There are many images of my father-in-law Geoff Cronin in boxes of family photographs and also in our digital files. However, when looking at those we have, it was clear that they marked the passing of time, but not the life’s events that were contained within those nearly 94 years.
I believe as person’s hands tell a different story. These are Geoff’s hands that I think better represent a life well lived. Since 1923 these hands have completed both gentle and more complex tasks, and despite the gradual but persistent loss of feeling in them over the last ten years, they were still able to stroke a beloved great-grandchild’s cheek, pat a visiting dog’s head or raise a small glass of Winter’s Tale medium sherry before dinner.
In the last 94 years these hands have turned to many a task, including fishing and hunting rabbits to put food on the table, wielding an axe as a lumberjack apprentice, decorating a wedding cake, holding six of his new born children, playing piano and the accordian as well as creating a beautiful table lamp from a misshapen piece of wood.
There were few jobs that Geoff could not turn his hands to, and over the years he mastered an impressive number of professional undertakings. Master baker and confectioner, mobile cinema operator, salesman, band leader, senior executive and master wood turner, storyteller and writer.
Geoff Cronin published his first book in 2005 at age 82. The Colour of Life is a collection of stories of life in Waterford during his childhood and early adulthood in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The book is now out of print, but over the coming weeks I will be serialising those stories here on the blog. You too will be able to take a step back in time and enjoy the humour and poignant recollections of an era of change and transition for Ireland.
Of course there was a great deal more to Geoff Cronin than his hands. I was privileged to join his family in 1980, and I will admit to being more than a little nervous. David and I had only known each other a short time, had got engaged on our first date and were getting marrried in under six weeks. I was also a divorcee, and was a little unsure of how Geoff and David’s mother Joan might feel about this, but he assured me that it would be absolutely fine.
I was thinking about that first meeting as I battled Storm Doris on Thursday to get home for the funeral on Friday. It reminded me of my first trip to Ireland to meet David’s family 37 years before, as the weather was as atrocious. That time we caught the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin and we cork screwed our way across the Irish Sea with most of the passengers very indisposed. I am a good sailor but even I anchored myself in a sturdy armchair as the ship rolled from side to side. However during one particularly violent pitch, my chair flipped backwards and I was left clinging to the arm rests with my legs waving in the air. Very elegant!
However, all that was forgotten as we arrived at David’s home to the warmest welcome you can imagine.. David’s mother Joan ( a mother-in-law from heaven) had laid on a fabulous dinner and I met just one of David’s brothers Peter and his sister Valerie. Even the dog, Skipper got in on the act by removing a portion of cheesecake from the bottom of the hostess trolley. Apparently I was spared his party piece which was jumping onto the table and sticking his nose into the cream jug!
This Friday we gathered at the local church in Shankill along with friends from around the country, the jazz club and from the community. Family had managed to get flights from Australia, Canada and the UK, all shaking a fist at Storm Doris to get there to pay their last respects. In only two days my brother-in-laws Peter and Frank had pulled together a magnificent service of celebration of a life well lived and well regarded.
Geoff’s sons, daughter and grandchildren played their part by reading prayers, much loved poems, the eulogy and bringing up special reminders of Geoff’s life in photos, woodwork and music.
Music was a crucial element of Dad’s life and the pieces played during the service all had their own special story. As we filed out of the doors, his old pals from his jazz club, were there to send him on his way with some of his favourite New Orleans style razzamatazz.
We travelled down to Duncannon on the south east coast and stood in the windswept (galeswept) graveyard with friends from his original home of Waterford to lay him next to my lovely mother-in-law Joan, and much missed sister-in-law Dorothy. Geoff was home at last, and having said our final farewells, we repaired to a local pub where we swapped stories, shared memories and raised a glass or two.
Those memories will be passed on to the next generations. There are eleven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren with two more on the way in the next few weeks. And, we as a family, were able to celebrate new life by coming together again on Saturday for the christening of the youngest member of our tribe… Knox Cronin aged four months.
Geoff Cronin leaves behind a wonderful legacy in his family spread across the world and in the richness of the memories we all hold close in our hearts.
The Colour of Life will begin at midnight Saturday.