Thursday, August 26, 2010
Thank You, Delia.
This post is inspired by Marcia's post.
Back then, it was one of those new-fangled estates in the suburbs of the Irish city where I was born. 13 houses in a cul-de-sac. We moved there when I was six from a small east Cork town where all my relatives lived. My father had a city job by then and was fed up with the daily train commute.
There was an exotic family living directly across the road from us. Louis (pronounced lou-ee) and Delia had only a single child, named Geoffrey. Rich, red thick carpets ran all through their house and it had an art studio custom built on the back, full of light overlooking a terrace with cement planters and rose gardens back and front. They even had outdoor furniture made of cast iron. And a record player with a huge collection of music and floor to ceiling bookshelves everywhere. A sparkling Morris Minor was parked on their driveway. Louis was a bank manager and Delia was an artist.
When we moved in, they were already installed for a few months. My brother and I, aged 3 and 6, were not allowed on to the road so were locked up behind our gate where we peered out through the iron railings dressed in matching blue coats. I know this because years later I saw a painting of the two of us thus imprisoned, in her studio.
Geoffrey was a sickly child, I never knew what he “had” but his neck was covered in ugly scar tissue where glands had been removed and eczema plagued his hands. He wasn't allowed to play sports or do anything 'strenuous' like play hurling on the road with the rest of us.
Delia and Louis befriended my brother and I as we grew older and we were invited along on Sunday afternoon drives and treated to afternoon tea in hotels. Louis taught us to sing “Oh Give me a Home” in harmony on these rides. I can never hear the song without thinking of his deep bass voice, Delia's soprano, my budding contralto and Geoffrey's and my brother's interchangeable soprano-tenors. There were other songs of course but I can't remember them.
Delia gave me much, much more than those Sunday excursions. She invited me over to hear “Peter and the Wolf” on their turntable - my first introduction to classical music - which led to her sharing all of the Beethoven Symphonies with me. She allowed me to borrow books (“one at a time, dear”) and each occasion (Holy Communion, Confirmation, thirteenth birthday) in my life was marked with a special gift – one time it was a leather bound edition of Jane Austen's Emma, another time it was a hand-painted box.
She showed me a bigger world outside of our little estate and small town sensibilities. She showed me women could gain a certain prestige by devoting themselves to passion and creativity in an era where this was judged as “fierce odd” by her contemporaries and Louis pitied because of her independence for she had the unmitigated gall to exhibit her works regularly at the Municipal Art Gallery and also taught art. She even drove herself to her night classes, practically unheard of in her time.
It was extraordinarily difficult to be a Delia in the long ago and she never knew how much she inspired me and how much I cherish her memory.