“Get yourselves permanent pensionable jobs,” our mother said to us, back in the 1940s. She said it to us as we studied for the County Scholarship. She said it to us as we moaned about having to cycle three miles into the secondary school every day. And she said it to us the day we got our good Leaving Cert. results. I joined the Civil Service. Mary became a national school teacher, Tom became a priest and P.J. stayed at home to farm the land.

Now we are all in our seventies and living in the four provinces of Ireland. Mary came out best. She worked her whole life, teaching in her local national school, in Dublin. John, her husband was the bank manager. Both have mighty pensions. Their days are full with bridge, golf, foreign holidays and their local ‘active age group’.

God help us, but I feel I’m too young to join an active age group and they’re too active for me anyway! I had to give up my good job when I married and moved to County Cork. (There was no marriage ban then for national school teachers, like our Mary.) I’m on a widow’s pension this two years and it’s not great. But I make do. I say my prayers and ask God to bless my children, who have no faith at all. Who are they going to turn to when they have troubles, I ask you?

I’m so glad that I live in a village. I can walk to Mass every morning, meet my friends and have a chat. We’re terrible sorry that our post office, garda station and little shop have closed down. Now we have to walk out to the petrol station to buy anything, and everything comes in packs holding far too much for us. “Glory be to God,” Dinny Murphy said yesterday. “I remember when you could go into O’Gormans and buy one egg, one firelighter and one fag!” Cathleen remembers when cigarettes were in your face on the counter and we all smoked. “Now, sez she, “It’s condoms that are in your face and the cigarettes are hidden.”

The free travel is great. I go up to Dublin to see my grandchildren very often and visit Mary, if she’s not gone off again on another cruise! Her children can Skype her anytime no matter where she is, which is mighty. I’m afraid I’m no good at all at this ‘social media’. The local school here had a week for us pensioners to go in and get lessons from the transition year students. We went in, four of us. God help me, but I tried. I really did. “Glory be to God,” sez Dinny. “But this is way beyond me, I give up.” And he and I did.

Peggy persevered and she can now email their two daughters below in New Zealand. She uses the computer in the library. We get the free bus to town on a Friday and she goes there. I get my hair done and buy my Buckfast Tonic Wine.

The free bus is great, absolutely great for people who live in isolated areas because it collects you from your own house and leaves you back there again. We hope the government won’t stop funding it.

Poor P.J. would be lost without it. Our old farm is five miles from the main road, above in Connemara. His car is long gone with there being no money in farming anymore. He’s right lonesome, I’d say.

The little pub near him closed down last year. With the ban on drink driving no one can use their cars to go for their few pints anymore. P.J. used to cycle to the pub and have a glass o’ stout. Mary says “It’s the chat he misses most.” I agree, and even if they sat and said nothing at all sure wasn’t it a bit of company for him?

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Mary used to be on at him to write to The Knock Marriage Bureau. “Say you have a farm and your own house,” she told him. “You’ll be snapped up.” He never got around to writing to them. He has the telly, which is good and a free license for it from the government. He has a fuel allowance too, so he’ll not be cold. Mind you there is no shortage of turf beyond in Connemara, so he’ll stay warm.

The free bus picks him up at his door every Wednesday and takes him to the little town. The bus calls to most of the houses in the area collecting his elderly neighbors. I gather that they have great chats on the journey into town and great catching up on news. They go to the bookies and the bar, or wherever they like.

But it’s our poor Tom I feel most sorry for. There he is, an old priest in his mid-seventies above in a parish in Sligo.  At this age of his life he expected he’d be retired with a couple of young curates running the show. Not at all, sure the poor man still has to do it all by himself. And he’s lonely, in that big parochial house by himself, with little comfort in it.

Mammy was right. Mary, who was able to keep her ‘permanent pensionable job’ is the best off of the four of us. But, sure, aren’t we well and healthy, and you know yourself, isn’t that the most important thing of all. With the help of God we’ll stay this way for the next while.

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