“Very Dear” . . . a story of Irish roots.

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Very Dear.

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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.

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“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

~ Lily

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A Walk in Winter.

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A Walk …

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It doesn’t feel cold, though of course it is. I am dressed appropriately. The sun sparkles, happy to see me; there are so few people for it to shine upon outside in this cold. It sparkles on the snow, here and there glittering the grey winter landscape.

At first I choose each step with care, not knowing how slippery the sidewalks may be, then I pick up speed and get up to a hearty jaunt. I try for some cardio so I need to walk at a good fast clip. The cars on the street seem slow, my pace apace with them as they slow for the traffic light.

I cross and head up the hill, past friends’ homes with their well-tended gardens now all withered and snow encrusted. Still, the textures are beautiful: sinewy vines twined on fences of wood and wrought iron with dried grey-brown leaves waving here and there, straight smooth stalks and dried blossoms of hydrangea thrust out of snow, red-hued bayberry all a-prickle. The holly leaves are still deep green and shiny, and periwinkle peeks out from pauses in the snow, ready for Spring anytime.

The first human I meet is familiar, as is his fox-terrier/rotweiler doggie. To myself I smile at the abbreviations that pop into my head: Foxrot (FoxtRot?), Ferrier, Fairweil, Ferrot. I smile and say hello as usual and he does the same. He is younger than I am, most likely, but I look young. (This is not the same as looking stunning, unfortunately). My sister thinks I am aging backwards–does that even make sense? We know what she means– but doesn’t it stand to reason that someone removed from stressful and difficult times and having instead: rest and relaxation, healthy food, fresh air and exercise, might look a tich better? Of course. Stress and sleeplessness alone are aging, it seems to me.

In the chill air it is easy to feel invigorated and able to walk forever. This feeling lasts precisely until the frigid air begins to chill nose, cheeks, then fingers and toes. It is then that one realizes: I have to walk all the way back home!

I am wearing layers of clothing as well as a beautiful hand-knit scarf, boots, a hat, and warm gloves, but the temperature is quite low and the breeze adds a windchill. I duck into a coffee shop for a few minutes of warmth.

I have never been a coffee drinker. More’s the pity, now that coffee is said to have curative or preventative powers. I drink tea. It is the token bit of English in me, perhaps, plus tea lends itself to my creativity. I add fresh herbs, lemon, spices such as ginger, cloves, cinnamon of course, tumeric because it is supposed to ward off some effects of aging (though I don’t like the taste much) and even cumin, which I like very much. It is one of my current fads, along with kale (as in sauteed ’til crisp in olive oil and seasoned, or in a stirfry with fresh ginger and a dash of tamari), and also leeks. Leeks are delicious in soups, this being soup weather as well as tea weather. I am good at soups for some reason and I like to have them on hand, they are so soothing.

After my green tea, I embark upon a different course home. The sun that had shone for me earlier is now on hiatus and the sky is winter-grey with thoughts of snow flurries. Down in front of me flutters… is it a stray snow flake? No, it is a small fluffy feather. So maybe it is actually down in front of me (ha, myself and I can be as punny as we wish when walking). The little feather floats from the sky, slowly this way and that in the bluster of the late afternoon. I see no little birdie. He must have been faster than his falling feather. Perhaps he is flying towards warmth somewhere.

Feathers always bring to mind my grandmother. She dressed well at all times and accessorized in mid-20th-century classic chic, at least so she now appears whenever she comes to mind. She wore hats, hence the feathers, and gloves, fitted suits, simple elegant pumps. Ash-blond hair perfectly coiffed. Lipstick always, and perfume. I used to love to stand at her dressing table as she chose her perfume. It wasn’t that she gave me a spritz of those French scents that most intrigued me, it was the collection of tiny but beautiful glass bottles with their elegant labels that caught my eye. She gave me one, once, when it was empty. Isn’t it strange the things that become our keepsakes?

I nearly keep the feather but in my head I hear my mother saying how germy bird feathers can be and it is flu season and I am careful, or too careful as the case may be. What has a bird feather to do with the flu? West Nile Virus? Is that active in the winter? Who knows.

In my mind, the white fluffy feather joins others on my grandma’s white hat. Feathers, fur… would she even wear those now? I think not. She’d wear other fashionable things, like my hat or my boots or my gloves. This is somehow a very satisfying thought: I have three pence of her fashion sense. However, less of that and I might now be slightly warmer. I might instead have chosen to wear my snow boots. Bulky, heavy. Good for trudging in the snow. I have those for when I am not on a city walk. Those make me think of the children’s book Owl Moon, if you know that story. Bundling, out in the woods, listening for owls under the moon. And mittens. I am wearing gloves not mittens. Mittens… doesn’t the word alone make you think of that wet-wool smell? I wear mittens when walking in the wilderness.

As I head back, I pass a young girl walking with her head down. She does not even look up as I pass and say hello. The cold must have frozen her ears, or she may be deep in thought. Young people are never the first to say hello, in my experience, but they are often the most enthusiastic in their replies, their smiles large and sincere. They are not yet jaded and are reassured by friendliness, or so is my theory. Sometimes older people are friendly too, don’t get me wrong. I try not to take the few compulsory and cool replies personally. How sad is that, to be unable to smile, or, worse, to choose not to smile at friendly passersby? Well you can think about this when next you are out walking. If you are in conversation with someone or on your cell phone, I will not disturb you, don’t worry, but otherwise I’ll likely greet you, so be nice!

A few tangents later and home again, home again, riggety jig. What is that from, anyway? Oh it’s jiggety jig. Mother Goose. To Market to Market… so there is your Random Trivia from my uneventful but refreshing winter walk.

Cheers to you! Stay warm and happy, wherever you may be this weekend!

~ Lily

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Christmas Cooking…

 

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First I scrub the small round red potatoes

let them sit in a colander

Christmas card messages

dancing in my head

melt butter

slice in onions, cook until glassy

slightly browned

why

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

too everywhere

and inconsistent

when I need

reliable and

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

we dash

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

anyway

to finish baking

Christmas day.

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Hello dear friend.

I hope good things

come your way.

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~ Lily

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Upon finding photographs of Christmas past (*updated)…

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Photos of candlelit Christmas rooms

exquisitely trimmed tree,

garlanded mantle and window tops,

wreaths, nativity,

stockings hung with care,

broad smiles, you can see

playful merry children

celebrating happily.

And now

the room is gone and so the scene

set so perfect

so it seems

tied together with gossamer,

pine for happy them and me,

if only

that could be this year’s gift

under the Christmas tree.

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I have never in my life had the Holiday Blues, and yikes, we’re not even to Thanksgiving!

Hmm. The hustle and bustle and relative tussle can be disquieting, I know. Are you happy no matter what, or how do you cope, if not?  

I’m thinking:  I should have coping mechanisms on hand this year!

I give thanks for all of You who stop in now and then! Enjoy your family time, your good food, and be thankful. Gratitude is such a wonderful quality, and hey we at least have each other out here in cyberspace. : )

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Thanksgiving hugs,

and May Visions of Sugarplums Dance in your Head!

~ Lily

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* Addendum: I should probably say that what made me melancholy and prompted the writing of this poem is that I am looking at happy family photos, but I’m divorced so my family is therefore asunder, which makes me feel sad for my children at holiday time.  I am looking forward to celebrations nonetheless and had/have lots of invites for holiday dinners and travels, not to worry.  Thank you all for your concern. : )

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Fragility… a little poem of priorities.

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Fragility.

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Before you

pour yourself a drink

drown in the pages of

your kindled book

shop for the perfect

shade of red

shoes

for the season,

crash on the couch to

be talked at by the TV–

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hit pause.

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Carve a few moments

from this busy day,

call your parent

your friend

your child

and say dearheart

my embellishings

meanderings

escapings

can wait,

my closets are full anyhow

I am trying to leave

work at the office,

television is trance

anyway

I just wanted to say

I’m thinking of you

I love you

how is your day?

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Untethered: them, then, and now… a poem of loneliness.

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I finally understand

why they left, and how

it feels to become untethered,

loosed

from life

from love.

Every one, all

off on their own

and you

left alone

where alone digs a hole

deeper and deeper

until hollowness resounds

and pain echoes

echoes in

that cavern

when all you want

is another

all you want

is to love and be loved

but it’s

a retreating

need.

You reach, you hope, you

can almost taste

but there is no one there

to take your hand or meet your lips

and you realize though you are happy

in your solitary times

happy cannot be its own champion.

This hollow

is temporary,

you know

as they did not

as they could not

shed

this feeling of

gnawing

emptiness,

but you find

it is a gift

of understanding

of light

of empathy

as long as it remembers

to go away.

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We’ve all felt this, or most of us: loneliness, lonely times, alone in between relationships and sometimes even in the midst of them. What did you do, how did you cope?  I put one foot in front of the other. That is the way I know. I know to look forward and proceed with the journey…

~ Lily


Be beautiful, baby…

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Be beautiful, baby…

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the weekend,

the sun,

the heat

is upon us

with lists of things to do

separating me from you

in distance

in words you threw

with your inside pain

turned out

sometimes silence

sometimes…

something

so startling

needs

to sink in

to feel

real

sweet you were

all the days of your

young life

and now adulthood

has conferred its

strife.

I wish you peace,

I wish you

could feel

the love

I have for you

if only

the words of a mother

would do.

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