Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Joan Walker

I had some sad news yesterday, My aunt died yesterday morning. She was an old lady - nearly 90 - and it wasn't unexpected. But obviously any death in the family brings you up sharp and makes you look back and remember.

Joan Walker, affectionately known as Cho by her nieces, was my mother's younger sister. And to be honest, when I was growing up she wasn't expected to live past my adolescence. She had severe heart problems then and had to have several operations to save her life. She also wore out several pacemakers in her time!

Not that that ever held her back. She lived in Dublin, worked for many years in advertising in the 1950s,/60s/70s, made up advertising jingles for radio. She never married, and lived what I always regarded as a wonderfully sophisticated life, mixing with people who ranged from The Beatles to Seamus Heaney and the arts and literary groups in Dublin. She travelled extensively well before it became popular and delighted in sporting a dark tan acquired on many trips to Greece, Spain and Italy. Frequent surgery meant that her torso was crisscrossed by white scars but she always wore a brief bikini and swore that the scars attracted rather than repelled handsome young men. And she brought back wonderful gifts for her nieces - I remember one Italian scarf that I wore and wore and wore until it frayed at the edges.

When we visited she gave up the floor of the livingroom of her one-bedroomed flat overlooking Dun Laoghaire bay, where the ferries from Holyhead arrived, so that four or five of us (depending how many of us were staying at the time) could have somewhere to sleep.
She was a wonderful cook. Though there was one memorable visit that when her cousin and my mother's fruit crop was so enormous that we simply ate strawberries and icecream, alternated with raspberries and ice cream for dessert every single day of that holiday. Which was a pity as I always loved the spectacular sauce she made for pouring over ice cream simply by slicing up and melting down Mars bars.
I was so impressed by her cooking and the sophisticated restaiurants she ate in both in Dublin and abroad that on one occasion when she came to visit I was horrified to realise that I had been concentrating so hard on making the meal wonderful that I had totally forgotten to make any pudding. The only things in the cupboard were two packets of Angel Delight, one coffee and one chocolate flavoured and a pint of milk. In a panic I whipped them all up together and then sat in a fury of embarrassment as she praised the result, telling me that I had achieved what she had never managed and been able to create 'the perfect mocha mousse'. Unable to bear it any longer, I confessed and saw her eyes light up with laughing appreciation at my ingenuity, if not my culinary skills.
It was some time later, on another visit to Dublin, that I learned that at her dinner parties Cho was wowing all her friends with a wonderful new dessert - mocha mousse, made to a secret recipe shared with her by her niece.
Sophisticated, creative, charming and fun, Cho was lucky in that she was always associated with family holidays and enjoyment. When we were small we used to make the long drive to Anglesey and holiday in a rented house in a small village called Treaddur Bay. From Dublin, Cho would catch the ferry over, arriving in Holyhead just down the coast and join us there. She would dig in the sand, make sandcastles, swim with us in the icy waters of Caernafon Bay. That's where this early photo of her (with my 2 older sisters) was taken. (The one at the top of this blog was taken at my wedding - she had been chopping beetroot for salad just before she left for the church and her hands were still stained faintly pink for the rest of the afternoon!)
She was the sort of slightly raffish aunt who often earned my mother's disapproval but my adoration by sharing with me things that Mother would have frowned on. The trips to The Abbey or the Gaiety Theatres were fine (she even managed to get tickets for the opening of the New Abbey in July 1966), treats like going to the cinema to see Oklahoma and other musicals she loved were no problem. Introducing me to gaelic coffee with a strong dash of whiskey or buying me an underage lager at that opening of the Abbey were quite a different matter. But then Cho had always lived life to the full and after the amount of sunbathing, red wine and cigarettes she indulged in, it was a surprise that she made it to the age she did.
Shew as thrilled when I had my first book published, though disappointed that there wasn't going to be a posh launch party provided by the publishers - she would have loved that.In her later years, increasing weakness and her heart problems meant that she retired to first one and then another nursing home in the Dublin area. But even then her indefatigable spirit meant that she was determined to make sure that she shared some of her life memories by insisting taking us to the United Arts Club for lunch. She was stunned to discover that lunch there now consisted of toasted sandwiches, not the elegant dining she had expected. But the toasted cheese and onion sandwiches of that day in her company were yet another of the happy memories she has left me with.


Julie Cohen said...

What a remarkable and special woman. I'm sorry for your loss, Kate.

Ellen said...

What a wonderful full life she had, and what wonderful memories she gave you. Sorry for your loss.

mulberry said...

She sounds such an amazing woman, Kate. What a full life she lived, and what a wonderful way to be remembered. Thinking of you.

Jane said...

Sending prayers and thoughts to you and your family.

Anonymous said...

So sorry for your loss Kate. She sounds like a wonderful woman. My condolences to you and your family.


Dina said...

Sorry for your loss Kate.

Cryna said...

She sounds like she was a remarkable woman, Kate, so sorry for your loss.

Madeline said...

What an amazing woman your Aunt was. She will be kept alive in the memories of those she loved. Thank you Kate, for sharing this amazing woman with us. My heartfelt prayers go to you and your family.
Hugs, Mads

Kate Walker said...

Thank you to every one of you for your lovely messages of sympathy and support. They meant a lot to me.

Cho will be remembered - there's no doubt about that

Thank you!

jennybrat said...

Sorry for your loss. I know she will always live in your memories.


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