Fair Daffodils

Four years ago today, my Mom died.

She loved flowers. And though I could never remember the names of any other than the obvious ones, I went out of my way in later years to picture them for her whenever I could. So, Hollis Gardens became a favorite seasonal haunting spot for me. And image after image of the endless blooming there, seemed to brighten her weeks a little as she wound down after my Dad died.

In fact, the last time I was with her a number of years back, we planted together a number of flowers for her. Some were in a flower bed just outside the patio door in the kitchen and others were in several flower pots that held pride of place around her garden.

When my sister told me it was four years today, my heart skipped a beat, as I had no idea that she was already gone that long. So, there was only one place for me to go this morning. There were a couple of times I could feel her off my shoulder, as I found some that she would particularly have liked.

Anyway, I hope you like the little selection at the end of this blog. I am pretty sure she would have.

The thought that came to me (for this blog) was as I was driving down to Hollis Gardens this morning. Every year, my sister reminds me of my Mom and Dad’s death anniversaries.

For some reason my brain has developed a blocking system that stops me being able to commit them to memory.

And so, as I drove down there this morning, I discovered something about myself today.

I was questioning why I can never remember these days on my own. Dementia doesn’t seem to have settled in yet. I can remember lots of stuff without any great problem. But when it comes to just these dates, my brain has them locked away.

And then it dawned on me. My brain reacts in a denial or forgetful way when experiencing trauma.

I recall in my last year of school, I was 17 at the time and went to the Christian Brother’s School in Sexton St., Limerick.

It was only a few months before I was to graduate and back then, we were obliged to recite poetry off by heart. Memory of such was a key aspect to learning in the Irish school system at the time.

There was one particular brother there, who was our advanced English teacher and when one day I couldn’t remember Robert Herrick’s poem “To Daffodils” he got particularly annoyed and told me that I had better know it when he came in the following day.

“Fair Daffodils, we weep to see you fade away so soon…” that is how it began. And I studied it that night to make sure I wouldn’t be caught out.

But as he walked into the class and placed his books on the desk he called out “Ronan. Give me To Daffodils”.

Obviously it had stayed in his mind as he said nothing else as he walked into the room. Just that.

I stood up and began with the poem only to stumble into darkness again at the end of the second line. “As yet, the rising sun has not attained his noon.”

I stared off into the black hole that was my brain and there was no third line and I froze. The more I thought, the deeper and darker the hole became. There was no hope for me.

The brother, who took my lack of remembering as a sign of insolence called me up to the top of the room, announcing to the class that in all his years teaching, he had never had to discipline a student of such an age in such a manner.

Corporal punishment was in vogue back then and each brother carried a long leather strap in his waste. It was about fifteen inches long, triple folded and heavily stitched along each side. Rumor had it that the nasty bastards would undo the stitching and slide some coins inside and then close it up. Adding more weight to the tip made it a particularly painful experience.

“Hold out your hand, Ronan.” and then he raised the leather above shoulder height and brought it down with a viciousness across the tips of my fingers. The next one was squarely in the palm of my hand as I leaned into it to make sure it wasn’t finger tips again. Those were the worst.

Of the six that he handed out, one caught my wrist and the others stung the palm.

By the time I returned to my desk, my hand was in severe pain but I didn’t cry. I wanted to. But everyone was watching. So I just sucked it in.

I never did remember the third line to that poem. I must have read it twenty or thirty times but it just wouldn’t stick. Nothing about it came up in the final exams anyway and it just disappeared back into the shadows of my mind until this morning, when I questioned myself on why on earth I couldn’t remember such important dates as the deaths of my Mom and Dad.

Sometimes, we deal with trauma in ways that defies logic. Some people break down and fall to the ground in tears. Some people put it in a box and leave it until they can cope with it. And then some of us just live in denial and are unable to process it all on a level that commits it to memory.

There is no right or wrong way. However one copes is likely the best answer.

… just a thought.