Mrs.McBride’s Cornflakes

By Petrina Finn

Photo “Wistful” By Aurora Santoro

Mrs. McBride lived at the bottom of our street. I remember her standing at her gate with a regal presence and not one hair out of place. Her garden was beautifully manicured with a rose bed in the middle and a fancy wrought iron gate at the side. McBride’s house impressed me even though I knew it was identical to everyone else’s in the estate. To me, the McBride’s life appeared perfect.

When we were eight, Josephine McBride and I were in the same class and went on the school bus together.  We played in each other’s houses – although we were only allowed to play inside on the McBride’s staircase if it was raining. Although Josephine and I both wore glasses, there was something else wrong with me and everyone knew it.

Mrs. McBride’s son Darren was 17, tall, and with shiny black hair. Josephine idolised him and he wasn’t annoying like my two brothers. He had a lovely smile showing his beautiful white teeth.  Darren had a distorted foot and walked with a limp. There was also something wrong with him and everyone knew it.

Darren died in November of that year. Mrs. McBride came up to our house one day and was very sad. All of us children were thrown out of the sitting room so Mam and her could talk in private. We quietly listened at the door. Mrs. McBride was upset because she had heard some people commenting on how she was out shopping just after her son died. She explained tearfully to my mother that she didn’t want to go shopping, but had no choice as she had young children and had to get ready for Christmas. She explained that the family still had to eat and through tears said “Sure I still have to pour the cornflakes.”

When I was about six years old I was diagnosed with a progressive visual impairment. My poor vision influenced some of my life choices, but I never let it define me. I trained as a physiotherapist, lived abroad, volunteered, married, and had a family. Although at an early age, I was aware that I might become blind, I never considered this to be a possibility. Some may say I stuck my head in the sand.

Josephine McBride moved away, and we lost contact. By the time I was thirty-five, I was married with three children – two of whom were toddlers. My visual impairment had become worse. One day while my husband was working away, without warning, my sight deteriorated significantly. The shock of it left me sitting on my kitchen floor, crying helplessly and worrying about the future. Then Mrs. McBride popped into my head – and I realised that I too “still had to pour the cornflakes.”

In the months that followed, I got training in the use of the white cane and also got my beloved guide dog, Fionn. Changes were happening all around me, whilst life in our home with three children carried on. When things were full on, I always thought back to Mrs. McBride and how she had soldiered on in the very worst of times for the sake of her family.  

I met her one day in my later years and told her how she influenced my outlook on my disability. I explained the story of the cornflakes and how she inspired me to carry on in my new normal.

Mrs. McBride developed Parkinson’s Disease and I last saw her walking with her daughter using a rollator. She still had a regal presence and hadn’t a hair out of place. I reminded her how inspirational she was to me at the beginning of my journey with my disability. I smiled to myself and hoped that she remembered she “still had to pour the cornflakes.”

At various times since, when life throws the inevitable curveball, I remember Mrs. McBride and I’m thankful that at a young age I learned about resilience. My, now grown-up children have heard this story many times and I know that they appreciate the significance of “pouring the cornflakes” in their lives.

Thank you, Mrs. McBride, for unknowingly teaching me one of my most valuable life lessons – Rest in Peace.

Petrina Finn

Married with three grown-up children, she previously worked as a Physiotherapist for over 25 years with children with Intellectual Disabilities and Palliative Care needs. She has a visual impairment and is presently learning to read through the medium of Braille. Recently retired due to her visual impairment, she has taken up many different hobbies, trying out things that she put on the long finger whilst working. This includes writing – prose and some poetry. A member of the Drogheda Creative Writing Group she has attended many writing courses in the past few years. She enjoys writing about everyday life including putting a comedic twist into her work and drawing from her own life experiences.