Loyalty, Friendship and Love
Marie Smith was a rare woman: fought every battle in her life bravely and found a way through many a difficult situation. She was courageous and gentle. Her final battle was fought with the grace and positivity anyone who knew her would have hoped for but not expected. She died on Tuesday and her passing is a loss to all of us who knew her.
I first met Marie as she’s Paddy Kenny’s cousin, and Paddy is married to my friend Valerie (O’Connor) Kenny. Val and Paddy have always been close to Marie and so I was fortunate enough to meet her and experience the ‘force of nature’ she represented.
Marie was at Val’s birthday dinner in Februay and never looked better. The next time I saw her was in St Vincent’s when the nurse came to close the door because ‘the laughing coming out of here is disturbing the other patients’. Marie announced that she was going to keep going and if it was her time, well, so be it. We all hoped it wasn’t but no-one takes notice of us mere mortals.
There’s friends that, if you’re lucky, stay with you for your whole life, and there’s friends that are with you for a certain part of it: you would spend a lot of time together maybe in work, and those relationships sometimes don’t follow into the next phase of your – or their – lives.
I’ve known Valerie since we were both nine years old. Moving into Mackintosh Park after living in a quietly countrified part of Shanganagh was a bit scary to me, so making friends with girls my own age was a necessary benefit. I wasn’t used to being hemmed in by houses and buildings, and befriending Val O’Connor – as she was then – another Val (Mattie) Flynn, Anne Healy and Siobhan Piggot changed my view of my new suburban life.
So there was a bunch of us and we had quite some times: the Saturday disco in Pres in Glasthule, the pictures, swimming (Dun Laoghaire baths – absolutely freezing) – it was all good… SuperSplits and red lemonade, wet togs and the chain coming off your bike. We all loved music and listened to the radio and Top of the Tops religiously.
As for me and Val, we’ve come and gone our separate ways on lots of occasions: Valerie went to Paris where she lived for several years, and I went to the UK and US, but we always met up again whenever we could, and wrote to each-other regularly.
When Valerie met Paddy I could not be happier for them. They’d a lovely baby (Shane – oh, he’s still so cute) and Bob and I played at their wedding. Then they had the beautiful Jodie. Paddy and I have become friends, I feel, over the years. In their company I can be myself, I don’t have to watch what I say: they put up with me and slag me and love me, and it’s returned. Even the kids used to (still do) torture me good-naturedly, giving me grief when I’d stay overnight and be dying with a hangover. Shane: ‘Are you puking your ring up, Auntie Angela? [snigger, giggle]’ (shouted through the bathroom door). Me: ‘No, I’m having a pony – now leave me alone’. ‘Having a pony’ is our private Kenny/Bolton joke, and I had to phone them after the Tiny and Teeny trip to Longford – a real pony was’ having a pony’ while I was trying to play the guitar and sing a few songs (https://robertbolton.org/2013/02/21/valentines-day-for-longford-legends-tiny-teany/). There’s a first time for everything.
Valerie’s birthday dinner was a big occasion, and I was invited to join the family in The Fernhouse for dinner. Not always up for socialising as can be imagined, this night I was determined to have a good time. Of course I knew Valerie would be the height of glamour (as you can see from the photos) so thought I’d better bring more than one dress, just in case….
The atmosphere and the crack – and the VIP service from The Fernhouse staff – all made for an evening of good humour. And we got all the good-looking waiters – you can see from the photo above the faces on Marie and Val. Saucy minxes. Marie went home but the rest of us went back to Val and Paddy’s to continue the festivities.
Val and Paddy put me up for the night in what must be the highest bed in the country. At four foot ten I’m not exactly towering over anything, and it was probably around 7.30am the following morning when Paddy – safe in bed – heard me saying to Val: ‘okay, I’m gonna run for it!’, then a thud, a groan, and my voice saying ‘…me f”””””g leg!’ (I’d bounced off the side of the bed). Then he heard Val say: ‘oh hang on, I’ll haul you up by the arse in a minute…’. She did haul me up by the arse, in fact, then tucked me in (and gave me a kiss), and tidied up all my clothes which had been flug around the room. Cherished? I think so!
Val and I are quite different in personality but when we’re together it’s like we complement each-other. We have huge laughs. She’s quiet and shy; I’m outgoing and talkative. We agree on one basic rule of friendship and always have done: don’t rat out your friends, don’t nag them when they’re being a pain in the butt, and try to have a good time.
Val’s Mam and Dad, Jennifer and John, were unfailingly kind to me. Jennifer always spoke to me as if I was an adult – which I loved – and I got doted on by John because I’d sing for him any time he asked, and probably gaze at him adoringly. I loved them both. They always treated me like a member of the family. I won’t ever forget that.
Val and I didn’t see each-other for a few years but when we did, it was like we’d never been apart. She stays over with me in Aungier Street, tip-toeing around to get her cup of tea in the morning, or in the evening sitting on the couch wrapped in a little blanket looking very cute. She’s terribly dainty and particular in her ways, and in this regard we are alike. All I have to do is mention something that annoys me (nail biting or something) and we’re off, bitching about pet hates but laughing at our own peculiarities.
Since Bob’s injury, I’ve counted on many different people for help and advice, but the unconditional support of an old friend is invaluable. Val doesn’t speak until she knows what she wants to say, and I didn’t realise until Bob’s sickness how much I respect that. Words are powerful, and what you say can help or wound. Val never hurts. If she doesn’t know what to say she’ll say nothing. Gentle and all as she is, she’s no pushover and will let you know if you cross her line. I learn from her all the time.
And I learned a thing or two from Marie: don’t give up, and stay positive. If you lose interest in life it loses interest in you, and you can fade away before you notice it. Marie’s vitality survived until the end – she didn’t fade away – she was surrounded by those she loved and who love her but was charmingly unaware of the impact she made on people’s lives. I know I took a deep breath after leaving her in Vincent’s that day and said to myself ‘right, try to emulate that lady’. I’ll try, Marie, I’ll try. God bless and I know you’re safe in the arms of love somewhere. Nothing else is possible.