A Girl Named Willie

by Amy Goodwin on May 7, 2019

Recently I was asked to describe my maternal grandmother, Willie Weaver. It is hard. She died just three days short of my fifth birthday. Much of what I know about her was passed down to me from my mom and uncle. My mother’s side of the family was from Ireland. My great-great grandfather, Adam Carlisle, came over during the potato famine, fleeing starvation, poverty and marginalization. He followed a typical migratory pattern, landing on the East Coast, going south and eventually settling in Mississippi. My grandmother’s mother had various difficulties parenting her, so mostly my grandmother was raised by her grandfather and grandmother, Adam and Fannie Carlisle. She was named after her uncle; they called him, “Brother Willie.”

The Irish rubbed off on Grandmother Weaver. She loved to drink tea with mint in it; the mint grew along the fence in her backyard. We had tea on her screened in porch in West University; she and I drank from china teacups and ate wafer cookies. She gave me books for Christmas published in the UK that introduced me to worlds of fairies, magic and mermaids. My favorite book, Hilda Bowell’s Treasury of Poetry, bears her inscription. I can still recite my favorite poem in the book, the Raggle Taggle Gypsies, a Scottish ballad:

“How could you leave your goose feather bed, your blankeys strew so comely-o? And how could you leave your new wedded Lord, all for a raggle taggle gypsy-o”

It’s a longer poem, but that stanza stands out. What four-year-old wouldn’t love the story of a rich lady running off from her rich husband to go live with a bunch of raggle taggle gypsies? That’s great stuff.

I often look to the past for reassurance and strength, and I turn to my Irish roots. A complex culture steeped in Christianity and Druidism. The Celts didn’t have Jesus or Israel to explain the complexities of this world and the afterlife. They had nature; they had trees. The year was broken into sections and each section was represented by a sacred tree. Starting May 5th, we entered the sacred tree of Holly. Holly was used by druids for solstice fires, mainly because it burns so hot. They believed it also had metaphysical properties. It promoted life force and soul illumination. It was evergreen, so it could withstand even the bleakest winters.

My grandmother had such a magical way of looking at things. I’m off to buy some holly.

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