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Dazzling All Comers

by Jane Shortall

I walked into the room in the Nursing Home to find May sitting upright in her high backed chair. It was entirely in character that she wore a purple hat.

A true dame, old and frail now, yet unchanged in so many ways. She had a radiant, youthful air and still plenty of the old Brio about her.

She was smiling broadly, her arms outstretched to me in a welcome and with the same look in her eyes that I had seen and loved all my life. And what a lovely picture she made, in that hat. It was a moment I will treasure forever. Madly pleased to see her, I rushed over and gave her an enormous hug. She felt thin; very, very thin. Her lovely, kind face was more lined and she was much weaker than the last time I saw her.

As a young woman, May was tall, with masses of beautiful dark hair, wore tailored suits and red lipstick. She also had quite a collection of shoes. Her old photos showed her to be firmly in the Dorothy Lamour camp of good lookers.

As a child, I loved looking at photographs of herself and her sisters. Children of an artist father, they grew up living beside the sea, in a wonderful world of colour. They seemed to me, even in later years, to be exotic creatures. Most definitely, in the Ireland of the time they would have turned heads.

And May most certainly did; my grandfather's head was one of them. He met her in the early fifties, years after his first wife, my grandmother, had died when still a young woman. In no time he had married May and went on to enjoy years of happiness and another wonderful daughter, who arrived just before me.

I was lucky enough to know May from the day I was born. Now, all these years later, she has unbelievably had to give up her independence and join other lovely ladies in a new home, high on a hill, overlooking the sea on the east coast of Ireland.

On a recent trip back to Ireland I spent an afternoon at May’s new residence.

The news, in the weeks leading up to my visit, had not been the best. A stroke had seriously damaged her eyesight she was for the moment, only able to see shadows and strong colours.

I had pondered about a gift. What was the use of bringing anything that May couldn’t really see, the whole episode only upsetting her? Then, I found something typically Parisienne, vintage, from another era, surely just right for her personality.

After May, her daughter Anne, and I had had afternoon tea together in the excellent place where she now lives, I produced my present. A long, thick, crushed velvet scarf, in a rich green, with a detail that proclaimed it not a gift for wallflowers, about half a foot of shiny pearls sewn into each end.

Shrieks of delight from May as she felt the soft velvet material, and then the pearls. ‘It’s me’ she said, laughing. ‘Perfect!’

She held it up to her face, then wrapped it around her neck and informed a nurse who popped in ‘Look, this is from my grand-daughter. Here she is. She’s come all the way from France to see me, brought this beautiful scarf from Paris, isn‘t it wonderful?’

Later, as we went on a tour of the nursing home, she announced to whoever we met on our travels ‘hello, this is my grand-daughter, isn’t she lovely?’  

And I, (now past middle age) did feel lovely.

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