January 26, 2009
St. Philomena Catholic Church
(Reaches down to ‘dust the floor'.)
That's a gesture Georgie used to make: dusting the floor, to get it ready for her to dance. My brother Paul told me a story of the time Aunt Georgie was trying to teach him that unique Connaghan half-step they were known for. Well, it wasn't going so well, and she finally got frustrated with him and said “You've got too much Gillespie in you! You can't get the Connaghan step right!”
But then later on, after a night of dancing, she reached down and ‘dusted the floor', saying, “If I could go right here right now, I'd be happy.”
That was her spirit.
She loved to dance. And if you think about it, in many ways we can see that as the theme of her life. In the dance of her life there were hardships, loss, struggle, and a lot of hard work. But through it all she always kept her sense of humor; a twinkle in her eye; and an indomitable bright spirit. A spirit not only of acceptance of difficulty, but of hope, and perhaps most importantly, a celebration of the many good things life had to offer.
She used to say something along the lines of, “Why worry about something that hasn't happened yet? Once it's happened, you can't do anything about it anyway. And if it hasn't happened at all, then why are you worrying?”
Life didn't get her down. Partly because she was part of a generation, and an Island generation in particular, that was defined by hard work and sacrifice; doing the right thing; endurance; and most importantly, community—the community she and her generation drew their strength from, and which they strengthened themselves. Georgie wove and kept the ties that bind, among her birth family, her own children, grand-children, and great-grand-children, all her many relatives and friends based around the island community she loved so well, and beyond.
She had a sharp mind behind that disarming smile. She'd come over and play nickel-ante poker every Thursday at Ann and JR's, and JR says that behind her disarming smile and the unfiltered Chesterfields she used to smoke, he could never catch her bluffing; she always took his money.
Ruth Gatliff tells stories of their early years in Detroit, saying that they worked hard and played hard. And Ruth says she never once heard Georgie raise her voice, or say a bad word about anyone.
And we all know she loved her Irish heritage, and was resourceful like the Irish. For instance, she once traveled to Sandy's 30th birthday party with a suitcase full of boiled potatoes and eggs to make potato salad for the event!
Georgie was well loved; she inspired people to take care of her. Bonnie Cull tells of the time she got married to Kevin on the island years ago. Georgie was there for the wedding, but missed her ride back to Detroit. She had to get back and go to work, so Bonnie and Kevin actually post-poned their honeymoon to drive Georgie back to Detroit themselves! Then when they got down there Georgie couldn't remember how to get to her house, so they drove all over Detroit trying to find it!
This is a poem * that I think speaks well to what Georgie might say now…
…I have only slipped away into the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are.
Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference in your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we used to enjoy together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be always the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without affect,
without the trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolutely unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?
I am waiting for you,
for an interval,
somewhere very near,
just around the corner.
All is well.
What a privilege it was to have her in our lives.
I also want to say a note about the family she was born into, the Connaghans. My cousins and I were talking about family history over dinner last night, and I remarked that the oldest in that family, Marie, who died young, was born in 1909. That means that the Connaghan family has been being born, living, and passing on for a hundred years. And will be going on more, in Anna Mae, who's still with us. A hundred years of being in our lives, shaping our lives and the lives of their communities, on the island and elsewhere. Now that's something to think about—that's something to be proud of.
We all know the famous Irish song ‘Lord of the Dance'—“Dance, dance, wherever you may be…” Wherever you find yourself this year, with a spouse, a special person, or a friend; at a wedding, or a tavern, or a hall party…remember Georgie, and dedicate the first dance to her. Because by living her life the way she did, she showed us how to lead our lives across the dance floor of time. And as we sweep the dust from the floor and move on, let's do it with the same grace, humor, and love of life that she embodied. Thank you….
* Poem: “Death is nothing at all”, by Henry Scott Holland, 1847-1918