Sunday, March 10, 2013

A Little Irish Doctoring

Irish Clover
Being St. Patrick’s Day is coming upon us, I started looking through a few items from the Irish side of the family in search of that spark to ignite a good story. So we are putting Steunenberg aside for a moment and moving over to the Richards' and specifically the Costello Irish roots of my paternal grandmother.

Sometimes you don’t have to look too far and have to recognize when the story has already been written for you. Like many celebrations, St. Patrick's day has been lost in the American tendency to use most any real or imagined holiday for personal promotion, cheesy decorations and cards, the sale of anything that can be artificially linked to the day at hand, drunken excesses and for this particular day—everyone suddenly claiming Irish ancestry. Hence, the celebration of St. Patrick has tended to lose its religious and cultural roots. One can still enjoy a good pint of Guinness (I will!) without the need to pee on history and a public street. 

The following story was written by Linda Evans, a new resident back in the 1980’s at the Huntington Assisted Living Facility in Morro Bay. She is writing about another resident by the name of Mary Costello-Richards—my grandmother. I could write a lot of kind things about my Grandma Mary. Heck, I'm her grandson and she spoiled me silly. There is not a shred of anything bad or negative among my memories—only kindness, cuddling, cooking and—Irishness. 

I think the true test is not with a grandson, but when a perfect stranger comes upon you and what they leave with afterwards. The following says it far better than I ever could. 

This story was circulated either as part of a Huntington Newsletter or done independently by Laura—not sure which. The copy I have in not dated. I place it early 1980’s. I have retyped it here for easier reading but have attached the original too. I changed a couple of minor punctuation marks but otherwise left it just as written.    

Open Letter by Laura Evans
There’s a delightful play by Moliere which, when translated, means “The Doctor in Spite of Himself.” We have such a doctor here at the Huntington. She would be incensed if anyone called her a doctor; she might even “get her Irish up." But for all practical purposes she is a doctor-of mental therapy. I don’t know her married name; she was christened Mary Costello in Country Mayo (Ireland) where she was born.

She has no office; she is available for consultation during the second sitting of each meal, daily, at her chair just outside the dining room.

My first consultation was the day after my arrival. I was suffering from acute self-pity. My heart was suffused with grief for Laura Evans, who had to leave home and friends to live in big, cold, unfriendly Huntington. I had just come from dinner (which, because I was forced to confess is delicious, added to my sulkiness), and I was gloomily plodding homeward when a voice as Irish as a yardful of shamrocks called “A very good evening to you!" I stopped, enchanted, and found myself responding in kind—and what is more, cheerfully. We talked and I found that County Mayo is not far from County Cavan, birthplace of the McCaffrey’s, of which I am one.

I left, fairly skipping to my room, thinking, “What a delightful person and what a happy place this is.” She has that effect on everyone; it’s like standing before a cheerful fire, sharing in the generous warmth. She doesn’t say anything spectacularly witty, but I have noticed that people leaving her after a short visit walk with a more sprightly step and wear a broader grin.

Shortly after our first meeting, I asked her if she wouldn’t prefer to eat at the first sitting, we had a vacant place at our table. “Thank ye, darlin’, I can’t”, she answered. “My place is saved for me at the second sitting right next the door.” “Y’see, I can’t go but a step or two alone.”

Perhaps that’s her secret. Life has played a droll little trick depriving her of her ability to go ”but a step or two alone”, but providing a second sitting for her, with a chair “right next the door.”
Doctor in the House by Laura Evans

(Here is what I am calling Laura's  moral to the story).

Who’s New?

Let’s all stop to greet a new person in the hallway, or a new neighbor in the dining room. You might find that newcomer to be one of life’s great treasuresa new friend. Starting a new life in an unfamiliar place can be a painful and frightening experience. A friendly smile or a few words of encouragement can make a big difference when you feel strange and alone.—by Laura Evans

The Doctor and John
Thank you Laura, and thank you Doctor Grandma Mary. What a counselor you were—with lessons continuing to be learned today. And to think I had to go to college all those years to get those initials after my name! The lessons of your Irish Kindness were far more valuable than all the so-called education that was to come. I may have to go see if I can find that seat—"right next the door." 

Read more about Irish kindness:
Irish Kindness, Chapter 89, pages 204-205

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