Catherine is the oldest one in our batch of cousins, all first-generation Irish mix. One by one many of us returned to visit Ireland, sent by our parent’s memories. Ireland brewed in our blood, stronger than Barry’s tea, or stronger stuff. Cousin Catherine was the first of us to be born here in the United States, in Cambridge, close to the Sacred Heart Church.
All of us, the cousins, have moved further away from our Boston/Cambridge routes, where, as children, we met on Sunday afternoons at our Nan’s apartment on Fifth Street, the apartment where all our parents lived. My two aunts, Nora and Maureen, shared a bed in the room with their mom. My uncles shared the other bedroom until they married and moved out. There was also a kitchen and a living room. My cousin Catherine was older by 8 years. When I was 12 she married, and we lost touch. Many years later I found that she had been camping close to where I lived, and we reconnected. She passed over on Saturday.
At Mount Auburn Hospital, I met her two children for the first time, and of course, they are grown men with their own families now. When I visited her, I reminded her of stories, like our three great aunties from New York that looked just like crow ladies when they visited us, dressed all in black, We also talked of the day we picked blueberries. This poem is dedicated to my cousin Catherine.
In Cambridge it’s snowing softly, and Nan
sets the table for Sunday supper. She reaches
into the fridge for butter, cold slices of ham,
a jar of pigs’ feet. We crowd chairs around the
table. I sit on Mum’s lap with a slice of bread,
butter, ham. Not food I’m used to. Mum and I
are quiet. I wonder who was here for dinner,
why we only come for leftovers, late in the day.
My older cousin Catherine shows me how to play games
I don’t know yet, and Nan hands me a rectangular tin
with two handles. She says for you, a lunchbox.
I wonder at it. It’s small, and I have a Roy Roger’s
lunch box at home. She doesn’t know what I have there,
where I live with my Armenian grandmother, where
we speak another language, where dad whispers to me
in Irish, sings lullabies and tells me stories at bedtime.
I’m not used to having extra anything, and I’m doubtful
of this gift. She offers you can use it to pick blueberries.
When summer comes we pile into our car, pick up Nan, cousins
Catherine and Kristeen, and Aunt Maureen to pick berries in Stoughton.
We pick wild berries along the dead-end road, at the edge
of Paul’s sheep field, to Glen Echo Lake. We have purple lips
and tongues. Blueberry heaven, and we’re happy here.
Wild blueberries plonk on the bottom of my special tin.
Ease of body and spirit, Catherine. Blessed Be.