She was always humming, my grandmother. You'd walk into her kitchen and she'd be at the sink with some unknown tune, while he sat in his corner chair reading the Irish Times or one of his books.
I never remember asking what song was going through her head, whether it was something made-up, or if it was from some long held memory. I liked to listen though, as if I knew as long as she was humming she was happy. It was the world uncomplicated.
I had two homes. On one side of the house there was homework, dinner, toys, squabbles, my mother and father, Anne and Emma and I.
On the other side were my grandparents. He called her Chick, she called him Finghin with a fada on the second 'i'. The smell is lost to me now, but I reckon it was some combination of orange peel, faded cigarette smoke and washing up liquid. She was always at the sink, and would never let anyone else do the dishes. She'd watch us on the swing in the back garden, or my father in his workshop. Stationary and humming, with a reading bald man and Gay Byrne for company.
I think she was always checking to make sure nothing had happened, that everything remained. She liked to think of the world working, didn't hold much truck with weekends. Monday was her favourite day.
A few times a day she'd take a cup of tea or coffee and talk. We'd play snap and I'd win 10p. She'd sit and make salads. Nothing extraordinary but I'd take it all in.
I was in there, with her and Granda, every day.
I'd give him my homework and I'd listen to her tell me things too big for a child to hear. She told me the nature of depression, the nature of alcoholism, the nature of these things that a ten-year-old can barely pronounce.
She had never taken a drink in my lifetime, quitting the year before I was born, but she told me the temptation was always there. It was there for her Higher Power to stave off.
I liked that she never demonised it, though. She knew I'd grow up to take a drink, and that I'd seen my dad and granda half-cut on occasion, and she wouldn't put the worry in me. She said it was a great thing in moderation, but she couldn't do moderation.
I'd drive with them to Howth or through the Liberties, up to Hart's Corner or to the shops. It always annoyed me when they'd refer to "Superquinn's" or "Quinnsworth's", or when my granda would describe something as "highly" insulting or "highly" inappropriate.
She'd pass Giant Mints to me in the backseat when we'd drive her through Charleville Road, where I live now, to Grangegorman where she volunteered.
I loved hearing about old money, the glimmer-man, about my da's childhood, or her own early life when she moved to Castle Avenue in Clontarf from Dingle (my love affair with Dingle started years before I found it for myself, before I saw the house in Grey's Lane where she was born). Random stories that she gave to me.
She was patient and childish and unreasonable, and she never complained of feeling 'well'. But she taught me a lot about strength, and how it had nothing to do with size. She was good to the core, treating meanness as leprosy and making allowances for everything else.
When my parents moved to Limerick, I moved next door with them. It wasn't an easy time, I was 16 and stupid, they were old and ate too much Irish stew. But the humming never stopped and I kept listening. She even got to like the Smashing Pumpkins.
She passed away exactly a year after my folks headed southwest, on July 14th 1996. My granda followed in December that same year.
In the intervening months, my dad asked Finghin how he was doing since she'd died.
"The thing is, Mike," he said. "I don't still love your mother. I'm still IN love with your mother."
Such a thing to aspire to.