Sunday, July 21, 2019

Downalong (Being a 3 part true story)

Daughter was in for most of the weekend and we jam-packed a lot of activity into it. We took a workshop together on Women's Work which was fantastic as we all told yarns of crafting and creating and then dyed fabrics and laundered over washtubs as we told stories. Loved it.

Then we underwear shopped. Then we had lamb curry. Then we took in a musical at a local theatre.

Over brunch today. we talked of old friends' lives, how they morph and change over the years from grade school to marriages, to careers and the rare few who break off out of convention, dancing to the beat of their own drums. I had caught up with an old friend both from school and from my theatre days way back at my 50th High School Reunion in 2011. And told Daughter about her outrageousness.

Poppy was an amazing ground breaking woman who spat at convention. We were all in awe, and admittedly quite envious of her forging her own path despite the condemnation of the society in which we all lived then.

I dug out the story today as I had written it immediately after the reunion. Names are changed, of course, to protect her.
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Downalong

She named the house for her grandfather. He had left her the worst quarter of his land which he contemptuously called 'downalong' on the edge of the Blackrock woods right where the Lisheen stream pours into Cork harbour. She wasn't insulted, given that his other three grandchildren were treated much more favourably in the inheritance department and given the choicest three of the four acres. It was a useless piece of land, seeing that it was rocky and a traditional garden was an impossibility, even with the many truckloads of topsoil she had thrown on top of it over the years. It had all subsequently washed away.

So she made a rockery out of it. Smuggled in some alpine plants over the years. Managed to grow some heather and some controlled furze. All that yellow and purple would take your breath away on summer days. And then you would discover all the non-native species crouching among the stones. With the insurance policy from Seamus, her first husband who died at thirty nine of a heart attack while driving on the Glanmire Road, she put in a large slate patio and a fountain fed by the stream and a number of huge terra cotta pots that lent the property a carefree Italian air.

She was a total scandal both within her family of origin and its wider circles for no one could ever sort out all her children. It seems there was one out of a relationship she had with Liam O'Dowda the RTE actor who happened to be married to another at the time and stayed that way. Then there was the little dark one who came back with her from Africa in 1969 and after that there were the three by Seamus, though one had the looks of neither of them being red haired and green eyed, and then there were the couple by George Wentworth, the architect who was with her for the last fifteen years of her life.

There was a rumour that the eldest of her children, Lorca, gave birth also, but that was difficult to confirm as the baby was the same age as the youngest of her own and she reared them as twins. A right hodgepodge of a household they all sniffed. And George brought in a stray of his too, a sullen young boy by the name of Farquhar, known as Q.

When you met Poppy Dowling you felt you had made an instant friend. Everyone knew her by her birth name even though she traded as Penelope Wentworth when out and about in the more prestigious genteel social circles George ran in. But she acted and sang under Poppy Dowling and her old loud self was more in evidence at cast parties and when she solo'd in church. That was the big surprise to everyone. How Poppy, in spite of her bohemian life style still went to church every Sunday and used her great voice to belt out the old hymns.

It might seem like her friendships were light and easy but they were the most complicated part of Poppy. If you were sensitive it would just about kill you to be her friend. It would always go something like this: you'd fall in love with Poppy after meeting her. You'd be welcomed into her chaotic household that always ran with children and associates of George and scattered artists and free spirits. After a while you'd feel compelled to introduce an interesting friend of your own to Poppy and a few months later you'd find out that there were certain dinner parties where you were excluded and your friend included. From hurt to pissed off didn't quite cover the gamut of emotions. Until you discovered that other friends had been treated the exact same way.

Even her old pals, the ones who ran with her in childhood were treated in this cavalier and disloyal fashion. Then a year or two later, there'd be her voice on the phone inviting you to a barbecue and of course you'd cast the hurt aside and show up. For even to see and be seen at one of Poppy's events lent one an enviable cachet to be included at all, even when she would link arms with a friend she had met through you and parade him or her around, where once she had paraded you. Your turn might come again in a few years. Or she might get bored by you. You were always on such uneasy tenterhooks and you hated to admit but that they added to the excitement of running in her crowd.

See Part 2 here

See Part 3 here


10 comments:

  1. I loved this - and grieved because I couldn't make the links to Parts 2 and 3 work their magic.
    Many of us have had a Poppy in our lives, and like moths gravitated to her flame. Repeatedly, knowing that we would be burnt.

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    1. I will be putting them up over the next few days EC and then add the links.

      XO
      WWW

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  2. Yes, I hope you can fix the links. Life stories are the best.

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    1. They truly are, they will work when I post the next episodes. I still find her life so outrageously fascinating.

      XO
      WWW

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  3. Poppy sounds like fun, but also exhausting.
    I'm glad you had a lovely weekend with your girl.

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    1. Totally. But we all felt so proud to know her.

      XO
      WWW

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  4. What caught me was the name, Lorca. It is my nephew's name. Not very common in Hawaii.

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    1. An Irish name Gigi, so very unusual for Hawaii - maybe some Irish blood?

      XO
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  5. She was a free spirit...lovely story about an interesting lady.

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    1. I always felt in awe of her, daring to defy so much in such a judgmental Catholic city and upsetting her family of origin.

      But she dared to be herself.

      XO
      WWW

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