‘Hurry up’ my father said ’If we want to go to the zoo, we will have to get the 11 o’clock train’.
As we started putting our coats and packed lunches into the car for the journey to the station, Mrs Kilhooley came to the fence.
‘Hello Jim’ she said.
‘Hello Mary’ replied by father
‘Where are ye off to?’
‘I’m bringing the lads to the zoo.’
‘I suppose you heard that Lilly Mae Maguire died?’
‘No, when did that happen.’
‘I don’t know, it wasn’t mentioned in this morning’s paper or at mass but she was in America for the last fifty years and they are bringing her home to be buried. You could ask Paddy McKilicuddy, he’ll know.’
‘That’s right; Paddy Tombstone Mckilicuddy would be a fair bet.’
My father looked at me and said ‘Johnny go down to paddy and asked him about Mrs Maguire’s arrangements.
As I cycled down the village to Mr McKilicuddy’s house, I had visions of us having to stay at home and eat our packed lunch at the kitchen table. Nice one Mrs Kilhooley, you nosey ould bat.
Paddy McKilicuddy was sitting on the window ledge of his terraced house smoking a woodbine. watching the world go by.
I got off my bicycle and said ‘Hello Mr McKilicuddy, my father was wondering was there any news about Mrs Maguire?’
He stared at me and said’ Aren’t you Jim Ryan’s young fella, Johnny?
‘That’s right, is there any news?’ I had a train to catch
‘Did you know that the last time Lilly Mae Maguire or Obama as she is known as now, was home was for her mother’s funeral .I remembers it like it only yesterday. God it was a great day altogether. I remember her mother being laid out in the funeral parlour.
I never saw her looking as well. They had tea and sandwiches at the rosary, the removal and a sit down lunch in Egan’s hotel for everyone that went to the funeral. I bet you they will do the same this time; there might even be free drink in Delaney’s bar afterwards’.
‘Anyway, Mr McKilicuddy, do you know when that will be?’
‘Well, she died on Monday last at midday. They will have to arrange to bring her home. You know that can send her by aeroplane now, Isn’t that fantastic. She has a brother in Australia and two sisters in England and I suppose her husband’s family will come .She had two children of her own you know.’
‘And that would mean?’ For God’s sake we have a train to catch
‘Today is Thursday, so they left Chicago yesterday. I didn’t see the hearse leave the undertakers yard yet so Tom Dwyer is still at home. Let me think’
‘So would it be fair to say that it won’t be today?’
‘No, it won’t and might not even be tomorrow and you can’t be buried on a Sunday so…….’
I left and cycled like a lunatic back home. As I passed the graveyard. I looked in and wondered how many people never looked better the day before they went into that earth. Well, Tombstone was the judge of that.
As I arrived home my brothers and sisters were waiting anxiously for my news.
‘Well, what did Mr. Mckilicuddy say?’ my father asked.
I decided that I would give him the shortened version as Tombstone was probable still analysing the funeral arrangements while smoking a woodbine sitting on his window ledge waiting for the next member of the parish to enquire.
So I replied ‘You’re grand’.
In later years I came to understand that death needed to be celebrated the same as life. Christenings, Holy Communions, Confirmations, Weddings and Funerals were all ways by which families and communities acknowledged each other.
Saying that ‘I never saw her looking as well ‘when viewing the corpse in the funeral home was in fact another way of celebrating her life. A life that like all lives, had happiness, sadness, despair, worry and rewards. She had led a good life and she now would celebrate the next life. The look that Tombstone saw was perhaps the contentment that Lilly Mae’s mother felt at the end of this journey and the beginning of another.