Tea and Green Ribbons is the astonishing tale of a father's quest to reunite his family. In 1953 Evelyn Doyle's mother ran off with another man, leaving her husband in Dublin to care for their six small children. A local housepainter, Desmond Doyle has little money and no choice but to turn his kids over to Ireland's church-run industrial schools while he looks for work in England. But upon his return several months later, Desmond is unable to retrieve them from state custody.
Evelyn Doyle is only seven when she arrives at the convent in High Park, where she will bask in the clean joys and lonely sorrows of life in the care of nuns. She will make friends, say her prayers, and watch time pass as Desmond tries, and fails, to engage Ireland's foremost legal experts in a fight against the Church and the government. It will be two years before Evelyn's release is granted by the Irish Supreme Court the first time in Irish legal history in which the justices take a child's wishes into consideration when reaching their decision.
Tragic in its truths yet inspiring at every turn, Tea and Green Ribbons is a triumphant ode to the human spirit and a loving testament to the Irish experience.
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Tea and Green RibbonsEvelyn's Story
By Evelyn Doyle
Free PressCopyright © 2002 Evelyn Doyle
All right reserved.
PrologueI recognized her immediately. How could I not? She was, after all, my mother.
It was 1967 and I had made my way from Manchester to Glasgow to see her, for the first time in thirteen years. The journey seemed interminable and, as the train approached Glasgow, my nerves began to get the better of me. Fear, joy, and dread were doing battle. My traveling companions in the second-class compartment were three Church of England ministers. As I struggled not to cry, I prayed they wouldn't notice my distress. I needn't have worried; when I did cry, they ignored me.
As the train slowed, I considered for a moment not getting off. I gathered my belongings slowly and waited for the ministers to leave. I wanted to compose myself. My mind was full of questions. What would I say to her? Had I really forgiven her? Would I accept her explanation? Would she offer any? I was eight when my mother visited me in the industrial school, and that was the last time I'd seen her.
I stepped down onto a long dirty platform, disoriented by the throngs of people and the noise. Standing still, I searched the crowd until I spotted her. A small, slightly overweight, middle-aged woman. I knew it was her. She saw me too and waved tentatively. I waved back and walked towards her. We embraced, tightly, until I pulled away.
"Hello, how've you been?"
It was all I could think of to say. She told me she was fine and that she was so happy to have me back and that everything would be all right now.
"We must catch up on all the gossip," she said.
The gossip? She sounded as though she'd met up with an old school pal. What kind of gossip did she mean? Did she want to talk about the latest fashion or pop records, or maybe she wanted to discuss the merits of matching lipstick and nail varnish?
"Do you smoke?" she asked.
I nodded. This was not how I imagined our meeting. She hailed a taxi. The cheerful driver put my bag on the floor and helped her into the cab.
"Where to, hen?"
I tried not to laugh; he hadn't said "hen" to be funny. This was Glasgow, I reminded myself. She gave him the address and we filled his taxi with cigarette smoke and made small talk for the twenty-minute journey. The taxi pulled to a stop beside the garden gate of a fifties-style semidetached council house. I noticed that the garden was a little untidy and the net curtains on the windows were not as white and crisp as those of her neighbors. She led me to the blue front door, but I saw her hesitate before she inserted the key into the brass lock. Beads of perspiration had appeared over her top lip.
"What's the matter?" I asked.
She looked as though she'd been about to say something but had changed her mind. She took a deep breath and opened the door.
A beautiful blue-eyed child of about five or six ran at my mother, who scooped her up and kissed her forehead.
"Who's that, Mammy?"
The child gazed at me over my mother's shoulder, her big eyes staring. She reminded me of someone but I couldn't think who. My mother lowered her to the ground and gave her a gentle pat.
"Where are the others?" my mother asked. "Are they all in?"
I followed her into the living room. There were three other children scattered around the untidy room - a dark-haired boy of about thirteen, practically identical to one of my own brothers, a slightly plump but pretty girl of about twelve, and another boy who looked to be ten or eleven. They all swiveled round to stare at me. These children looked so familiar; the feeling of knowing them was strong. The older boy glared at me with what I imagined could only be hatred.
I smiled at them. I liked them immediately, and I wanted them to like me. No one had told me that my mother had another family, but I knew now. These children were my half brothers and my half sisters, and at once I felt glad that I had found my mother.
She started telling me their names. "And this is my baby, Angela."
She tickled the little one under her chin and the child squealed with delight. I was waiting for her to introduce me to the others - they would be thrilled as I was, wouldn't they? - then a man I recognized appeared from what must have been the kitchen and held out his hand to me.
"Hello, Gerry," I said, shaking his hand.
Gerry was my father's first cousin. He was the man my mother had left with all those years ago.
Gerry looked uneasily at my mother. The muscles in my mother's jaw were working and her lips had become a thin hard line. Almost imperceptibly, she shook her head at him.
"How about a nice sup of tea?" she said to me.
She asked if I took sugar and then told Gerry to make the tea. He was headed towards the kitchen when her next words stopped him in his tracks.
"Children," my mother said, "this is Evelyn. I used to look after her when she was a little girl, while her mammy was in hospital."
Gerry turned and stared at her. Anger contorted his soft features. Abruptly, he strode into the kitchen and slammed the door behind him.
The three youngest children smiled and said hello, but the surly older boy fixed his gaze on my mother, then left the room. My mother looked at me. She had blatantly denied me, but I saw neither shame nor apology in her eyes. I was her firstborn child and this was the second time she had abandoned me.
* * *
Later when we were alone my mother gave me her version of her marriage to my father. It differed from my memories of those days that were not all that far back in time. Could there be a justification for abandoning us? I decided to find out. Over the years when I talked to my father, he didn't want to be reminded of what for him were dark days, but he loved to talk about the happier times spent with his pals in his youth. In writing this book I switched between my memories of being a little girl and knowledge I gained later. Based on those realities, sometimes I wrote down how people felt and what happened when I wasn't there. This may be bending some people's rules about nonfiction, but that is how I wrote my book. It is how I came to understand.
My search for the truth led me back to Fatima Mansions, where I once again ate at Mrs. Sullivan's table. I couldn't imagine how I had once found ox heart and turnips delicious. I ate without complaint. Something told me she still had that old slipper in her apron pocket.
Mr. Beattie, my father's solicitor, was living in splendid retirement out in Sandy Cove overlooking Dublin Bay and was childishly delighted to have been part of our story.
My father is dead now. This is his story and it is my story. More than anything it is a story of courage and love, a unique love that can only exist between father and daughter.
Excerpted from Tea and Green Ribbons by Evelyn Doyle Copyright © 2002 by Evelyn Doyle. Excerpted by permission.
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