Thursday, December 07, 2006

Bay Daze

The last week has brought a lovely batch of sunny, clear days, nary a cloud to be found.* Our new office is right on San Francisco bay and I had my camera in my bag the other day. My eyes were dry and scratchy from hours staring at the computer screen, so I took a break and walked down to the water to snap a few shots - this is one of them. It reminds me of a painting that hung in my grandparents' living room for decades. It was garish, thick oil painting of a boating scene and the colors and effect were similar to this photograph. I never particularly liked the painting, but the scene fascinated me - it was far from sunny days on boats we were reared! The colors in that painting were in stark contrast to the drab, dull country house my grandparents lived in. I used to hate visiting my mother's parents, even though I liked them. They lived in a small town, and we always went to visit on Sunday when the place was a ghost town. All the shops and bars were closed, and you could stand on the main street and not see a car or a person all afternoon. I was usually bored out of my skull. A child of the suburbs, I was not interested in small country towns where they only had black and white TVs and everyone spent Sundays sitting around drinking tea, gossiping about people I barely knew. The only distractions were the Sunday tabloids that lay scattered on the couch. I would pretend to read the Irish Times, within which I could hide “The News of The World,” with the topless models on page three.

My maternal grandmother was a whip smart, highly-strung woman, who in retrospect, was probably completely unsuited to raising eight children. She was a prisoner of her times and her children took all of her time, of course. And sadly, once they had grown, she was left stuck in a small town with no outlet for her intelligence. Even in her latter days, when her body had become feeble and her mind troubled, her brain was still razor sharp. She was up to date on current events and the details of my life in America. I was her first grandchild, and she made no bones about the fact that I was a favorite! She died the day my son Shane was born (our first child who would have been her first great-grandchild), and only a few short weeks after her husband of over 60 years (my grandfather), had passed away.

I barely knew my grandfather, he was a ghostly presence around the house, and barely spoke from one end of the day to the other - or as far as I could tell, from one end of the year to the other. In his latter years, though, it was like the fog had lifted, and when I went to visit him, he would happily chatter away, while chewing happily on the Roses chocolates I would bring. He had been a master plasterer his entire life, and by all accounts, was a total perfectionist. During the very last conversation I ever had with him, he told me he had played the saxophone in a marching band when he was younger. I was then struck, and saddened, by how little I knew about him. I could hardly imagine music coming from this quiet old man. My mother's family is a stark contrast to my father's who are a gregarious bunch who revel in detailing highly exaggerated family histories (my paternal grandfather apparently attempted and failed to escape from Limerick jail,while being held by the British).** Every single one of them are charming romantics, and the McDermott family lineage is apparently full of lost loves, thrill-seekers, mysterious lost relatives, and revolutionaries - if you believe all the stories. For years I considered myself more like my dad's side of the family, but as I get older, I see more and more of my mother in me. I am a perfectionist to a fault, I am completely pragmatic in every part of my life, and while I listen to other peoples opinions, I more often than not follow my own instincts.

* It takes me a while to write a blog entry, and since I began this one, it has started raining. The winter is here.

** My dad still swears this is true.

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Blogger Kav said...

Great details John. You reminded me of my Grandad when you were talking about yours - I know hardly anything about mine (he's still alive) and almost everything I do find out is from other people. He's definitely the strong silent type.

Class picture - cool the way the sky and the water just blend.

5:50 AM  

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