I possess a small stack of letters and post cards I hold dear, all the more today, because the sender has just died. Maeve Binchy was, as many around the globe know, a wonderful Irish author. The web is full of obituaries. If you read them, you will find many accounts of how friendly and warm she was, and how she loved to meet people all over the world. Maeve Binchy was famous, yes, but she was extremely interested in all kinds of people and liked to know about them. She was my pen pal, of sorts, for the past decade.
On a whim, nine plus years ago, I wrote a letter to Maeve. In it, I explained how I had been born in Dublin at St. Patrick's Home, and how even decades later, the stigma of an unwed pregnancy prevented my birth mother from wanting a relationship with me. (If you'd like the full story on my Irish origins, read my post from 3-29-2012.) I told Maeve that her earlier books gave me a glimpse of what life would have been like for my birth mother in 1960s Ireland, and I thanked her for helping me visit a little of my own history. I mailed the letter, in care of her agent, and I figured that was that. A fan letter? What grown up person writes those? And I knew Maeve must receive hundreds of letters regularly so mine would likely get lost in the shuffle.
Imagine my surprise when I received a reply from Maeve! She thanked me for writing and said how my story was of interest to her, and could I please write her back at her home address? She did, in fact, receive hundreds of letters and so posting to her home in Dalkey would simplify things. I was dumbfounded. Surely she was simply being polite, as she would be to any fan, and I probably shouldn't bother her. So, I did not immediately write back.
Even more unbelievably, letter number two from Maeve arrived, stating that she really would like me to write back. I did write again, and so did she, and it was wonderful. Maeve was the same age as my birth mother and she told me that when I was born, there was an almost hysterical fear of unwed pregnancy in Ireland. Her insights on Dublin at the time of my birth were precious to me.
We kept up this correspondence over the years and it was such a gift. Maeve was interested in all sorts of topics, including what other authors I enjoyed reading, and she would tell me when her newest books were due to hit the shelves in the US. She wrote on lovely post cards which she would slip into an envelope. The postcards themselves were shots of her latest book covers, so for her last several novels, I got to see the artwork before anyone here could buy the books!
Last year, I travelled to Ireland with my family. Maeve wanted to meet me when I got over there and she gave me her email address and cell phone number so we could coordinate once I was in Dublin. (Yes, okay, the starstruck teenager in me was thinking, "Seriously?? I have Maeve Binchy's cell phone number?") By this time, Maeve had been quite ill with heart trouble. She'd been in and out of the hospital recently, and sadly was in the hospital again during my trip. While she could not have visitors, she could chat on the phone and we arranged that she would call one afternoon. My family and I were walking around the beautiful gardens at Powerscourt when Maeve phoned.
What a glorious afternoon! The two of us talked and laughed like old friends, a testament to Maeve's generosity of spirit and the fact that both us us are TALKERS. She was a very upbeat, sunny person. She had long ago given up Catholicism and a belief in God, so for her, life was fleeting and should be lived to it's fullest. That afternoon she told me that her love of eating buttery baked goods no doubt contributed to her heart condition but that she had truly enjoyed her life. Her only regret now was that ill health kept her from travelling and meeting new people. "Next time you come over here, we will meet and have a grand time," Maeve told me.
My heart goes out to her husband, Gordon, who has lost his best friend. And I am sad that I will not spend many grand visits with Maeve.