My father who is no dad stereotype, whose million voices are the cacophony of comfort I crave, whose long letters I receive with deepest joy, whose stories I carry in my clenched fists, whose laugh lines and ruddy cheeks I wear, whose affinity for wit and laughter and empathy I strive to reach, whose creative and abundant spirit is bound up in kindness and love and the same crippling nostalgia as my own. I love you to the moon and back and back and back.
I started this iteration of my blog (and corresponding instagram @instagrandma_100) as a daily ritual to remember and honor the women from whom I came, and to share their stories. But I wouldn’t have stories (or grandmothers) without all the fathers too. So today I share a letter fragment from my own beloved and exceptional dad, who made the startling point that I am “the next daughter” after dear Agnes and Margaret, both of whom died as children in 1911 and 1912. His own father and mother had only the two boys, and my father’s brother had no children of his own—only a son through marriage. His mother’s three siblings died in childhood, never married or had no children of their own—again, one son through marriage.
So it was my father and mother, seventy years after the last little girl died, who brought the next O’Connell daughter into the world.
Will and Alene would, if they were omniscient, be pole-axed at the idea that the only modern-day (and next) daughter of their family would be the one family member to visit their baby girls after 105 years. Sweet old Alene would gather you to her capacious bosom for sure!
In memoriam of the O’Connell girls and who they might have grown up to be, and to the mother and father who loved them.
Today I visited my great-aunts Agnes and Margaret, both of whom died in childhood.
They are buried in the children’s graveyard at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. The sea of graves crowned with cherubs and lambs broke my heart, and I read every name as I walked through the rows searching for my girls. I met a man who feeds the cemetery’s feral cats and is followed by a murder of crows — birds so black and glossy they look cartoon. I told one stalking me to at least be useful and lead me to my O’Connell babes.
Finally I found them, a few rows away from where the nuns are buried.
The engraving was unlike any other I saw and I wondered if my grandfather, who was an artist in addition to a lawyer, had done the lettering himself, decades after his sisters died.
I spent a solid twenty minutes with a spray bottle and a toothbrush, uncloaking the stone of its chartreuse lichen and giving the lamb back its face. I don’t know who last visited their resting place, and my father has never seen it, but it’s been a good thirty years, if not much much longer.
When I visited my family in Ireland last year, cousin Ted told me it’s family duty to clean family graves. So here I am, in 2017, carrying on the Irish tradition of my ancestors in a Catholic cemetery in California.