The first time I met my I-didn’t-know-it-at-the-time-but-she-was-my-future-mother-in-law, mother in law, I had a mad head of curly hair which I hated. It was torturous getting my hair brushed every morning. I absolutely hated it and insisted the first chance I got; it was all going to be chopped off. Eleanor was a hairdresser and I couldn’t believe my luck when I found myself sitting on a chair in her kitchen at approximately six years of age. It was looking very likely indeed that I was about to be shorn. And shorn I was. Funnily enough the curls never came back. In their place I got thick, straight hair that likes to frizz unnaturally in the damp weather. How and ever, I was delighted with myself. No more rows in the morning with my mother and her hairbrush. Because we lived just down the road from Eleanor, my mother and grandmother were regular clients. I say regular because my mother is blessed, although she says cursed, with a head of hair that doesn’t get six weeks out of a trim, and for years my sisters and I were bombarded with stories about “The Dooley’s” and what they did and didn’t do. Straight away we didn’t like them. They sounded like right lick arses. The Dooley’s made their beds every morning. The Dooley’s had chores which they did every day without complaining. The Dooley’s got perfect marks in their tests in school. In fact, the only reason The Dooley’s lost marks was because they didn’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s. The Dooley’s gave up sweets for all of Lent and didn’t give out about it!!!!! What The Dooley’s didn’t do, wasn’t worth mentioning. We felt sorry for them. It sounded like their mammy was very, very cross. To this day one of my smart arse sisters refers to them as the Walton’s and us as The Dingles. I met Eleanor lots of times after that; at the usual First Holy Communions and Confirmations as both families had kids of the same age. And yes, I was scared of her. I was slightly older the next time I met Eleanor. She was beating the crap out of a lump of steak with one of those wooden meat hammers and I had just started going out with her son, the now Mister Husband. In my ignorance I had no idea she was tenderising a piece of meat. I thought she was just having a bad day. Like I said I was still scared of her. Childhood fears are hard to erase. This was to be the first of many times I saw her man handling a side of animal. Her culinary skills were second to none. The first time I was invited to Sunday dinner with the Dooley family, I almost had a cow man. There was a strong and lively rumour amongst our crowd that the Dooley family used silver service on Sundays and dress was more formal than casual. Apparently they also drank wine. Beef Wellington was on the menu; something I had never even heard of, let alone tasted. (There was no silver service, dress was casual, dinner was delicious and the craic was mighty!) Over the next few years, I was without doubt firmly integrated into the Dooley circle. Their home had an open door policy and it didn’t matter who showed up, there was always room at the inn for the night and at the table for dinner. There were even one or two small little parties held when the cats were away but ssshhhh don’t tell anyone! And when the cats were there, I have strong and abiding memories of blow up beds scattered on every floor surface available and inert bodies on couches and chairs. The younger ones weren’t the only ones dancing in the sitting room at the Dooley parties; Eleanor had a habit of grabbing the partners of her daughters and hauling them onto the floor for an Elvis jive. Those were the good memories. Some fantastic memories are when Mister Nearly Husband and I came home early that Friday night in December with The Ring. Eleanor and Michael were married after a six month courtship and Mister Husband would have preferred the same. But Eleanor got a stubborn and cautious daughter-in-law with me and it was five years to the day later, when she saw me walk down the aisle to join her son in matrimony. Nothing was ever said, but I’m sure she was counting the days till she would become a grandmother. Again, I made her, everyone, wait. Mister Husband and I were waiting in the kitchen as his parents came home from a day out. We handed her a trinket that read “World’s Greatest Grandma” and waited for realisation to dawn. The next time she hugged me that hard was when I was on my hospital bed, hours after giving birth to her grandson, indeed, her first grandchild. Tears streaming down her face; she had no words. The next few years are a bit of a blur as I was so busy with the babies that followed but I always remember the gatherings in the Dooley house for special celebrations. It didn’t matter how big or how small the occasion, there was always a homemade cake or two to mark it. Eleanor never allowed one to pass. Then Eleanor got sick. At first it was a shoulder problem and she underwent surgery to correct this. She lost her voice then and after undergoing further tests, spots were found on her lungs. Eleanor had cancer. It was a long and difficult year; for each step forward, there seemed to be two steps back. The last time I saw Eleanor it was when she came to our house for a small barbeque. It was nothing like the bashes she and Michael used to host but it was lovely. I am so glad the last memory I have of her is in my back garden, smiling and laughing with our kids, her grandsons, running around. Eleanor died on Saturday 18th August 2012. Again, her house was opened to family and friends alike and they came in their droves to say goodbye. She is gone yet she is everywhere. She will never be forgotten.
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