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
An inner rein
that falls at whim
but pulling in,
when the world intrudes and troubles
like water waves
–ripples, flows, crashes, plays–
in time, in phase.
Today I walked to the library,
I hoped to find a chair,
so you might find me amidst the pages
of Love and Mystery there.
The librarian leapt to be of assistance
When I requested books of poetry.
Tattooed on his forearm he pointed out
Byron, E. Browning, and Shelley.
We talked of poets, their art, their lives
For well over half an hour,
A young man reading next to me laughed aloud,
The musician next to him did nothing but glower.
Dickinson has a rhythm that’s easy to read,
Frost could go on forever.
Collins is sailing around the room,
Shakespeare these sonnets we never.
On the way home I encountered
A blue heron upon a yard wall,
Who only sat and stared at me,
He shouldn’t have been there at all.
Like a poem that can travel anywhere,
A bird in my city backyard
Alights and smiles at me on my way,
So close, and yet so far.
Contemplation, patience, successful hunt,
Symbol of adapting, like water.
Symbol of Wisdom, symbol of Light,
Watch the symbol
I remember from university literature courses how the Romantic poets found their emotions reflected in Nature. Ever feel like you were born in the wrong century? I might do without cell phone, television, ipad, computer, automobile–if I could go wander the moors amidst the heather and come home to the warmth of a fire and the glow of candlelight, a stone hearth and freshly-baked bread.
Fortunately, I have an imagination and a selective one at that. There is never any consumption wracking me in a cold hard Romantic bed, for instance, and never any livestock, or at least any requiring me to wake at dawn to feed them. I’m sure that there must be a black stallion, however, upon which a dashing man in a black cape rides to my rescue when it starts to rain.
Oh wait, that’s Austen… Sense and Sensibility, I think. (So much for my imagination!) That would make me, rescued in the rain, Marianne Dashwood. (Would I rather be Elinor? I am probably more like Elinor. She was sensible and responsible and didn’t wear her heart on her sleeve. She probably would have done so only on wordpress.)
So, you see how my feeble mind works.
Here is your latest dash of Romanticism, and any of you who have been following here can deduce therein where this present-day damsel is with regards to her romantic dilemmas:
A Killing Frost is Expected.
A killing frost is expected
in the hill country far from here,
where the scillas blue and snow drops bloom,
happy, delicate even in their profusion,
while here I stuggle to know
what is love, what is illusion.
There are no answers in your eyes,
while mine, moody blue,
deep and pure,
Restless as they are,
how can I be sure?
Is not what we are hoping for.
I kiss you with all that is in me,
with all that is in me and more.
A killing frost is expected,
But how can I be sure?
Not only should I give credit to Austen, but to the Moody Blues as well. Good for any of you readers who picked up on those allusions; I seem to have borrowed the band name, played with titles, and channelled Nights in White Satin : “We decide which is right,/And which is an illusion”. Is there anyone else out there who heard this song as a little girl (0r boy) and envisioned it as Knights in White Satin? Clear into adulthood I did, and I pictured the lead singer on a white stallion, rescuing said damsel, of course. At least I am a consistent romantic.
I note also the Romanticism in The Story in Your Eyes. “Listen to the tide slowly turning/Wash all our heartaches away…”
For me, for us here, the bottom line is this: we can’t count on any rescue, we can’t wait for the knight on his white stallion or Austen’s Colonel Branden to rescue us from the rain. We have to do our best, be strong, make our best decisions with the information we have at hand and in our hearts.
Thank you, kind readers, for your thoughts heretofore. They are always welcome and always a pleasure. Camaraderie is a wonderful thing.
I’ll keep you posted.
The rain reflects my mood,
Sufferings and such,
Like a stone skipped over a pond,
After the skimming of the surface,
Brief bouncing for joy,
The stone finds its place.
What have I cast aside?
Fun, for integrity,
The physical for the cerebral,
Luxury, for simplicity,
Together for alone,
Decadence for the convent.
I do believe the nuns would take me.
“She has a bit of a sense of
Even in pain,”
Says the Mother Superior.
“We could use her around here,
It’s so dreary and somber,
Though I love
The flying buttresses
Of the chapel.”
And the novices nod.
“If she can cook biscuits, can iron habits
And has strong knees,
Then, if Thy will be done,
She can join our club.”
A mere mortal pebble
of this world I may be,
But always thinking.
‘Tis a gift, from the Lord.