My grandfather would sit on after his evening meal; perhaps he was dog tired after a day on the farm, perhaps he just liked to sit and ponder the world over the top of the china teacup in which my grandmother would always serve tea. He would stare fixedly out through the window to the garden and the orchard beyond. Passing the window would barely stir him from his reveries; his contemplations seemed deep and detached.
Such moments seemed odd in those years, why would you want to sit and stare out the window? Why would you not want to go outside, or even drive somewhere else to talk with people?
There are moments when it seems possible to understand how much he valued his quietness; perhaps it was a retreat from other people, perhaps it was a retreat from the ugly things of the world?
The doorbell rang for the ninety-ninth time. “I must be welcoming; I must seem enthusiastic!” Smiles and laughter and conversations that flew forgotten as a dream dies at the opening of the day. Why did we spend so much time on saying nothing? Almost as though we were afraid to say anything of substance lest it become a hostage to fortune; as if saying anything meaningful would leave us exposed and vulnerable. It’s what a friend describes as ‘cocktail party chat’; trivial exchanges and silly anecdotes and whatever you say, say nothing. Five minutes with a bone china teacup, staring out through the kitchen window would have been welcome.
But maybe it was about more than just avoiding conversation, maybe it was about closing out the things that annoyed him, the things in the world that could not be changed, but grated with him nevertheless.
Walking beside the river, a group of Traveller families with trotting ponies and buggies were down at the water’s edge. Some of the children were swimming in the water, a small skewbald pony was hitched to a buggy and driven up the road. The animal was too small for its task, a fact lost in its driver who beat it repeatedly with a stick to urge it to go faster. A large father gathered up a child, who had been stripped of his clothes. The child kicked and screamed to be released, but the father ignored the child’s pleas as he walked down into the water. Would beating animals and dragging children into the cold waters of an Irish river be acceptable in the wider community? There was nothing to be done to change anything, though.
Time to sit and drink tea and to look out the window.