Are they still alive? And if they are, would either of them still be lucid? Those who have endured for decades seem sometimes to slip into precipitous decline. Visiting people in nursing care, it can sometimes seem only yesterday that they were leading full and active lives. The sisters were in their late eighties when one afternoon we sat drinking tea.
‘Did you catch the train to Harcourt Street?’
‘No, I don’t think we ever used that line. We used to get the train to Westland Row. I hated the train, it was smelly and dirty and you got soot on your clothes. Not that we were as bright as the young people now’.
‘But you’re both graduates’.
‘Yes, but that was in old subjects, you just learned dry stuff. The young people now have to think much more’.
‘Do you think so? What about schooldays? You had to get yourself to school by steamer and train’.
‘The mailboat; it wasn’t very interesting, then the train to Rhyl. The school has closed now. It’s a health resort, or something like that.’
‘What was school like in the winter?’
One sister looked to the other, who joined in, ‘It was cold. We had horrible green pullovers and stockings that had to be darned. The best part of school was the boys’ school next door’.
‘The school made you very healthy’.
‘Maybe it did, but we live long. Our father was 94 when he died and our brother was 92. Our sister in England is 91. I think I will stop there!’.
‘It’s very different now. People have to think more’.
The octogenarian ladies smiled and discussed why the traffic on a road had got much busier; the bus lane that had been introduced on another road was probably responsible for the fact that it had taken 10 minutes to get through the traffic lights.
Nostalgia was not what it might have been – no recalling the romance of steam railways; no fond memories of days of jolly hockeysticks; no notions that people today were soft; no suggestion that there is a universal dumbing down and that people today lack the qualities of their forebears.
‘We were watching ‘Dad’s Army’ said one. Do you know, I had never watched it before?’
‘There wasn’t much fun in the war. All wars are horrible. I read that 52,000 Irishmen perished in the Great War. 52,000 – what for? And it goes on and on – look at Iraq’.
I walked down the hill pondering their words. Their delight was in the present and the future.
The conversation took place on a November afternoon five years ago. One sister’s memory was already slipping, perhaps the other sister avoided such a fate. Perhaps it is best to remember them as they were, an extraordinary pair of ladies with little regard for conventional views.