Olivia was eighty-one and stood four-foot, eleven-and-one-quarter inches in her Easy Spirit shoes. Her hazel eyes stared into my identical ones in the mirror as I combed her long locks. Her peers called her Ollie but to me, she was Mum.
“Now, don’t introduce me as, ‘And this is my little mum.’”
“Why not? You are.”
“I sound like a circus act or a leprechaun.” Mum pursed her crimson lips. “I’d like to remind you that I was five-four at your age, dear.”
“Great,” I inhaled, “I have your height to aspire to in thirty years.”
Mum giggled and finished rimming her eyes with a stub of a pencil and then switched to mascara. Mum continued, “I don’t know why I even bother. I can count all my lashes on both hands.”
“You should name them,” I said drolly.
Seventy-five years ago, Ollie reached into a burning shed to rescue her dachshund, Biddy. She was six, as was Biddy. They both survived. Her eyelashes did not.
Mum took a step back from her vanity to admire my handiwork and she said, “You’ve done a great job. I nearly look human.”
I’d finished putting her long hair into a concise, tidy bun at the back of her head. She smiled, “Tsk, tsk. Hair, the color of dust.”
I glanced over at the pictures on her bureau: my siblings and me, her grandkids, friends and an old photo with my dad on the deck of the ship, which brought them to New York. Her fiery, red hair was in a pageboy. Dad had his arm around her waist and they were laughing. They were both twenty-six and had married two weeks before in Dublin, Ireland. She had married a tall, handsome guy with thick, wavy hair that insisted on falling into his fog, grey eyes.
It was 1948. The war was over and Dad was determined to seek his future in America, by way of Canada.
The picture had no way of forecasting the sadness and the happiness that was to follow. It gave no clues of the four miscarriages or the three births, winters of snowdrifts up to the roof, the comforting sound of trains way off on the prairies, dreamy summers on the Red River, mosquito-bitten children, Dairy Queen dipped cones, August days at the lake, puppies, Christmas trees with homemade tin foil garlands, or couches wearing optimistic, green fern patterns. No, they didn’t know what lay ahead, only what they had left behind in Ireland.
All of us are in Los Angeles now and my patient husband had been waiting to drive my parents and myself to a pub with pineapple in its name, which my mum thought ridiculous. “Why would a pub with fruit in its name have anything Irish?”
We met my brother and sister at the entrance. My mum said, “You know, we never did anything for St. Patrick’s in Dublin when I was a child. This holiday is all so American.” She kissed my siblings and slid into a booth.
My father invited her to share a green Guinness. She scrunched up her nose and said, “I don’t like beer. It smells like skunk.”
Friends came over and I introduced my parents “. . . and this is my little mum.”
“No, I’m not, dear.”
“You’re not her mum?” my friend Karen asked.
“I’m not little,” Mum said growing flushed.
Karen looked at her quizzically. “I see.”
Mum’s Irish accent stood out, and she fidgeted with a pin in her hair. “I mean, I’m not a leprechaun.”
Several people turned to look at the wee woman in the booth. Someone made a toast to her. She was an instant hit!
I looked at her glistening eyes, enjoying the applause and feeling so much love and admiration for this little woman who had weathered so many physical challenges. Yet she always embraced life with, “Don’t worry, I know something wonderful will happen.”
. . . and it always did. I miss my little leprechaun.