03 October 2010

Once upon a time there was a little girl called Esther

 Patience is the companion of wisdom
                                                                                    St Augustine

Esther, her purring kitten Tighearnan on her shoulder, sat on a small rise overlooking Wexford Harbour and and waited patiently for her Papa to come home. But Papa’s bones, picked clean by small fishes, lay deep in the ocean four thousand miles away. Eight months later with a bitterly complaining kitten in a small rush basket, Esther, Mina and Mama waited in the autumn cold of a Dublin evening for the steamer which would take them across the wild waved Irish Sea to a new life in Liverpool.

The was no more money in Liverpool than there was a welcome for a nearly destitute family. Both the sisters had to go out to work, Mina aged 13 to look after a rich merchant’s backward daughter, and Esther aged 10 to mind the alcoholic wife of an absent sea captain. Fifteen years later, Mina was travelling the world keeping a succession of backward daughters safely away from the disdain and condescension of upper class Liverpool society while Esther, at last, was engaged to be married.

Charles was the youngest son of a wealthy business man; Esther although poor was the daughter of an officer and a gentleman, and the niece of two generals. As such, she was made grudgingly welcome by her new family and her three children were born at the big family house in the rue des Ormeaux where Grandmama held court. Although she did not care much for her husband’s relations, her highly critical and ironic wit was mercifully well moderated by a great natural courtesy, and Esther was content.

Esther loved her children with a love as fierce as it was undemonstrative and her patience was severely tested by the war in France. Towards the end of 1917 Frederick, her regular army  son, returned home an invalid. Over the fields of Arras where the land was made blackly sticky with allied blood, her youngest son Bryan flew during the dreadful Spring of 1917, and then lay impatiently in an English hospital waiting for his eyes to heal and his sight to return. He rejoined his squadron, but Frederick died. Esther mourned silently for one and quietly rejoiced for the other, accepting whatever in his wisdom the Good Lord chose to throw at her.

Charles, who played the international stock markets, died in 1930 most of his money lost to the Wall Street Crash. Sixty years after Papa’s death in the Red Sea, Esther yet again found herself almost penniless. Encroaching arthritis gradually crippled her, the sheer weight of her years began to destroy her body until at last in 1950 she was taken into a geriatric ward. There with flashes of bright humour and great patience she waited three years for death to come gently for her.

In worldly terms Esther was a totally undistinguished woman; she was not beautiful, she was not famous, she had no brilliant  accomplishments.  The World failed to notice her brisk kindness, her undemandingly respectful friendship with children, her unquestioning acceptance of the madman, the vicious stray cat and the slings and arrows of an outrageous Fortune. She inspired great love in those around her and a wonderful sense of security and self worth. This was her distinction and her wisdom was indeed more precious than rubies.
Naomi                                             Illustration by Liz