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.


  1. I think Delia was much more exciting that Mrs. Sneed. Isn't it interesting how much that type of experience as a child means to a person for an entire lifetime.

  2. What an interesting and generous lady! Thank you for sharing your memories with us.

  3. What a good read, WWW! And how fortunate you were to meet such a woman.

    Your piece reminds me a wee bit of a movie we watched on HBO yesterday evening - Dead Poets Society - we'd seen it before, ages ago, it seems, but it's one of those films that doesn't age much and always reminds how important are those early connections with the enlightnened beings with whom we are fortunate enough to cross paths, one way or another.

    Re the previous post - it provides balance with your good fortune, compared with the ill fortune of poor Elsie and the depraved being(s) who crossed her path.

    The dark and the light, the good and the evil.

  4. it's wonderful when we can meet and appreciate the people who take responsibility for their own lives, isn't it?

  5. It's good you had her in your life as a role model. We all need someone like that who is out of the ordinary. Some of us get lucky and have someone like that. Good for you, I say.

  6. Delia was obviously a woman confident of her own abilities and interests and without the usual inhibitions about pursuing them. She must have been a very positive influence on you.

  7. What a wonderful woman and wonderful memory. Thanks for sharing it. It made me think of some of the adults who made all the difference to my growing up in London in the 1940s and 50s

  8. What lovely people. And obviously a very loving family despite the disparity in their livings. I also benefited from part-time adoption by a wonderful family more functional than my own. Lx


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