Thursday, 18 August 2011

If you knew Susie...

Today I went to our local Stitch n Bitch session at the LYS... it made me realise how lucky you are when you have friends... my oldest best friend I met on the first day at secondary school, our coat pegs were next to each other and I now make her life miserable by leading her sons astray as only a Godmother can but this is the story of my mother's best friend which I wanted to share with you.

As she walked into the room and saw her, she let out a gasp.

“Oh no, Susie, how could they?”

She took in the image before her, an old lady in the advanced stages of dementia, tied to a chair, with her stockings puddled around her ankles.  She walked towards her oldest friend and stroked her cheek, getting out her handkerchief she spat fiercely on it and removed the dried food around Susie’s mouth.

Susie looked past her and said nothing.  May replaced the handkerchief in her handbag and walked out of the home back towards the town.  The memories of Susie Quinn came thick and fast... her mother had warned her... a parasol...  Susie could you not stop in your own house at mealtimes?... Jack whistling whilst Susie kept him waiting for another hour.

May drifted back to the early 1920s when she had first met Susie, a slip of a girl with a drunken sot for a mother and no father to speak of, her friendship with Susie was the only time she had crossed her mother.  Susie was the brains of the outfit, she was the ideas woman and if there was trouble involved she would be close by.

May thought of her the evening she had turned up in her so called new silk skirt, aged just nine she had found a broken old parasol.  Susie carefully removed the silk from the spokes and with untutored needle and thread fashioned a garish skirt in blue and green to extend her meagre wardrobe.  Mrs Costello said nothing, a rarity, as Susie explained that not everyone could wear silk and wasn’t she lucky that she could?

Mrs Costello frequently told her daughter that she really should not be friends with Susie, she was not a nice girl, but frankly for May that was the fascination she was just so different.  Even after the evening at the circus, when sitting spellbound under the big top as the band struck up the latest hit of the day and the audience sang along she remained steadfast to her chum.  Although she did admit in later years she was completely nonplussed as the rest of the audience started to sing, “If you knew Susie like I knew Susie, Oh,Oh, Oh what a girl!” Had her mother told them all, or was Susie really that infamous?

As she walked into the town, she stopped outside St Begnet’s Church in Dalkey and decided to slip in, a candle for Susie would do no harm.  Her eyes adjusted to the dim light and as she lit her penny candles she flew back to the day that Susie had lit every candle she could find in the church as she was worried that Jesus might get frightened on his own in the dark.  May suppressed a smile at the thought of the Priest’s face as he watched his profits go up in smoke, albeit the holy kind.  Mind you this was nothing compared to the theological worry that Susie had about her kitten, convinced that if the cat died without a proper christening he would end up in hell she set about saving his mortal soul.  Dressing the kitten in an old net curtain and tucking him into a pram she wheeled him down to the Church and taking him through the sixpenny door she took him over to the Baptismal font and dunked him... the cat screeched and legged it... lace curtain trailing... which is when the priest arrived.  Once the kitten was captured he listened to her explanation and agreed that perhaps the catechism did not apply to kittens.

May went into Dunnes Stores and marched to the hosiery shelves, her eyes ran along till she found the stockings.  She picked up several pairs and took them to the till.  Walking back to the home she grew slower, her hip was playing her up but she wanted to get back to the home to Susie.

She thought of how Susie would always appear at 6.00pm as Mrs Costello fed her army of children, twelve in all, one for every month of the year and with Susie one over.  Mrs C swore that the child could smell food a mile away.

As they grew older Susie became a fastidious and glamorous dresser, her beau Jack would stand whistling Lily of Laguna at the front gate waiting for her to come out... never less than 30 minutes late but as he would always exclaim, “Ah but Susie, you are a fashion plate, too good for the likes of me.”

May walked back into the sitting room, she gently pulled the mismatched American tan stockings from Susie’s legs.  She unpeeled the new silk stockings with the lacy tops from the packet and eased her friend into them as she did so she started to hum, “If you knew Susie” and as she finished, Susie’s bony hand grabbed hers.  And Susie smiled. 


Susie Quinn was my mother’s best friend and this was the last time she saw her as Susie died six weeks later.  As a child I grew up with stories of Susie and longed to christen a cat like Susie... “oh, oh, oh what a girl!


Little Harriet said...

What a lovely, yet heartbreaking, story. Love the part about the cat!

CarolC1 said...

That brought a lump to my throat and memories. Last year I lost my stepfather, he was also in a home. Always a fastidious man and it broke my heart to see him in soiled, unironed clothes and yes, sometimes unwashed. It is lovely that she is remembered by you and your family.

Picto said...

It's heartbreaking that such a vibrant character could end up as you described but heart warming to know that good friends will always be around (even if you don't know it)

Jan x

The Seat Bottomer said...

Oh Ros what a lovely but yet sad story. My best friend and I met when we were seven and yes, I think although we live 150 miles apart, we have always been there for each other, especially in the hard times.

We do take things for granted sometimes. A member of our family is suffering from dementia, so your story was especially poignant for me.


This is such a lovely story Ros - sad, but also a lot of fun too.


Caroline Nash said...

Ros this post is so poignant and understand having my Mum suffer from this. Not good always to get old and feel that we need make sure that society never forgets the elderly just because you are old does not mean you did not have dreams when young, some met others not and without them none of us would be here today.

SeniorCrafts said...

Thank you Ros for sharing that story with us - I'm so moved by their enduring friendship. Nancy

taniacrsantana said...