We were raised in a strict house. My parents were old-fashioned by today’s standards. We were shown great affection, but could also be disciplined with a strap when it was deserved. No nonsense was tolerated. Church every Sunday, since God was at the heart of our family life. Impeccable manners and proper etiquette were expected at all times. Rudeness or showing off was never appropriate. We were taught a strong work ethic. When Mammy or Daddy told me to do something, I was told with a smile, and I accepted with a smile. “Give your best day’s work for a day’s pay,” they would say.
We kids always ate in the kitchen, and were allowed to eat in the dining room with Daddy and Mammy only on certain holidays. They ate alone every evening; this was their special time together. They both had demanding careers. Mammy began as an apprentice to a local high-fashion couturier and eventually went out on her own. She opened a showroom and had four floors of workrooms where tailors, seamstresses and millinery workers made the one-of-a-kind clothes she designed — nothing off the rack. Daddy was also in the clothing business as the manager of the Irish operations for a large British manufacturer, mostly working in fine hats.
Before dinner was served each night, we all had to line up in front of Daddy and tell him what we had done wrong during the day. We all squirmed in our shoes, trying to find the right words to use so that whatever we had done wouldn’t sound so awful. It taught us diplomacy.
But I loved our nights together most of all. Every night, just before we went to bed, the whole family would snuggle in front of the fireplace and listen to Mammy and Daddy sing. Mammy sang classical music, German lieder and opera arias. She sang them in German, Italian, French and English. My favorite was “Den Hammer er Schwinget” (“The Hammer He Swings”), about a blacksmith making shoes for horses. Daddy sang old Irish folk songs, such as “There Was an Old Man.” I loved it so much that I also dreamed of being an opera singer. Each night ended with us all saying our prayers before we drifted off to sleep.
I know this sounds so corny, but we’ve been this way our whole lives. We were an Irish version of the Von Trapps, right out of The Sound of Music. Our lives were centered on each other and how we lived in a world full of music, drama, dance and fashion. We were introduced to the arts at the earliest age by our parents and encouraged to participate and explore our God-given talents. Each of us did.