Meet Veronica Breen Hogle, today's Guest Blogger. Her thoughts for us are below:
Last week a tall, trim, silver-haired friend named Joe, two days younger than me died unexpectedly.
“His big generous heart just stopped beating. He died quietly at home with me and our daughter, Anna,” his wife told me. I joined a long line of people at the funeral home to pay my respects. Joe’s body wasn’t there because he’d willed it to the medical school at the University at Buffalo. In the middle of the week on a sweltering day, people crowded into the church where he had been an influential leader to remember Joe, the elementary school teacher, husband and father of five adult children. His hobbies were folk dancing and magic. People said Joe’s greatest gift was his ability to build community through activities. This was his legacy.
I thought of my own legacy. Because my mother left my father when I was two and couldn’t rear me herself, I grew up under the wings of my grandmother and her invalid sister and her husband in Bagenalstown, County Carlow, a little railway and flour mill town on the Barrow River, 68 miles south-east of Dublin. These family members lived and fought during World War 1 and World War 2. I listened to their stories so often, I felt like I’d been there in the trenches with them. While telling me their stories and without noticing it, they gave me the job description of family historian. I received the old family photographs, letters, postcards, and the bits and pieces that were important to them.
When I went to school, the nun wrote the title of our composition on the blackboard every Friday.
“Use your five senses. What does the person look like? How does she sound? How does she smell? What does she eat and what does it taste like? Paint a picture with words” she told us. On Monday, she had her hand out to receive the required two pages written with a wood pen with a two-penny removable, brass nib, which required great care to put it in and take out. When ready to write in the circle of light from the oil lamp, I dipped the nib into the bottle of black Indian ink, tapped it lightly on the side of the glass bottle to remove any excess ink so it would glide across the paper with just the right sound of a squeak and not leave any forbidden ink blots on the paper.
No one from my family is alive in Bagenalstown now. All are clustered together and tucked in beneath the clay in the little hilly cemetery two miles outside the town. The Barrow still flows through the town and the train stops in the railway station eight times a day on its way from Waterford to Dublin and back. Bagenalstown still has no traffic lights. The Church Belll rings out the Angelus three times a day and the church clock rings out the hour and half hour.
It’s been a long time since I was groomed to be the family historian. I will write about my family and the stories they told me around the sweet-smelling turf fires long before we had television or a radio. I’m Just an ordinary person who uses writing and the five senses to take readers to a place in a certain time and introduce them to ordinary people who underneath what you see at first are extraordinary people in their own way.
So what’s your job description? What gifts will you pass on? What will people say about you when your heart just stops beating?
Bio: Veronica Breen Hogle has won six prizes for writing short memoir pieces about growing up in small towns and villages along the Barrow River in Ireland. Her stories appear in magazines, newspapers and books in the US, Canada and Ireland. She’s the mother of four adult children and grandmother of four grandchildren. She enjoys working in her flower garden, folk dancing, travel, baking fruit cakes, being a host parent to international students and writing short stories about growing up in Ireland when only the hospital, the doctor and a few merchants had phones. She puts her writing skills to work by writing grant proposals for nonprofit organizations and to elected officials suggesting ways they could improve services to her and their other customers.
Read some of Veronica's stories at Our Echo. Select from a three page list of titles.