Following on from The Colour of Life, my father-in-law Geoff Cronin wrote two more books with stories of life in Waterford and Dublin from the 1930s. He collected the stories on his travels, swapping them with others in return for his own and then treating us to the results of the exchange. Geoff also added some jokes overheard just for the Craic…Over the next few weeks I will be sharing selected stories from Milestones Along the Way.
This week how Geoff met David’s mother Joan … a wonderful mother-in-law with an infectious laugh and much kindness.
How I Met Joan
In the summer of 1944 I joined the boat club in Waterford. The headquarters of this club was situated on the Kilkenny side of the river Suir, opposite the Adelphi hotel. It was a wooden building and it was painted white and green and it housed several outriggers. These boats would be approximately 60 to 70 feet long and could be carried easily by eight men.
The club could be reached from Waterford by walking along the quay, across the bridge and down on the Kilkenny side of the river – which was would have taken a considerable length of walking time. But, for convenience sake, a member of the club could stand on the Waterford side of the bridge and whistle or signal to the boat club who would send a punt across the river to ferry the member over to the club.
In those years, my brother Dick, who was an expert musician, ran a small dance band, consisting of himself on the accordion, Ken McKinnon on tenor sax and Peerie White (The Gunner) on drums. They played for small club dances around the town. Well, my brother secured a booking to play at Sunday night ‘Hops’ in the boat club and, being a member, I always supported those dances for the joint reason that my brother was in charge of the band, and I was a member of the club.
About this time, I had returned from working in a timber gang, where I developed a considerable amount of muscle, I was also in the boxing club where I did not meet with great success, being too short in stature for my weight. Nevertheless, I stripped out at eleven stone and felt somewhat invincible.
In those days, anyone who had a respectable job went to work in a collar and tie, long-sleeve shirt which usually boasted some kind of cuff-links, and I was no exception. So, on attending the boat-club dance one particular Sunday night, I took off my coat and rolled up my sleeves until the fold was well above the biceps. This allowed me to show off my muscles and at the same time display my doubtful dancing prowess. I was at that age when, as they say, ‘a young man’s fancy turns to love’ and I had my eye on Joan Flanagan. Now this girl was probably the best looking girl in the in the city and I liked the way she walked with a very straight back, and when she looked at you her gaze was steady, and I was quite smitten.
However Joan was three years older than I was and I felt that she was beyond my reach. Imagine my surprise therefore when at this particular Sunday night dance she walked into the ballroom accompanied by a fellow who had been my junior at school and I felt a surge of anger the like of which I have not had felt since or before.
She was still taking her coat off when I walked up to her and asked her would she like to dance. This was very rude of me, really, but she agreed and we had a nice couple of rounds of the floor. During that time I was racking my brains to think how I might “anchor” the conversation.
Joan Flanagan, 1944
Joan Cronin, 1959
Again, on impulse, I said to her “by the way, do you do the Tango”? Now, to be honest, I hadn’t a clue how to do the Tango but I knew that she was interested in dancing because her cousin ran a dance studio and had a very large clientele.
Anyway, she said, “No I don’t do the Tango” but I wouldn’t mind learning.
Well, I said, “I’ve been taking lessons,” which was a downright lie, “and if you would like to come to the Atlantic, in Tramore, with me on, let’s say, on Thursday night of this week, and I can show you what I know and we could practice together.
So, she smiled deliberately at me and she said, “Well, yes, that would be nice.”
“OK,” I said. “I’ll see you on Thursday.”
Now, that was okay and to some extent it was a bit of a victory for me. But from that moment on her escort guarded her as if she was Fort Knox, and I realised that I hadn’t made any firm arrangement where to meet her, or how to get to Tramore, or whatever, and I was at pains to get back to speak to her again and I couldn’t because he kept hovering over her and blocking my entrance. Anyway, the dance came to a close and I was in a corner there, getting ready to put on my coat and I turned down the sleeves of my shirt and my cuff-links were dangling off the end of the shirt. And as I saw her getting ready to leave I went the length of the ballroom and I confronted her and I said to her, “Joan, listen, could you help me with something?”
“Yes,” she said. “What is it?”
And I said, “Joan, would you ever fix my cuff-links, I can’t get them right?”
So she smiled at me and began to fix my cuff-links.
And then I looked her straight in the face, and she looked back at me, and I felt myself sinking into those grey eyes with the feeling that I never had before. And I’m sure the angels felt a bang when I hit the ground, because I fell for her hook, line and sinker.
So, I arranged to meet her at the train station – there was a train to Tramore on a regular basis at that time – and we went to the Atlantic ballroom in Tramore together on the train, and back again and we had a most enjoyable evening. I arranged a further date with her and that continued on for four years and at the end of four years we were married.
In all we spent 50 years together, the happiest time of my life and in all that time we never had a cross word. So, there you are, that is the story of How I Met Her.
After a certain funeral, the following conversation took place:-
“So, how did the funeral go?”
“Oh, there was a big crowd there, but still it wasn’t great.”
“Well, at the graveside Jimmy Walsh tripped on a kerb and fell and broke his leg and spoiled the day for everyone.”
©Geoff Cronin 2008
Geoff Cronin 1923 – 2017
About Geoff Cronin
I was born at tea time at number 12 John Street, Waterford on September 23rd 1923. My father was Richard Cronin and my mother was Claire Spencer of John Street Waterford. They were married in St John’s Church in 1919.
Things are moving so fast in this day and age – and people are so absorbed, and necessarily so, with here and now – that things of the past tend to get buried deeper and deeper. Also, people’s memories seem to be shorter now and they cannot remember the little things – day to day pictures which make up the larger canvas of life.
It seems to me that soon there may be little or no detailed knowledge of what life was really like in the 1930s in a town – sorry, I should have said City, in accordance with its ancient charter – like Waterford. So I shall attempt to provide some of these little cameos as much for the fun of telling as for the benefit of posterity.
I hope you have enjoyed this series of stories from Geoff and I will be sharing more in the New Year.. thanks Sally.