Muddy fetid fields and hollow faces had sent her family to New England during the potato famine. Its ravages weren’t spoken of and gradually were barely remembered. Subsequent generations had their own calamities. She knew these stories of loss: the little brother run over by a horse and carriage, the business gone to gambling, the uncle in the Korean War. The relatives kept praying, tragedy after generational tragedy. Things might have been much worse, there was no way of knowing.
The great aunts came from Ireland much later and so still had their Irish accents, melodic and cheerful. At family gatherings they appreciated everything, from corned beef she knew to be too fatty to mushy cabbage and carrots, to the pervasive smell, to noisy little cousins and squirming toddlers. The two aunts always smiled. They always sat up straight with hands folded in their laps. She knew her Catholic-school nuns would be proud, but as cheerful as the aunts were, they provoked a vague fear of lonely adult life.
In a family of such size, heirlooms were scant. She had been gifted her great-grandmother’s hand-made purse, crocheted and beaded and finished with brass filigree. This was special not because it was particularly beautiful or in any way useful–in fact she feared for its fragility–but because it reminded her of the great-grandmother who otherwise might be but a flicker of a memory. She was tiny but resolute. Her blue eyes held focus, fire and dance, though the rest of her was crotchety and composed by the time her great grandchildren knew her. In her heyday, she was famous for her pies, apple and berry most of all, as well as the reading of tea leaves with surprising accuracy. Her faded-to-dusty-pink furniture was as stiff and uncomfortable as sitting side-saddle on a saw horse. Nevertheless it was worth sitting and studying the environs and proprietress for source of the uncanny intuition with which the family had been gifted. If only it could be better channeled to avert the tragedies; even an eleven-year-old could hope for such things. That was how old she was when her great-grandmother died, near age one hundred.
When she married, her mother gave her some pieces of Irish lace, small delicate ecru-coloured doilies and dresser scarves that were her grandmother’s then her mother’s. Family lore had it that her grandmother had made them for her dowry, taught by her mother to make Irish lace. Her grandmother had married during the great depression in this country, yet wedding photos showed an extravagant bouquet and a lovely flowing gown on glowing bride, happiness and optimism unhidden. Only the groom in his tuxedo looked less than jubilant, but he was only eighteen and in just several years he would have a house full of children.
By the time he was her grandfather, he seemed quite happy, laughing and puffing on a pipe occasionally and telling her the same jokes about a man named Flanagan. This she did not mind; they were funny, and she could not help but smile to see her grandfather’s sparkling eyes beneath his bushy white brows. His robust laughter was contagious and made him seem like a larger man than he was.
Visiting Ireland was apart from other journeys because it was a place her soul knew, at least on her mother’s side. It–her soul–anticipated bright greens and magic. In this her soul was sorely disappointed. In the years before economic revival, there was a weariness and a greyness in villages and their rivers, in hills stripped long ago of old-growth forest, in crumbling castles and churches. It wasn’t until she found the pubs that she found vibrant life. Colourful patrons with their conversations overheard, lively music with fiddle and drumming, glowing whiskies and foaming faintly-burnt and bitter draught brews: she lived on those and the fresh brown bread, the animated conversations most of all.
Eventually she fell in step with the locals and found their bakeries, their groups of running children, their gardens. One little boy playing by a bridge with his friends approached with stick in hand. His buddies huddled a few yards away. “Me mum says Americer is very dear…” And he stood awaiting her response, stood there in a little grey wool jacket and short tweedy pants. He pushed the thin dark bangs off his pale forehead and tossed his head. He was the cool one, daring to talk to tourists.
“Well yes, it is very dear, to us…” she said.
He crinkled his nose and ran off. It wasn’t until years later that she realized he’d been commenting not on how beloved America was but how expensive. She’d perhaps inadvertently discouraged his immigration, and at a time when Ireland was bleeding lifeblood; its youth were streaming elsewhere in droves. He was the daring one, yet perhaps he stayed to keep his mathair company.
When she wound away from cities and towns and into the country, she found hills dotted with cottages still with thatched roofs. There especially she felt a tenderness for those long-ago family members who braved the sea and the unknown. They’d left these hills and fields, barren though they’d been. They were still home.
She walked the windswept sand at the shore of the Dingle Peninsula, sand hard and rippled like muscle of the earth. There was strength at the sea she could both see and feel. She was pulled by promise, soft soughing of waves, fresh brisk air on her face and cool ocean foaming gently at her feet, yet weighted by the darkness of water and bruised back-lit sky. This was difficult to leave, this empathetic beauty of Irish nature.
She ran up the hill, low green grass, winding trail. She couldn’t help smiling at her girlish energy, laughing as she stumbled over stone.
And so it is with the Irish: the pull of home, the reaching and leaving, the stumbling. The getting up, the laughter.
“May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, may the sun rise warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields, and until we meet again, may God hold you in the hollow of His hand.” – an Irish Blessing
and the days are so busy
the nights are so long
but when I wake
there is morning
filtered through white curtains
at a time.
It is a wet grey day today, but somehow the gleaming dark wash of the street and the stalwart bare trees seem fresh and reassuring. It just goes to show that perspective makes the difference between dreary and cleansed, sometimes. And, as I am an anachronistic Romantic of sorts, this day and this weather reflect my mood. I could be dreary, but I am not. I could sink into the greyness, but I don’t. I feel the wash of the rain, I feel the rinse of the old and the dust, and the chance for something new.
I spent part of Thanksgiving with friends and loved ones, but part of it was necessarily solitary. I needed to be Thankful in my own way, away from the gatherings and feasting, and away from the shopping crowds converging upon the big-box stores like ants towards a bit of fallen fruit.
I went to a park where families and couples were walking, pushing strollers, biking alongside helmet-heavy young riders, or running or rollerblading in black spandex. Pausing to watch and smile at these passersby every so often, I read. I read a book, cover to cover.
Sometimes I choose to read historical or non-fiction books for learning and information. Other times I read classics and fiction in order to go away, to vacation through the eyes and experiences and thoughts of the author whom I’ll never even meet. I’ve done that literary traveling for as long as I can remember. The challenge is to find a very good book. Its pleasure for me is escapist but also the satisfaction serves as a base for viewing the world, my world in relation to the world out there. It ‘evens’ me, if that makes sense. My far flung and wide-ranging artistic emotions settle down as my world-view stretches. It’s as if I gently allow more of the world in, and that calms me.
When I am feeling as calm and at peace as a restless soul can feel, I tend also toward grateful and prayerful. When I pray, it is to an always-present supreme being who knows me, but I don’t know Him (?) as well, or perhaps not as well as I should, or so it seems to me. I feel held, but as if in a fog or expanse of universal space, as if outer space and the whole of the universe is pulled close, but as a feeling inside. Imagine there is an invisible blanket– soft, warm and cozy. I pull it as tight as I need it and feel comforted. Alright, I’m sure I’m weird and I’m sure most of you know this by now, so let’s just move along…
I re-centered myself, that is the main thing. I thought: “Yes, you feel alone sometimes but you’re not really alone. You’re not sure of exactly what to do, but you know you’re gaining strength and re-harnessing creativity; you are becoming. You are becoming more your true self. Maybe that is preparation for something, or maybe it simply is as it is meant to be.”
With that “Onward” attitude in hand, I met a friend after work and we laughed and talked as the time zipped by. Coincidentally, I was invited to a party that evening near where my friend and I were meeting. When she went home to her husband and children, I went back and forth in my mind over whether or not to stop into the party. I hadn’t planned to go as there would be many people and I wouldn’t know them. I am reserved as you would expect, at least at first, but I do love meeting people and hearing little bits about their lives. Once I decide to attend anything I summon my confidence (a remnant from my youth) and have a good time.
I hadn’t been home since early morning but driving all the way home and back to change clothes would take too much time, I’d be too late. The unfortunate side of that is that I wouldn’t be able to change into something dressier or to do my hair or makeup for the party. I would therefore look like someone who had ambled in after a long day, not someone who had primped to be fresh and festive. But, I do wear a smile well. I had that, anyway.
I also had my re-adjusted attitude. I felt content and I wasn’t looking or yearning for anyone or anything. I felt like I was fortunate to be able to go where I pleased, to smile and exchange a few kind words with other souls on this earth.
I felt good, and happy.
My gumption and I went to the party.
I hope all is likewise fine in your life. How are you faring, these busy days?
I’ve done a lot of living (traveling, writing, thinking) in the several short weeks since I’ve been gone. Here is one of the important things I have learned:
Recovering from the battles, indignities, work and woes of divorce is Hard. It was ever-so-much easier (and of course much more joyful) to get married. Divorce is horrid, and in so many ways. Amidst the raging ex-spouse, all of the haggling, paperwork, packing, moving, tears, and re-settling — it is not easy to reclaim one’s self. For me that was the most difficult part.
I thought that being in love again would counter the pain and be a bright spot in the (hopefully temporary) dark and dismal newly-divorced days. So, I eagerly jumped into someone else’s arms. I wanted companionship and fun after many lonely years. I wanted to feel safe. I wanted to be wanted. I wanted what we all do: a caring, loving relationship. So, I gave him my love and care.
I so wanted what I wanted that I ignored the bad stuff.
I ignored his laughter when he inadvertently hurt me.
I ignored the red flags: his past, his volatility, his lies.
I ignored that in matters of importance to me–such as health, lifestyle, spirituality–we were not at all on the same page.
I ignored my reason, my gut feelings, my intuition, and even my friends and family. How stupid was that???
People whom I’ve known for years–as well as some of you wise onlookers, reading my plaintive poetry!–told me he seemed too selfish, perhaps even manipulative or narcissistic, but I focused on his good qualities and tried again and again to make things work.
Why? Because I did not want Another Failed Relationship.
Yeah well. There are worse things.
One of the worse things is being with someone who is Wrong for you on so many levels.
And–it was My mistake not to confidently walk away and into my future.
It’s a big world out there.
Here’s the lesson, dear bruised divorced one: guard your tender heart. Hopeful hearts will often bear more than perhaps they should. You are worth the time it takes to find someone who is right for you. And, just as when you were getting divorced: you know that it is better to be alone than to be lonely in a relationship that isn’t right.
I am keeping busy, bruised but wiser.
Funny how a heart may feel so broken, yet the hope is still there. It is a beautiful human quality, maybe with a touch of the divine.
I wanted to go to the wake.
It was the only way
to ensure that he was actually dead.
I explained, pleaded,
but did not cry.
they said I was too young,
waking wasn’t allowed.
So I looked for him
in my dreams,
in the stores,
on the streets
where he must be
silently watching me.
Any face that passed,
any that walked behind,
would a father be?
would he look for me?
If you have been reading here, you’ve read about some of the kind people in my neighborhood. Remember The Entrepreneur who gave me a bracelet one day when I had no money with me to buy his wares as I sometimes do? And the young woman who kindly chatted with me as we walked home from church, only to find that we were neighbors?
Since those times, I am sure that I smiled and said hello to hundreds of passersby as I went about my days, walking on my slate sidewalks with my head in the clouds unless admiring flowers on my paths or herons on my neighbor’s roof.
One day last week I was walking, fast and with attempted perfect posture, strengthening my core and getting exercise whilest seeing the world. (You know how my world works, right? Be healthy, be happy; I can more or less control those things!)
It was a stifling hot day and I had walked for blocks but I still had lots of energy and a bit more time, so I chose random side streets, walking down one and up another in the general direction of home. I try to walk different streets for fresh views: architectural details on glorious old houses, the landscaping, the people on porches or in front yards.
As I rounded one corner, I caught a hand-lettered sign of Street Sale, and sure enough as I glanced down the avenue it looked as though all the living rooms had been emptied out upon the front lawns.
As I didn’t catch the sale early, there were no juicy buys for me, but it was interesting to view all of the things that people thought they might sell. I had read that old computer monitors could be used to make fish tanks or terrariums, and maybe some of the people who don’t judge books by their covers don’t care if there actually are covers, but I like covered books. I do like old furniture, but have no room for more of that, so alas, I just looked as I walked down the street.
Unfortunately two lemonade stands had sold-out in the heat and were being dismantled or I might have purchased lemonade. Cold lemonade; it was a nice thought.
As I walked upon the sidewalk (concrete, not slate) I noticed a woman walking slightly ahead of me but in the street. She was walking very slowly, and no wonder: she had half a closet’s worth of clothing on hangers over one arm and up to her chin, a duffle bag over the other shoulder, and she carried a large full garbage bag with each hand. She walked a couple of steps then stopped, heaved the bags, set them down, walked a couple more steps. It was uncomfortable even to watch her.
I figured that she with her purchases was walking to one of the cars parked along the street. She could not be going far, that was for sure; she’d never make it.
When I caught up to her, I asked : “Can I help you carry any of that?”
She immediately dropped the bags and her whole body seemed to sigh in relief. “Ughhhh!”
As it happened, she wasn’t walking to any of the cars lining the street. She was walking to a bus stop, on another street. Welllll, I was in no hurry, after all, and she was looking wilted and over-laden with yard-sale merchandise. Hmmm. OK, let me take the garbage bags.
She gratefully handed them over. They weighed a ton! No wonder she couldn’t walk!
So, where is the bus stop?
She did not know. She only knew where the one was when she had arrived. She had never ridden back from here; it wasn’t her neighborhood. She explained that she’d come across town for the sale. As it was a weekend, the cross-town bus would not be frequent. Maybe every hour or so.
Alright, we knew the direction that the bus would be going, we knew which street, so we proceeded. The heat of the afternoon intensified, or felt so with the heavy carrying, and the breeze was warm and not very merciful. My hat blew off and my hair tumbled down, blowing in my mouth and sticking to my warm skin, and there I was lugging garbage bags. Don’t even imagine how I must have looked; it can’t be pretty.
As we neared the end of the block, the cross street ahead came into view, a very swanky avenue. “I got off the bus there,” she pointed, and I looked across a courtyard and a small park to a bus stop still half a block away.
Suddenly: “Oh Nooo! There is my bus!” She sounded horrified and she stopped walking. No wonder: who would want to stand on the side of the road in the hot sun For An Hour, outfitted with enough clothes for a large boutique or a small army?
I did what any already-disheveled level-headed woman would do: I ran with my (her) trash bags. I ran the rest of the way up the street we were on, across the little park, and thankfully had a break in traffic so that I could dart across the street that the bus was on, landing on the curb as the bus was ready to pass by.
You think I’d run all that way and let the bus pass me by? I dropped the bags and flagged down the driver, who shook her head NO (she wasn’t supposed to stop because it wasn’t officially a bus stop). I must have looked Plaintive. Or disheveled with a purpose. Or, the bus driver was into random acts of kindness and realized No One would want to wait for the next bus on this hot day.
In any case, the bus driver stopped, opened the bus doors, and leaned out to tell me that she couldn’t stop.
I said, “OK, that woman there (Where? Oh dear, she was still on the other side of the street and had not yet been able to cross through the traffic!)… That woman has all of this… stuff… and she needs to be on this bus.”
I heaved each large bag into the bus as the bus driver shook her head, and a man in a front seat stood to help with the bags. Then the woman arrived. I let her pass in front of me. She was panting and struggled to get her armloads of clothing up the steps and into the bus.
It was a quick goodbye. The bus driver scowled as I thanked her and wished her a good weekend, and the woman said, “huhthank you! suh ho… Much!”
As the door of the bus closed, she called out, “God Bless You!”
I have to say, this did add a bit more purpose to my little day.
Hope your days are happy,
I remember standing in the family room
dusting to get the gleam of wood in dim light through
the window, through the trees,
and oh maybe I will turn on the television
for some unknown reason for I
do so in daytime
and seldom at night,
and there I stood clutching a white cloth
as a plane flew into an office building
which made no sense
and horror seeped into me and fear
where are my children, my children
as events unfolded, became clear,
days came and went, somehow
I developed an
and the in-my-face pain
a glut of vapidity,
and I listened to the news on the
the news was no better, really
there were wars, battles, bombings,
villages, churches, children,
Today the juxtaposition of Life’s horror
and Life’s Love
keeps me earthbound
and tender of heart.
I don’t care
if no one reciprocates my
acts of kindness
nor answers my neighborly
I send them out to the world anyway.
If they brighten one day
in the days when there is
when there seems
Open the casement window:
like a breath
lifts the lace curtains
shadowed softly on the walls.
the heavy into light,
the taut raw times
mere wisps of curtains accomplish this,
Faint flowers of light