The universe of everyday people

OPINION: By Gerard Smith

You know those people you always see on your walk, commute, or jog – the ones you politely nod to and acknowledge. They’re familiar to you, part of your everyday life. Yet, you don’t know them, they don’t know you, and there’s something reassuring about your interaction; having that human connection without the complications of being involved in each other’s respective lives.

Well, there’s one such person I began seeing quite a lot when I first returned to Cavan; a woman who’s my elder. Our nodding hellos were imbued with smiling respect. But, there was something else: an extra sparkle in her smile, a knowing in her nod. And, something I couldn’t place, an intangible thing that stayed with me once she’d passed by.

Her presence always lingered, like a warm light. Afterwards, I would recall her face in my mind’s eye and try to place it in the town of my youth. And whilst I saw a familiarity, I couldn’t find the place to fit her into.

Then one day, we paused and swapped our mutual appreciation for the beautiful evening it was; and we started talking. That’s when I found her place in my past. She told me of the newsagents in which she once worked. A shop that was more than a store to me, it was the home of Superheroes and their stories; I spent a great deal of time in it as a teenager: my happy place. But still, there was something else. I felt an intangible link that went beyond the friendly newsagent who turned a blind eye to my lengthy Marvel-Comic browsing. I asked, “Where in Cavan are you from?”

She told me she was born to an unmarried mother in the County Home, then a place buzzing with life and story. Now, it’s a decrepit metropolis of weeping, ivy-choked stone that forlornly awaits a fate unknown. But whatever becomes of the County Home, it will remain woven into the fabric of generations of Cavan folk.

The mother worked long and hard in that home, whilst caring for her daughter in a culture of wrath and disdain. Sadly, in that Ireland of old, disdain lead to disownment. Her mother was disowned by her family and friends. And in a dearth of disdain and abandonment, the mother decided to leave her place of judgement. Like many before her, she boarded the boat to England.

But, not before she found a family to care for her daughter.

The mother fostered her daughter into a fantastic family, “I had an idyllic childhood and up-bringing in the Cavan countryside,” she told me. I asked, “Were you adopted?” She smiled, “Oh no, they took me in and raised me as one of their own, I was very lucky.”

This story unfolded on a clement spring evening. It was bright and warm, and feeling an almost familial familiarity, and the personal comfort that comes with that, I asked, “Did your mother keep in touch with you?”

She didn’t hesitate, “She did of course, she came home every summer.” There was a pause, before she continued, “She stayed with her sister, the only one who didn’t disown her. I’d look forward to her coming home; I’d be brought in to the town to see her, it was a great treat.”

Feeling happy for her, I asked, “Where in town did her sister live?”

When she mentioned the street, I felt the tingle of standing hairs, “What number?” I asked, because I grew up on the same street.

When she mentioned the number I was struck by a Marvel-ous: KERPOW! Her mother’s sister, the only family member who embraced her without judgement – was my Granny.

My maternal grandmother, a woman I only ever knew as Town-Granny. A person who I always perceived as strict and authoritarian. Yet, on a glorious spring evening I got to know her as Katie, a warm-hearted woman who shirked the wrath of family and state for her sister and niece.

And I continue to learn more of my Town Granny and her family, through the everyday person who revealed herself to be my relation. She’s my Wonder-Woman.

In the Universe of Everyday People, I discovered a Marvel.