By Raymond Sloan
Ma had this saying, ‘‘You’ll grow into ‘em, son.’’ She was, of course, referring to the clumps of clothes on our backs.
There were three of us, all boys; the famous Doyle triplets. But as far as Ma knew, she was having twins until the day we were born. There was me, John-Paul; Frankie, my older brother by two minutes; and Tess who—in Ma’s sheer panic—she named after the nice midwife who helped deliver us. Thankfully, growing up, people assumed Tess was just my brother’s nickname.
We didn’t have much, so everything we wore was bought in threes. And to save as many trips to the shops as she could, Ma got us everything two sizes too big, to make sure they’d last.
We weren’t poor, but money wasn’t something that stuffed up our pockets either. Ma did her best for us with whatever Da took home from working his fingers to the bone with my uncle Jack, at Jack’s farm.
I remember one time, me, Frankie, and Tess, buzzing with bravado, on what must have been a mad sugar rush from the fizzy pop, approached Ma questioning her method. She clipped each one of us behind the ear and said, “Children in Africa have nothin’, ye boys have twice as much as ye need. Ye don’t know how lucky ye are.’’ She meant well.
So, we learned to live with the jumpers that dripped, trousers that trickled down our legs, and shoes so big they’d slap the ground. I felt hideous at school—we all did.
Tess, or timid Tess, got the teasing the worst, but took it well. I tried to laugh stuff off as much as I could, and Frankie…well, he fought everyone. We each dealt with it in our own way. One time, late at night, I saw Tess with his arm round Frankie, who’d been crying. Although it was tough to watch, I look back on that moment now fondly.
Everything changed on Sundays. Not a baggy trouser in sight, we were always kitted out in our Sunday best. We made the short walk to church each week. Ma and Da, arm in arm and me and my two brothers, following behind. We all walked with this certain earned swagger. I felt ten feet tall, like the whole town was watching me.
Ma herself was so proud. Her whole demeanor swelled with pride as she held her head high and hoofed her heels into the ground as she led us. She was a different person without the grind of a daily schedule swimming around her head. I loved seeing her like that.
We made sure to make the most of it. We hung around after Mass and chatted with our friends and family. We felt at our most comfortable on those Sundays. We had Ma to thank for that.
It lasted like that until one winter morning, on the day after our twelfth birthday, Da died suddenly. After that we only went to Mass out of routine, it felt. It was like we came as four fingers trying to find our missing thumb.
My brothers and I never minded the clothes after that. We knew that no matter how hard it was for us, it was a lot harder for Ma. She worked two jobs. And no matter how busy or tired she got, she was still home to cook breakfast each morning and dinner each night.
After we were finished with school, my two brothers moved away. I remained close by and came to visit Ma as much as I could, every week. I was glad I was able to do that. She never changed. She was always just as busy, even in the empty house. I was constantly on at her. “Sit, Ma, will ye.’’
“How’s Jenny? And that grandson of mine?’’ She would ask, with one foot balancing on a chair as she swung at a strewn cobweb that I couldn’t see for the life of me.
Even when she started to get sick, she kept herself busy. And, looking as pristine as ever, she came to Mass every week with me and my family. She still held her head high as she entered those church doors, greeting everyone she knew.
When the sickness got too much, she remained at home. And, when it was time, my two brothers came and sat at her bedside with me. We each shared our favorite stories together about growing up. In a weird way, it was nice we were all back together like that.
One of the first things I did—after she passed—was pull her best dress from the wardrobe for her to be buried in. I ironed it till it was perfect. I then slipped it onto a hanger and placed it on her bed. As it lay there looking at me, I felt this slap of guilt, knowing this was the first time I’d ever done this for her.
The day of the funeral fell on a crisp Sunday morning, where the sun had been shining from dawn. If Da was watching, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky to even try to get in his way. As we reached the church, the memories flooded back for me and my brothers. We could hardly cope as we approached the hearse. Frankie flung his arm around Tess to console him.
When ready, the three of us, along with our uncle Jack, took Ma and raised her up. With her coffin planted on our shoulders, we walked the short way to the church doors and entered. Slowly, we went up the aisle, our hearts clogged in a mixture of sadness and pride, as we took Ma one last time past friends and family, in her Sunday best.