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
First I scrub the small round red potatoes
let them sit in a colander
Christmas card messages
dancing in my head
slice in onions, cook until glassy
does he say he misses
my smiling face
when he is the one who
forfeited my smiles?
Slice and layer the potatoes
seasoned white sauce
grated aged cheeses
snip fresh herbs atop
ignore the texts
for the time being
from another who is intriguing
but too persistent
when I need
my own time sometimes
to make potatoes au gratin
on the way to Christmas
as busy-ness intersperses with loneliness
as children come and go
to gatherings, parties, dinners
then I regroup to contemplate
my myriad fates
while singing to myself
Auld Lang Syne
the potatoes smell divine
I take them out early
to finish baking
Hello dear friend.
I hope good things
come your way.
When last we left our heroine, she was at a party,
underdressed for the occasion, but happy.
She met many fascinating people.
She met a man
who asked her out
he was charming, funny
they subsequently went out several times,
first just to a cafe’ to talk, then to dine, then to walk and eat and laugh, then to a film…
And now our heroine is pinching herself–isn’t life Weird?? Yes. With a capital W. It is sweet to date, it is cheering to have company and to get considerate little text messages throughout the day. She’s not sure… about him, but partly because she is not sure about herself. What is she looking for? How can she know if he fits without knowing the answer to that question? It seems that most people know what they want when they find what feels right, what seems comfortable. Yes, it seems comfortable though still a bit in discovery mode. That, and also it is a bit challenging because the heroine finds herself with a brainy guy, maybe a bit complex, maybe holding his cards a bit closer than she is used to. Of course, she is an emotional and sensitive being and she is communicative, in her own understated cheery way. She knows she can’t expect him to be quite the same . Part of growing is realizing how human each of us is, how imperfect no matter how hard we try. So, taking it easy, trying to calmly observe and for the present to accept this gift of companionship and potential love; those are the orders of the day.
Even if it doesn’t last, it’s good now. If it does last, it had a good beginning.
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 was talking with a friend at Thanksgiving. She’s a bit older and told me that considering her age, she is getting to feel that it is best to be accepting of situations and be as happy as possible, in a kind of reverent stoic monastic way. It was kind of odd to hear this coming from someone who appears to be very social and happy, but we don’t always know what others think of their situations, until they tell us. She said God gave her this lonely fate and must want her to be this way so that she moves closer to Him, when He is her company and comfort.
My view? I am all for faith, and being close to God. Without prayer and hope and answers in my dismal times, I honestly don’t know where I’d be today, or If I’d be today.
However, I also believe that we were given talents, made in “His image and likeness” yet each of us unique and valuable, “a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” I am meant to use my gifts and talents, and you, too, in your own special way.
I was made loving. I was made nurturing. Those are qualities that are meant to be shared. So, I won’t relinquish any hopes of Love or a truly loving relationship with a man I’ve yet to meet, out there in the universe somewhere. And of course, kindness too is meant to be shared with others: friends, co-workers, neighbors, even strangers along my path (you know what I mean, if you’ve been reading here for any length of time : )
Whatever your talents and gifts, be grateful for them, put them to good and honorable use. That’s how the world becomes a better place. That’s how lives become better.
See that sun up in the sky? Imagine it smiles down upon you as it warms you. See the trees and flowers you pass every day? The clouds tumbling by? They are for you. Enjoy, each day, as you make your way through this world. Yes, this world can be harsh, but that’s why we are not meant to be alone, and why we are meant to be kind to one another…
or so is my own personal philosophy. Feel free to borrow or acquire it, anytime, especially if you need to cheer curmudgeons in your midst. Do you happen to run into such resigned souls in your holiday travels, or is it just me? I think that they secretly want me to cheer them. There is no mistletoe up as yet, no eggnog nor caroling, so I do my best!
Wishing you peace, happiness, and of course Love.
your middle name.
Friends without power
no light, no heat, no showers
worried about rats and mold
their jobs their
in their midst
in one blink
lives so changed,
what to fix first
which way to turn?
One long slog of a life
they –relatives, neighbors,
unable to step
out of wreckage,
molds and stagnation,
expenses, bills, biting at their heals
a small rat race of
waking, working, sleeping
little in this Life,
but awake each day
so fortunate for
so blessed with
hope and possibilities