The Day We Got Our Own Back by Maeve Brennan, 1953
The magic trick:
Focusing on the smaller domestic concerns of a young girl amid a stressful political premise
“The Day We Got Our Own Back” deals with very serious subject matter. In the story, the narrator’s father is in hiding from the Irish government. So, obviously, you’d assume the story was very serious in nature, but instead it turns into a light, funny reminiscence.
The narrator remembers being very excited by being interviewed by one of government agents at her house. Then, near the end, she and her mother share a laugh at the expense of an agent who accidentally dirties his face in a chimney.
So what could’ve been a very somber and even scary story turns out to be comforting, because it focuses on to the domestic rather than the political. And that’s quite a trick on Brennan’s part.
Again my mother retreated to her wall, and I returned to my necklace, and the men continued their talk. After a while, they abruptly got up and went away. My mother remained anxious, suspecting that they might be watching the end of the street for my father’s arrival. She went upstairs to speak to Derry, and when she came back, I followed her down the three steps into the kitchen, which was small and squarish, with a red tile floor and a door that gave out onto the garden. She sat down at the kitchen table. I asked her if she would like a cup of tea and she said yes, she would like a cup. I filled the kettle, splashing water all over the floor, but she wouldn’t trust me to light the gas, and in the end she had to make the tea herself. Some time later, Emer came home, and my mother gave her tea and told her everything that had happened and all that had been said, not forgetting the question that had been put to me. Listening to her, I was once again spellbound with gratitude, excitement, and astonishment that the strange man had included me in the raid.
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I got interested in Maeve Brennan a few years ago when I read about her tragic end. I read a particularly beautiful piece about her, with the writer describing the last time she saw Maeve, but for the life of me, I can’t remember who wrote that and where it was published. I bought a book of Brennan’s New Yorker essays but never got around to finishing it. This piece makes me think I should return to her work. I see you’ve been following her for a while. There are so many fascinating writers that are slowly being forgotten. I’m glad you are remembering Maeve Brennan.