Nodlaig welcomed us into her little house, the one she and Charlie built, on my very first visit to Ireland. Charlie was still alive then, and Nora and I visited with them in their sitting room, with Nodlaig and Charlie in their chairs on either side of the fireplace. We must have had tea, and Nodlaig must have asked gentle, prodding questions: Had we come far? Did we like Ireland? Did Nora enjoy living in Cork? Why was she there? Was the university a good place to study? I remember warmth and kindness and signs of sardonic humor. I would find out on my next visits that the sitting room was reserved for company most of the time, and that the life of the house was in the kitchen.
Nodlaig died today. Her death was hardly unexpected. She was 95, and had been in Sancta Maria Nursing Home for nearly four years after a couple of falls. Two or so weeks ago she had a mini-stroke from which she subsequently made what was reported as a miraculous recovery; one of the nurses called it Lazarus-like, I’m told.
I visited Nodlaig many times in the nursing home. She would be in one of the chairs lining the perimeters of the two reception rooms. Even though her bedroom was just down the hall, her pocketbook would always be nearby, usually on the arm of the chair, and she would be wearing a sweater no matter how stifling the temperature. She would be dozing, and her head would have fallen forward. Sometimes she would stay that way, her chin resting on her chest, for the entire visit, answering questions but never looking up. More often she would sit up when I touched her on the shoulder, kissed the top of her head, and said hello. On my first visit each summer, each time soon after I returned to Ireland, she would say, Kathy! And then she would lean toward the people sitting in the chairs near her and say, This is Kathy. She has come all the way from America to see me. Always she did this, every summer.
We would talk about what I was doing in Ireland, where I was living (in the same place, the gate lodge at Ballindoolin). She would ask about my children. I would show her photos of my grandson and last summer, my granddaughter. When Nodlaig had the energy, I would ask her about her childhood in Mylerstown. These memories were still with her, although the short-term memories were completely gone. I would need to respond again and again that I had come from California, that it was very far away, that it took me a long time to get to Ireland. Nodlaig never left Ireland, not even to go to England. She was one of the lucky ones of her generation; she didn’t need to emigrate. As a young woman she found work in Dublin, and, in her 50s, she married a neighbor she had known since she was a girl, my cousin Charlie.
I will miss Nodlaig. Since she had to leave it, I have missed dropping in to her little cottage for tea and talk and Scrabble. I have missed the trips to the bookmobile and the lunches at the local pubs. Now I will miss the nursing home and her humor and her sweaters and her soft white hair and the chance to put my arms around her one more time.