Catchphrases · Memories

“Better’n steak, boy, better’n steak”

I have been thinking recently of the two members of my family who made it past their 90th birthdays. My mother’s sister died in 2019, aged 91. I wrote this piece, about decompression, on the way to her funeral in Dun Laoghaire. My oldest relative by marriage, who we knew as Uncle Mido, was married to my father’s sister Maudie. He died aged 94, almost exactly 8 years ago (4 March 2015).

My journey to Mido’s funeral was similar to the one I had made 10 years earlier when Maudie died: a late-night drive to Fishguard, an overnight ferry to Rosslare with very little sleep, an early morning drive to Kilkenny for the 11am service. In 2005 I travelled with my father and did all the driving. In 2015 I was accompanied by son (10 years old at the time) and my sister. She was able to share the driving, which was a big help.

In the 10 years between these two funerals I had seen a lot more of my  cousins on my father’s side.  I met most of their children for the first time in 2005.  At Mido’s funeral I knew who everyone was, his children, their partners, his grandchildren and now his great-grandchildren. Maudie had died before her first great-grandchild was born.

Both funeral services, 10 years apart, were held in the same Cathedral. One of my cousins read the same text from Wisdom that I had read at my mother’s funeral in 1997: “The souls of the virtuous are in the hands of God, no torment shall ever touch them …” (Wisdom 3: 1-9). The husband of Mido’s youngest daughter gave the eulogy, a moving summary of Mido’s life: growing up in The Ring as part of a large family, his work, his marriage, his many children and grandchildren. He had a very strong relationship with his son-in-law, who couldn’t get through his eulogy without stopping more than once to wipe away his tears. They spent a lot of time together, including whole days working on vehicles of various kinds (Mido was an excellent mechanic) and fishing trips on the river. Their lunch on these days of labour and leisure was simple enough: cheese sandwiches.  Mido believed that they were even better than a steak dinner, and would say so; “Better’n steak, boy, better’n steak”.

I am partial to a plain cheese sandwich myself: white bread, light dab of butter, cheddar sliced from one of the rectangular blocks that we always have in the fridge. None of that pre-sliced stuff, and nothing crunchy as an accompaniment (no pickle, no piccalilli). If I’m feeling nostalgic I might add a few slices of tomato to remind me of my childhood. When we had to bring in a packed lunch, for school trips, my mother usually made me cheese and tomato sandwiches.

Cheese and tomato brings back a whole different set of memories, but if it’s a plain cheese sandwich that I’ve prepared for myself I’ll say, out loud, “Better’n steak, boy, better’n steak”. And think about my Uncle Mido.


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