It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you remember, and the things you forget

Memory is a strange thing. It is unreliable, malleable, hauntingly transient, and yet we allow it to shape our present lives.

It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you remember, and the things you forget

We cannot be sure if it is real or if it is not, if what we remember is a forensic examination of the past or a mere interpretation of events that suits our own means.

I had two boiled eggs for my breakfast this morning.

They made me think of my Granddad Murphy.

He had two boiled eggs every morning.

I remember the flat cap he wore to the cattle mart, the matchstick he used to clean out his teeth after dinner, the way he would scrub his face with a cloth in a basin of hot water getting ready for Mass on a Sunday.

I remember how we would drive us to the shop three miles away whenever we asked, and looked the other way as we charged pounds worth of penny sweets to ‘Mick Murphy’s account, please’.

Of course, I also remember how we were never allowed watch Home and Away because he insisted on watching every news bulletin, but we won’t dwell on that.

He was kind to us, endlessly patient.

My parents were young getting married, and young having children.

They seemed happy to have a break from us, and my grandparents seemed happy to have us stay.

I remember staying there every weekend, and for most of the summer, but maybe that’s wrong too.

It was a bucolic existence, growing up part-time in that farmhouse.

We went in search of eggs from the hens every morning.

We collected apples in the back garden so my grandmother could make apple sponge.

Everything was freshly made and home-baked, with unpasteurised milk that my sister and I complained was too thick.

We wanted things to come in packages, to have labels and stickers and plastic wrapping on it.

We wanted to eat things that had ads on TV, that left chemicals buzzing through our veins for hours afterwards.

My grandmother’s bread, and queen cakes, and scones, which went off within a day because there were no preservatives in any of them, seemed a poor substitute.

We loved spending time in that house, with the rough and tumble of four uncles who were all in their late teens and early twenties, and we hated spending time in that house because there was only one TV, two stations, and four uncles who had no interest in watching cartoons or The Wizard of Oz for the 50th time.

We were both forced to read extensively, books and books and more books, Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl and CS Lewis and falling-apart copies of Swallows and Amazons and Treasure Island.

My grandmother made us drag our quilts and pillows outside and drape them on the lawn so we could snooze in the shade of two enormous monkey trees, ones she threatened to cut down every winter because she was afraid they were going to fall on the house and “kill us all”.

At night she would tuck us in and kiss us, sprinkle us with holy water before kneeling down to say bedtime prayers with us.

If I loved my Granddad Murphy, I loved my Granny Murphy the most.

She was loving and generous and warm. She never got angry or annoyed with us. She was the best person I knew.

I remember asking her one day if she was going to die.

“Everyone dies,” she told me, “That’s the Lord’s decision, not ours.”

“But I don’t want you to die,” I started to cry. “I’ll miss you too much.”

She crouched down beside me and said: “I’m not going to die for a long, long time. I promise.”

And I was comforted. Because only old people died. Everyone knew that.

She was right, she didn’t die. But she was wrong in a way too.

I was standing in front of a dressing room mirror when my mother’s phone rang.

I remember feeling beautiful in the full-length dress I was trying on, comfortable in my body.

My mother sat down heavily.

“Is he dead?”

No confirmation, just an order to get back to my grandparents’ house as quickly as we could.

There had been an accident with one of the uncles.

There was no sound in the car as we drove back, as we prayed for mercy from a god that none of us were sure even existed.

I walked into that house that day, the house that had been my refuge, the place where I thought nothing bad could happen, and my aunt spoke those words that could never be taken back.

He’s dead, said my aunt.

My grandmother sat in a corner, so very still, as if to move would hurt her.

My grandfather wept, sobs hacking out of his throat.

I had never seen a man cry before.

And I felt so afraid, like something was ending.

Fourteen is too young to realise that bad things happen to good people, and that sometimes those who are supposed to protect you are hurting too much to even try.

Thirty is too young to die. Far too young.

My grandfather died ten years later.

He had been senile for a year before his death, his eyes distant, seeing things the rest us couldn’t, going places where we couldn’t reach him.

I keep meaning to ask Granny Murphy to teach me to make her soda bread, to give me the recipe for her apple sponge. I keep forgetting.

It’s funny, isn’t it? The things you remember, and the things you forget.

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