Buddy, Can you Spare a Dime?

Buddy, can you spare a dime?
There were nine in Grandad Mackey’s family, and in the end only Winnie, May and Peg were left to be next-door neighbours in a Tipperary nursing home. They were all in their nineties, and fiercely jealous. If you visited May, she would draw you close and confide that Winnie was asleep and ’twas better not to disturb her. Later on, she would play the innocent: “They’re looking well, aren’t they? Oh, did they not drop in to see you at all?”

Winnie had gone to New York on a passenger ship in 1927. She got married on 57th and Lex—”Not to the fella I went over with, mind. Sure, he was only building castles in the air.”—and opened a deli in Hell’s Kitchen. In 1932, they came back to Tipperary.

“They had a spot of bother with the stock market, and things got very bad,” she said. “Are they over that now?”

Winnie had five children, and was a widow for longer than she was married. The polio that crippled her didn’t stop her running Talbot’s pub in Nenagh for fifty years, presiding from her chair like FDR. Her New York stint was a blip; a bare five per cent of her life.

Dave’s grandmother is 102. He flew home for her birthday last autumn, and she wanted to know all about the growing recession in New York. It wasn’t really so bad, he explained, nothing compared to the real crash of ’29. Worst that could happen was that a few people might have to move back in with their parents.

“Son,” she said, and patted his arm, “At your age, that is the worst that could happen.”

I’m glad she thinks so. These days I take comfort in the notion that life is long.