so he left us just before it began. Time didn’t wait for him, but it stopped on October 26th 1988.

The Wasp and her Father