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  • My Mother, in Drumlin Country
  • Mary O’Donnell

Whenever I travel to Monaghan for the weekend, I usually juggle my options for some days in advance. The drive is only two hours from where I live in Kildare, and I head up roughly every two weeks. There are often things I’d prefer to do, but my mother lives alone. She is one of today’s miracles of modern medicine, kept going by a concoction of Warfarin and anti-hypertensive drugs to ensure she won’t die from circulatory ailments, at least.

I park the car. Already the dog, Cleo, is barking. The cat has slithered beneath the high oak hedge on the west side of the house. I notice her keeping a predatory eye on a cluster of blue-tits further along, as they swing from the peanut holder that projects from the trellis fence. Inside, in the outer kitchen (as it is known), my mother waits. She has gone to some trouble to prepare herself for my arrival. She has put on her best wig, makeup, and a colorful silk blouse. She leans on the draining board by the sink, supporting herself as I enter. Her appearance is a message to the world that everything is under control.

I embrace her and kiss her on one cheek, then tell her she’s looking well. This pleases her. In recent times though, what I took to be a tired look on one side of her face has proven to be macular degeneration in one eye, which is now practically blind. Nonetheless, her GP has signed the necessary form that allows my mother—who can scarcely walk—to drive. The route she takes to the town in Monaghan is a tried and trusted one. She rarely deviates. Even so, as the healed, half-healed, or poorly healed breakages on various parts of her body have taken some toll, the fact that she drives at all is a marvel: she has one badly healed broken wrist, one weak shoulder from a dislocation, very weak feet and arthritic legs, not to mention a bent and osteoporotic spine, and a blind eye.

The weekend has begun. Because my mother doesn’t see me every day, or regularly—as in twice a week—she’s eager and nervy, what we call a state of “high doh” in Ulster, ready for talk, any kind of talk, what she calls “chit-chat.” It often involves detailed plots of the television dramas she loves.

The week before I visit, I have tried to do as much as I can at my desk, whether this is the humdrum administration of my writing life, or the act of writing itself. Even so, I wonder with each trip if I have forgotten something important [End Page 9] that I was supposed to write, submit to a publisher, and I resentfully count how many things I’ve put on the long finger—the competitions I’d like to prepare for and enter my work in, the essays and articles I want to write, but which need a few uninterrupted weeks of research and thought to see through to completion. Most of all, the possibility of new work always snaps at my heels. What, I wonder, if I start into a chapter and reach a point where I need to withdraw and think about my next move? Or what if I’ve had a few ideas slowly simmering and sense that I’m on the brink of beginning to write something new, say, on a Thursday? Well tough, Mary, I tell myself. I should forget it, postpone it until the following Monday. But then, I remind myself again, Monday is no use either, because on Monday I’m usually recovering from my weekend in Monaghan, and it takes a day for me to feel cleansed of the frustrated and sometimes angry feelings that accompany me back to Kildare.

Yet I know my mother is totally on my side in my writing career. She expresses this in the manner of someone cheering for a heavyweight boxing championship. She respects Booker Prize winners; she remains immune after all these years, to the steady heartbeat...


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pp. 9-17
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