Friday, February 04, 2011

My best friend's mammy

Mandi’s mammy died on Sunday. On a brisk winter’s evening, as the sun faded over the Hospice she slipped away surrounded by her loved ones - her battle over.

You might not know who Mandi’s mammy was, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t tell you about her now.

Chances are if you didn’t know her, you know someone like her - a matriarch with a wicked sense of humour, a fierce tongue when she wanted, a fondness for the odd wee Bacardi and Coke and a love for the soaps. A proud Derry woman who continued to cluck over her children long after they flew the nest, she was one of the good ones.

She was my best friend’s mammy, and I’d known her for 22 years. In many ways I grew up her in house - squirrelled away in Mandi’s bedroom talking about boys, school, music and what we hoped for the future or sitting in the living room listening to music and laughing at her record collection (Conway Twitty was a very funny name to a 14 year-old).

When we reached our late teens and early 20s we’d even sit and have a wee drink with her (only a wee one mind) in her living room and share all our gossip.

Mandi’s mammy kept us in line. Yes, we could sit and chat to her about a vast variety of subjects but you never misbehaved around her. She could be scary when she wanted to be. And sometimes when she didn’t want to be, as Mandi said lovingly.

When I was 15 she took me along with her family to Mosney for a week and I’m sure we gave her more than a few grey hairs when we climbed out in the window during the night to escape on some adventure or other. But we never crossed the line.

We were bona fide nerds and the furthest we got was the Coca Cola vending machine on the other side of the car park where we happened to know the dishiest security guard on site was stationed. (Not that we had the nerve to speak to him. We probably just giggled like eejits and ran back to our chalet to face the music).

I vividly remember the pair of us being ‘scunnered’ when we were made to go to Mass that week. We were on holiday, we figured God wouldn’t mind us taking a break either - but Mandi’s mammy had an unshakable faith, which never faltered, not even at the end.

You went to Mass, even when you were on holiday and there were hunky security guards to make gacks of yourself in front of.

Widowed at a young age, Mandi’s mammy had raised her seven children surrounded by love. Each of them was at her side when she slipped away on Sunday while waiting in the wings were her hordes of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, brothers, sisters and friends.

Mandi told me herself that she hoped we could all be surrounded by so much when our time comes, but it was never going to be any other way for her mammy. You get back what you give out - and she gave out love and support in bucket loads.

She was just one of those people who hasn’t a bad bone in their body. The kind of person who would sit reminiscing about the days we drove her mad with our loud music while talking about the future.

She could never quite believe that we, Mandi’s friends, were all settling down ourselves to marriage and parenthood.

I remember her telling me how she cried at my wedding - moved at the passing of time and how we were all growing up and becoming (allegedly) sensible. Just a few months later she danced the night away at Mandi’s very own wedding - giving us all a rendition of ‘Simply the Best’ we weren’t likely to forget in a hurry.

There are many things about Mandi’s mammy I’m unlikely to forget. Her world famous Donegal Chicken, her apple sponge, a wee sip of Bacardi and Coke, her laugh. The way she called her daughter Catherine down the stairs. The day she gave out to us for using her phone. The many, many evenings sat in her house growing up and learning about life and having the craic.

That’s just the way it was. When Mandi wasn’t in our house, we (me and my sister) were most likely to be found in hers. When our parents weren’t there to keep us in line, Mandi’s mammy would step into the breach.

There is an old saying that it takes a village to raise a child - well to raise a teenager it just takes a couple of quality Derry people - my own parents and Mandi’s mammy.

We used to say she was like our second mammy. We could never call her by her actual name. To call her Ann seemed disrespectful and to call her Mrs Dorrity seem too formal.

She would hit me a slap across the back of the head if she knew I was writing about her in the ‘Journal’ - but secretly she would (I hope) be very proud to be in the paper.

She was laid to rest on Wednesday and we can all imagine her now, clinking the ice in her glass up above and letting us know she is still keeping an eye on everyone.

The weeks and months ahead will be particularly difficult for her children and grandchildren but there will also be many, many people who will think of her often, because she touched a lot of lives.

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