I once sat drinking whiskey with a man on his 90th birthday. We were sat in the front room of his house as the light of a late November afternoon faded.
“How does it feel to be 90?”
He looked at his tumbler of Power’s and then looked up. “It doesn’t feel like any other age. Apart from a bad knee, I’m still the person I always was. I remember when I was 82 thinking that I was no different from the person I was when I was 28”.
He was a man of whom I was very fond and I still raise a glass each year in his memory on 26th November, his birthday.
He had a great fund of stories of his childhood life in Co Kerry and of an Ireland that was very different. He could retell moments in a way that was so vivid they seemed almost present.
He reduced me to a fit of giggles on one occasion in his telling of a memory of the day the telephone arrived at a little town in Kerry. A country woman came into the post office and looked at the apparatus with great wariness and suspicion. Finally, the engineer persuaded her that it presented no threat and suggested she might speak into it. Holding the earpiece to her ear, the woman recoiled with fright. The engineer at the other end had said “Hello”, to her. It wasn’t natural for strangers to be speaking to a woman like herself through such a contraption. “How do you know me?” she demanded of the voice at the other end.
“How do you know me?” he repeated in the broad Kerry accent of his childhood and threw his head back in laughter.
Memories of him are reassuring. Organizing things today for a ten day visit to England, I realized I would miss my 47th birthday, which seemed an old age to be, but is only half the age he was when we drank a toast on his birthday for the last time.
May my parting glass be as distant as his and may it be drunk with the same sense that time doesn’t change who I am.