It’s not often all the family gets together, and when it happens it’s usually while celebrating at weddings or weeping at funerals.
My grandmother’s recent funeral was no exception.
I’d always heard about my Nana Drew’s brothers and sisters, but I’d only ever met one. There were six of them. They immigrated to all parts of the world.
Back then when you left you rarely came home. There was no Internet or phones, so contact was extremely minimal, thus driving a further divide between families.
Diana Drew fell in love with my grandfather, Jackie, across a dance hall at the village green in Athy, County Kildare when they were young. He was a musician, a jazz player. She once told me how she was blown away by his good lucks and Kerry charm.
Unfortunately, for little Nana Drew, her family -- wealthy tailors who had a car when no one else did -- didn’t approve. What kind of life could a musician provide for her, they asked.
She didn’t care. She was in love, and that’s all that counted.
After a few months of dating Diana and Jackie were wed, without her family present, and they continued their life in Kerry where my grandfather continued to play music and supplemented it with garage work.
They were happy. As the years went by and we, her grandchildren, came along, we never heard the sad stories, only the happy ones.
She would tell us at length about the good times she had with her brothers and sisters while growing up. They played many a trick on each other. They swapped clothes, they had picnics, they went to the beach -- Nana Drew once fell into a swamp and they rescued her -- they shared many a happy time together.
When they were old enough they all left the nest. Some went to other parts of Ireland, but most went abroad.
I’d heard about the family in America and witnessed the annual Christmas box bursting at the seams with American clothing, sweets and goodies. I’d spoken once or twice to Nana’s brother and sister in England and I’d met, on occasion, her sister up the country.
But it wasn’t until her funeral that I got to meet Nana’s youngest brother, Noel, small in stature, just like Nana, but with a huge heart.
I was blown away by the physical resemblance. Seeing him arrive in the funeral home put a lump in my throat for two reasons, one because he instantly reminded me of Nana (I did not recognize the corpse in front of me), and two, because I knew that it would have meant so much to Nana to have Noel present.
She spoke so highly of him all her life. He went to London and worked on the British railroads when he was old enough. He was a huge success and now lives in Bristol with his wife, children and grandchildren.
A dinner the following evening allowed me the time to get to know Nana’s favorite sibling. He spoke exactly like her. He joked in the same manner as Nana, and when he laughed it was her laugh. This made me sad and happy.
As the evening progressed he began to share loving stories of their youth. I got an insight into Nana’s background that I never thought I would.
He loved her dearly; they all did. He didn’t mention the family’s shunning when she chose to marry my grandfather. It wasn’t the time or place for that.
After several hours of getting to know Noel over dinner and then dessert, I discovered something amazing. His granddaughter is a champion world Irish dancer. This past April she competed in Philadelphia in the World Irish Dance Championships.
I was blown away with this piece of information because I was in Philadelphia that week interviewing children from around the world.
Although I can’t specifically recall the names of all the children I interviewed -- there were about 100 -- I instantly recognized the name of the dancing school she was with. I may never know if I actually interviewed my cousin that week in Philadelphia, but it was comforting to know that she was there somewhere.
Noel invited me that night to visit him in England, and only yesterday I received an email from Maddie, Noel’s daughter and the mother of the Irish dancer, wanting to make contact. It warmed my heart.
It’s my plan in the next year or two to meet my Nana’s family and share with them the wonderful person she was when she was alive. This would have made her very happy.
It’s just a pity it had to happen after her death. RIP Nana Drew.