Larry Grimes: Memories by Matthew McCormack

Something burst inside me.

The man I knew was alive but dead.

I hurriedly left Rosa Mystica Nursing Home robbed of all but tear blurred memories.

He did not recognize me!

Imagine an absence mingled presence; the wish to run and run and not return.

Back in the Corrandulla community emptiness gnawed refusing sleep.

I had to return to that Nursing Home.

Holding his hand I spluttered the familiar ‘Grimes’ and then he squeezed my hand!

A moment of recognition!

Possessed of an extraordinary memory, once met, Larry never forgot you. He was a healer who electrified us with his life giving energy.   Alive, he dropped in on you unexpectedly; dead, memorial cards bulged his prayer book or graced his mirror. His loyal supporters from New York and Chicago would testify of his fidelity to them as he visited their relatives back home in Ireland. He’d arrive back with first hand news from an ageing mom, a hospital visit to a brother or sister, news of a romance or a new family arrival; relationships  blossomed around the kettle or the bottle. The latter he enjoyed in careful moderation.  Beautiful women filled his life. “Praise God their Creator” my Kiltegan priest friend would say, but with him it was nolle tangere.

His Mayo, Meath , Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham and London  blood family was as Shakespeare says “bonded to his soul with hoops of steel.” Laughter, singing, wild dancing and accordion music rang the rafters whenever that clan met.  He was there for them in an un-intrusive interlude and then he was gone. His galleried bedroom walls were graced with recognition plaques, but pride of place was reserved for photographs of happier times in the company of his dead sisters and brothers. He buried them all and hid his aloneness as he made the stations from his bed.

Our Institute grew out of the strong monastic tradition of hospitality; we were called Monks of the West (of Ireland) and our homes were monasteries.  Hospitality still remains one of our core values.  In 1957 the Institute decided to initiate a new mission in Los Angeles. It was Larry, chef and house keeper who was chosen to carry on this rich tradition. Bros. Martin, Nicholas, Kieran & Paulinus often sweaty, thirsty and tired after a day teaching in St. Paul High School were welcomed home to Mulberry Drive of kitchen smells, a cold drink and a mouth watering meal. Rumor has it that Larry had to negotiate hard for the inclusion of the libation and a good thick steak. He loved a good meal and I am told that at one period of his life he was the image of The Jolly Monk.

We never had enough money or personnel for our ministries and that is why today I can never accept the heresy of self-sufficiency. When you work with and for the poor, you are broke and beg. We have a long history of fundraising. Again it was Larry who was chosen to take up fundraising in New York and Chicago and what a success he made of it! With his winning smile and a relationship that was personal and committed, who could refuse his invitations to buy raffle tickets for prizes of Waterford or Galway crystal or a ticket to Ireland? Bar owners & tenders posted his line cards, fire and police departments lent a hand and his Chicago and New York annual dances were a sell-out. People celebrated while parting with their hard earned dollars. Collaboration is a hallmark of all our ministries.

Saint Francis said that the Holy Spirit was the Minister General of his Order and with Vatican II’s wind and fire Larry entered ‘Life in the Spirit’ movements in the USA.  The Spirit prayed in him and many were healed.  Busloads of persons accompanied him to the healing ministries of many priests and later in Ireland he was valued member of youth retreat teams. When vocations were lean he was appointed our vocation animator. Later in life he joined the Archdiocese of Tuam’s liturgical renewal course and became an active member in the life of Corrandulla parish. He was a man who brought the new out of the old. Mary, the feminine face of God, was ever close and he made many pilgrimages beyond Knock to Lourdes & Maggorgia; his rosary “beads” was well polished.  Praying, he used to say, gave a man a mighty thirst and back in the hotel after a day of pilgrimage song, dance and stories went long into the night. The Leicester gang’s pilgrimage was a modern Canterbury Tale.

Our Rule of Life states “Blessed are they who love one another who is sick and seemingly useless….    Well blessed then is Larry who with Bruno lovingly ministered to our older and sick members in our Kilkerrin and Corrandulla communities. Once I accompanied him to pray with a premature baby.  The baby was so, so tiny in the incubator. It was hands on prayer; that man is now a fine strapping young dad.

Life loved him and he life. I wonder what was the mileage on his car…a man for the road; boated on the Shannon river with dear friends; dined in select hotels with a merry-go–round of fellow food lovers; swung the driver in Athlone and Clifden golf clubs and played a clever hand of cards.

“This world is not my home…” was his party piece, but he was at home in this world. There he found and enjoyed God; no dualism.  I accompanied him on a sabbatical year at the Franciscan Study Center at Cantebury.  John his nephew, found a beautiful apartment for us there and yes did we ever live it up! He loved his freedom and guarded his privacy. If asked where he was, he often answered “are you writing a book?”

Saint John of the Cross wrote: “It is not by perfection that we reach the Divine, but through the gateway of our mistakes and suffering.” Larry had his faults and the painful loss of his brothers and sisters brought him much suffering. Now I believe this committed, multi talented and tasked, brave and faith trusting Larry is with his God.

I praise and thank God for the wonder of Larry Grimes who is now our caring brother ancestor.

Matthew McCormack