DAY ONE:  KERRY ON MY WAYWARD SON

 

It’s 9:30 AM on the second day -  Everyone else in the house is asleep from either too much wine or too much travel. I’m looking at a Christmas tree – behind it is the sunrise and mist. The Kerry Mountains are still dark until the sun erupts from behind them. It looks as if it will be as bright and clear as it was yesterday when our plane touched down in Shannon. 

 

The airplane ride over wasn’t fantastic, but it was fine. It’s a little over six hours from Chicago to Dublin – we had a short layover in Dublin and then on to Shannon. Really, to land in Dublin we have to fly over and beyond our destination and then turn around. Aer Lingus is a fine airline, but they do seem to have a problem giving fluids to their passengers. For this flight there was one drink cart. Then there was dinner… a really good ravioli – Danny was in heaven – and they give you a little tiny water. Really, like the size of an apple sauce snack packet.  Then there was nothing until we were nearing Dublin.

 

Once we landed in Shannon Millie was dying to get outside and have a smoke. After we got through customs she ran out while Danny and I picked up our bags. We were soon greeted by Rory, who would be driving us the two hours from Shannon to Kilorglin. There is a much closer airport to Kilroglin, but they only fly too and from other destinations in Europe.

 

Last trip here, I was so wiped out from the plane ride, I slept through the car ride. I’m so glad I didn’t this time. We travelled through Limerick and AradaleJust beautiful country. Old sheep farms with small, ancient stone fences, wind farms and the gorgeous small towns that look… exactly like you expect them to look. One thing that does strike me is that many of the newer homes look like they should be in Miami. They use the same colors and style in some ways. Lots of pinks and yellows. Plus there are these trees that look like palm trees. I’ve thought for ten years that they are palms, but they’re not. But they do give the front gardens of these houses a tropical look – especially against the sunny, blue skies today.

 

We drive past a big colorful sign welcoming us to County Kerry. The roads here are a little  frightening. For most of the trip we are fine, on roads we consider highways. But truth be told, most of the country roads here … hell, all of the roads here… have no shoulder. No place to pull off, for the most part. On top of that the hills and fences and hedges come right to the edge of the road. So when you are coming around a corner, you literally have no idea what is around the bend. I hope to try driving here this time, but that does scare yesterday’s lunch out of me.

 

Helen’s house is bustling when we arrive. After dropping us off, Rory is taking his mother, Kitty, who has been staying with Helen since Christmas, home. Some other folks I remember from visits past are around as well.  They all ask how the flight was and are beaming about how lovely the weather is today. The Irish are very proud of Ireland. When it’s showing it’s best face to visitors, they smile bigger than anyone.

 

After everyone left Helen made eggs and sausages… God we love Irish sausage. It’s very different from any kind of sausage you get in America. Finer ground, softer and the spices are completely different. As Millie says, she dreams about these sausages.

 

Danny has turned into a crabby little monster and is exhausted. He lays down for a nap. Millie and I fight it, but as Danny wakes up and manages to find the Phantom Menace on TV, we both crash on the couch..

 

Later I wake up as Helen is making dinner and flip channels and find SCROOGED. It’s my favorite Christmas movie and I missed it this year. So I sit and watch it with Danny as Millie continues to sleep on the couch.

 

Finally we are all awake and enjoying and wonderful dinner. Helen is a great cook. Stuffed pork roast, homemade mashed potatoes and these carrots that were to die for. I know… carrots!  They were mashed and cooked with margarine, ample black pepper, some salt and the a little nutmeg. I don’t know that I’ve ever gone for seconds of carrots in my life.

 

One thing I’ve learned both here and in London 8 years ago – not only is supper important for all concerned – a home cooked meals are important. It seems in our culture that dinner is something you get through in order to get on with your evening. Dinner here seems to be an integral part – if not the centerpiece. A red wine and a white are opened and we talk and laugh until it gets later. I, quite literally, can’t go on any more. Millie and Helen continue to chat as I crawl into bed. The guest beds are smaller than we are used to so it looks like Danny and I will take one room and Millie will have the other. So I guess Millie will have a little vacation from my snoring and restlessness.

 

I drift off to sleep with the sounds of Millie and Helen laughing as they echo down the hall.

 

 

DAY TWO:  TOM THE POST & TINA FEY

The jet lag has gone and morning seems completely appropriate to my body. It’s only academic that when I wake up it’s after 3 o’clock in the morning at home. In the guest room that I woke up in, there is a door to the back patio, looking out across vast green tracts of county Kerry to the Kerry mountains, the sun coming up just behind. I can see why Donal and Eileen (Millie’s grandparents built their house here. We are 5 minutes by car from the town of Killorglin in County Kerry.  Killorglin is a mid-size town, from what I can gather, built on a hill along a river. I will find out the name of the river for you soon. The town is overshadowed in fame by one of its nearest neighbors, Killarney.

 

Killorglin is best known for its huge summer fair that tourists flock to – Puck Fair. I, unfortunately, have never experienced Puck Fair, only ever having visited in the spring and winter. Apparently, to kick off the fair, the citizens of Killorglin praise a goat and hoist him to the top of a 3 story platform, where he remains (and is lovingly cared for) for the duration of the fair. It’s one of the oldest pagan festivals in Europe.  The story is that invading marauders were making their way toward Killorglin and a lone goat, Puck, ran down in the town, warning the townsfolk of what was coming. There is some controversy about whether it was Vikings, the English, Romans… or older. Helen thinks that it pre-dates Christianity in reality and is just a flat out pagan festival… but it was the only time of the year the poor community would make money, so the church never stopped it.  Just a little history.

 

The morning here is quiet. I am able to write quietly in my journal and then step outside in an attempt to snag a picture of what I’m seeing for Facebook. I doubt it will do justice to the sight. There is frost on the ground but I am able to walk outside with only a fleece jacket on. It’s gorgeous.  The peat soil is a completely different texture than I was expecting to walk on. It’s almost what I would expect the tundra to feel like under my feet.

 

I go back inside and find Spongebob dubbed in Irish (we’d call it Gaelic) on the TV. It’s something that Danny and I have talked about since stumbling across it last time we were here for an all-too-fast weekend in 2005. I tried to wake him, but nothing doing. The boy was out. So I settled down and watched it. While English is still the official language of Ireland, there is a great movement to preserve the original language. Every road sign has both English and Irish, RTE television includes Irish language programming, Aer Lingus announcements include it  and you can major in Irish at any University here.

 

I fire up the electric kettle again, ready for another cup. God these electric kettles are fast. Amazing. Helen is soon awake and joining me for a cup and some brown bread (dense whole wheat soda bread) with marmalade. I don’t like marmalade. In fact, I can’t stand marmalade – but, when in Rome… I think that’s the difference in the way I travel and it’s what I’m trying to instill in Danny. Helen remarked that usually guests want what they want.  The English or Irish will go abroad and want fish and chips in Italy. Americans, she said, can be the worst. I don’t take it as an insult – not only did she live for decades in the U.S.,  I’ve seen this myself. But, as far as I’m concerned, what the fuck is the point of travel if you’re not trying and experiencing new things and learning? I don’t want McDonald’s and Caribou Coffee… I want Irish sausage, Barry’s tea and Spongebob in Irish. I want things I’ll miss when I’m gone. So I took the marmalade.  I still hated it. But I was polite.

 

At some point, not long after she and I started talking she got a phone call from a friend, reminding her that she needed to be at a funeral in 2 hours. As Danny and Mil got up we started discussing what we were going to do. Helen had no plans to go to the entire mass, just put in an appearance, commiserate with the family and then go. I didn’t want to be stuck in the house, which we could have done. Instead we all got dressed and Helen dropped us in town and the three of us has breakfast.

 

Not much was open but we did manage to duck into a little coffee shop. I have to admit to some disappointment. I was hoping for sausages and mushy peas and meat pies (of course, that’s more London)… just something that I didn’t recognize. Something that Danny could discover. They had tortilla wraps on the menu. Fuck!  Wraps have invaded Ireland. I love wraps but… Sigh. Okay. Millie and I ordered egg and mayonnaise, thinking we were getting sandwiches (they were salads). They were also very good. Danny got chicken nuggets. He wasn’t in an experimental mood then. He usually is. but not this morning. He is fascinated by the differences here. He says Ireland is weird, when we correct him, he explains that he just means different. But he loves seeing and doing new stuff. Love my boy. J

 

I snagged a charity ‘Christmas from Killorglin” CD on the way out of the shop and we stepped outside to wait for Helen. We crossed the street to the sunlit square outside the beautiful new Killorglin library. Soon we hopped back into the car with Helen and headed off into our day. Our first stop is the Killorglin cheese farm. (YAY!)  The farm is owned by Helen’s cousins the O’Connors. And, yes, one of the daughters is names Sinead. The farm is ancient and modern and fantastic. Really. It’s such a beautiful quilt of this old, stone farm that has probably been in Killorglin since the late 1800’s with modern expansions and house built in and around it. They recently sold one of their fields to build a housing estate (which is lovely). Apparently it brought in a good deal of money for more expansion and cars. When I was last here in 2000 it was even smaller… and so were the sons. God I’m getting old.

 

Danny played outside with the horse and the dogs that ran around outside. He didn’t want to get too close to the cows in the shed… they smelled. We had a nice chat with Wilma and she is going to get me some information to take to Imboden’s,  the little grocery around the corner from my house that does imported cheeses. I’ve been saying for ages that we should try to get their cheese in there. Now I’m going to be acting like a salesman. HA!

 

Before heading off to our planned day trek, Helen attempted to wipe away the smear marks on the inside of the windshield. First she tried a paper towel, then a baby wipe, then news paper. Finally she pulled into the house of a friend. We waited in the car as she stepped inside, calling for her friend. She emerged a few moments later with a paper towel… apparently there was no one home, she just went in, got the paper towel and left. We laughed as we drove away, hoping that the house really was her friends.

 

Soon we were back on the road and heading into Glen Car, which are the Kerry Highlands. Helen drove us around the beautiful Caragh Lake and further up into the mountains. All around us were huge rocky slopes of purple and brown with small bands of sheep working their way around the scrub growth and the occasional telephone pole.  We drove all the way around the lake, stopping to take pictures at a few spots. Danny was disappointed that we could climb up into the mountains. We passed small communities and houses out in the remote area. We also passed and waved at some, what I assume, were pheasant hunters and their dogs.

 

After the fantastic, sunny drive we headed back down into Killorglin and grabbed some take away supper. Real Burger is apparently a chain here http://www.burgers.ie   and Helen wanted to stop. Again, denied something hit-you-in-the-face Irish to eat, I ordered the most exotic thing I could – The Puck Burger. No, it’s not goat meat. But it had cole slaw on it, and was delicious.

 

Napped a little as we waited to leave for a charity pub quiz in the Gap of Dunloe which is part of Killarney. Danny will be staying the evening with Helen’s cousin Mary and her three kids. Oh… and they have Wii and Nintendo DS … so Danny quickly assimilated. The two girls (10 and 11) seemed fascinated by my accent, which tickles me no end. So, we left Danny in their capable hands and headed off to the quiz.

 

I wasn’t sure how this was going to work. Bar trivia in the U.S. is like video poker. If we have pub quizzes like this, I don’t know about it… it’s very possible that I am just not in the know.  As Millie and I downed Guinness,  an emcee called out 10 rounds of 6 questions each. It was 30 Euro per table to enter. It was all for a Hospice charity.  earlier in the day when Helen was trying to find out what time it started and when she couldn’t find anyone who knew – she said, “I should ring Tom the Post. He knows everything.” She couldn’t remember his last name. That night, at the top of each of the answer pages it stated that this was the Tom O’Sullivan.  When Helen tried to place the name, Cyril pointed out it was Tom the Post. She just stared at him “why… does it say ‘memorial’?”

 

“Because Tom the Post has been dead for 2 or 3 years.”

 

I don’t think we’ll let her forget that for a while. Thinking of calling someone to find out the time the pub quiz honoring his death started.

 

I am very proud that the first question of the evening was a Barack Obama question. They seem very happy with our decision over here. There was also a Tina Fey/Sarah Palin question. I should write Tina Fey to tell her that people know who she is in little Irish pubs in the middle of nowhere.

 

DAY 3:  A CLOUD ON THE HORIZON

 

The sun is trying desperately to break through the clouds today, but I’m afraid it’s going to give up the ghost.

 

The conservatory/sun room isn’t nearly as warm today and I can’t see the mountains well because of the mist and clouds. That’s all right. I’m not terribly upset by the weather. This is what I was actually expecting for the last two days. I am writing leisurely as Helen wakes up. I make her a cup of tea (milk, no sugar) and we sit and chat for a quite a while. Eventually she hops in the car and runs out to get bagels and cream cheese. Her friend Maura brought over an entire smoked salmon last night (there’s a smokery here in Killorglin) and it is going to be our breakfast.

 

It’s almost 1 before Danny and Millie crawl out of bed. Helen makes us our bagels. Hand cut smoked salmon with lime and pepper, cream cheese with a dab of  pesto on a toasted bagel. Holy crap was is good. I can’t even wax poetic it was so tasty. Holy crap is all I can muster.

 

After lunch/breakfast Helen took Danny back to Cyril’s to play with his new found friends. I’m so glad he met somebody here. I was very worried that he would be bored and hate it here. It’s quite the opposite. He’s having a ball.

 

The rest of the day was very lazy. We did make a run to the grocery store for a few things that I had been looking forward to – lemonade (it’s fizzy here), sausages, black pudding for Millie and Danny, Cadbury Flake for Mil and of course, Jelly Babies for me. I love shopping in other countries or in ethic grocery stores. It’s like walking into a new world because even the products you know look different. Like the 2 liter coke bottles are different here. I love that stuff. I know, I know… complete dork.

 

Dinner was a mish-mash of appetizers and little nibbles that Helen had around. Smoked salmon pate, camembert, brie, tapenade, naan bread, small prawns tossed with pepper and olive oil. Then there was the wine… and the wine… and the wine … and then the whiskey.

 

During the course of this Helen received a call saying that her aunt Joan (Millie’s great aunt) has become very ill and is probably on her way out. For about an hour while she called family members, Millie and I dealt with the reality that our vacation might not be as bright as we hoped.

 

Danny came home, had a little food and then was off to bed. For me, Millie and Helen, we put aside the dark cloud that loomed and got completely stupid drunk. We laughed, told stories, read trivia cards and… drank. I got my normal drunkie-munchies and polished off a plum pudding and the last of the brie.

 

I stumbled off to bed where I found Danny, still awake. He’d been listening to us howl on the other side of closed doors.

 

Eeeek  bad dad.

 

I went to sleep and tried to forget that something horrible might happen while we’re here. 

 

DAY FOUR:  THE MONKEY PUZZLE TREE

 

The day started a little more hesitantly than the other days have started. Concern about Joan and what would happened is still looming.

 

This afternoon we are going to Tralee, a much larger town about 18 miles away over the mountains. We are going to look in on Joan.  The thing that is surprising me is that they want to get her into the hospital, but there are no beds at the moment. It floors me to think that. Right now it’s possible that she might improve in a hospital on an IV drip. Her behaviour came on very quickly and could possibly be from dehydration. No one seems surprised – but that’s one thing that we never seem to have in the States – not enough hospital beds.

 

I try my hand at breakfast. Black pudding, sausage and toast. Danny and I load the dishwasher, I start the kettle and proceed to cook.  I really, really, really thought I was fucking up the black pudding royally – but it seems I did fine. For those of you who don’t know what black pudding is… it’s not pudding as Americans think of it. Our pudding is more like custard. Except bread pudding- that’s more along the lines of English or Irish pudding. It’s really a sausage. I have lifted this directly from Wikipedia:

 

Black pudding or (less often) blood pudding is a British English term for sausage made by cooking blood with a filler until it is thick enough to congeal when cooled. It is also called blood sausage (first attested in 1868, perhaps influenced by German Blutwurst). Typical fillers include meat, fat, suet, bread, sweet potato, barley and oatmeal.

 

I will say this – I don’t really eat it. Danny and Millie love it and it doesn’t taste bad at all. In fact, it’s rather good. But my mind just can’t let me get past the blood thing. So I made it for the fam.

 

We’ve all been sleeping so late that it feels like half the day is gone when we get up. I’m not really a “come on! Get up! It’s time to go go go!” guy. But part of me is feeling that we are doing ourselves a disservice. At least I hope we’re not.

 

After a time we have made plans for Dan to go with Cyril and the kids to the Aqua Dome which is, apparently a huge indoor water park. He will go with them while we go to Tralee. We all get ready, drop Danny off and then head off to Joan’s house.

 

The road to Tralee takes us through Milltown and Castlemaine and some other small towns and then up over the mountains. Again, these mountains would be foothills in the Rockies, but some of the hairpin turns gave me the fear-of-heights-butt-squinchies. Not too bad.

 

Tralee is a much larger town and somewhat more gray and industrial than anything we’ve seen so far. It seems strange that a town with a carefree elvin name like “Tralee” would be some what more gray and industrial but it is. I see my first McDonald’s and strip malls in ages. There’s a video rental store called Chartbusters that I am dying to go into but we’ve got places to be.

 

Before we left we heard that a bed had opened up in “The Bons  (which is short for  Bon Secour – the hospital. It has a French name, Helen believes, because the order of nuns that started it. )  An ambulance had been sent for and Joan was going to be going in.  When we arrive at the house,  the ambulance still hasn’t arrived. We are greeted by a puffy, grey sentinel cat – brows furrowed, yelling at us – sitting outside the house.  It eels out one long note that I couldn’t tell if it was approval or disapproval we were getting. All I could tell was that the cat knew that something wasn’t all right in the out.

 

Inside we found Joan’s daughter Siobhan  (for those of you that don’t know, that is pronounced SHI-VAWN)… I can’t explain it either. She settled us down on the porch with a few others. Siobhan’s husband looks like the balding military character that Peter Sellers played in Dr. Strangelove. Really. In this already surreal moment, it was a little distracting. As Helen went upstairs to see Joan, we sat and chatted and had tea while we waited for the ambulance.

 

We made small talk about American health care and Barack Obama and… well, just about anything. Finally the ambulance arrived and we sat and finished our tea while Joan was carted off to “The Bons”.  It was all very strange. The family and friends that were there simply waited for the paramedics to do their job while we covered over the unpleasantness with polite conversation.

 

I suppose it would have been different if she wasn’t 90. I suppose, if this was a child who’d fallen or a sudden illness in someone 40, the level of urgency would have been different. Helen and I have been discussing death quite a bit. The Irish are very open about death and see it as part of life. They celebrate it. They are sad but they understand its place in the grand scheme. If there’s one stereotype about the Irish that we all know, it’s how they handle death.

 

For once, that stereotype is completely based in reality.

 

We didn’t go to the hospital. Instead we made a quick visit to another family friend in Tralee – Mary O’Sullivan.  We carried news of Joan with us. Soon we were on our way back over the mountain, laughing about the rural Irish who might stop our car, kill us in a pagan ritual and eat us… something out of Torchwood. It’s really beautiful country and the little houses and sheep farms set against the mountains are right out of a storybook.

 

I have often said that when I was in London, I felt right at home. Like I could easily live there. I loved it and I felt like it was calling me. I get much the same feeling here.

 

There is a wonderfully strange tree here that Helen pointed out to me. It is an evergreen of some kind, but shaped almost like a large winding cactus… the needles and prickerscompletely covering the thick branches, all the way down to the trunk. They call it the Monkey Puzzle Tree… because a monkey wouldn’t know how to climb it.

 

I write the name down in my notebook. It’s a wonderful metaphor for parts of life, like we are in right now. How do you climb this without it hurting? Sometimes you just have to.

 

Helen makes another wonderful meal and Danny comes home later

 

Millie and Helen go to bed early leaving me and Danny watching television. I get us a snack and a Club Orange and we cuddle on the couch watching Family Guy. I know… I know. But I’m there and he’s there and we’re both here.

 

Besides. I look up at the clock as we’re getting ready to head to bed and it’s my birthday now. My birthday - far away from home in a beautiful, welcoming country… eating little cheese sandwiches with my boy. How could it be better?

 

DAY 5:  37 BOWEL MARY MACK     12/31/2008

 

As usual, I woke up before everyone else this morning. I fired up the laptop to start journaling and I see that some of my friends have already started leaving me birthday messages on my Facebook account. Warm… completely masculine fuzzies.

 

As usual, the day is starting late. The plan today, upon my request, was to travel to Killarney (not far) and shop.  I want to spend the day looking at record or book stores, the mall in Killarney… me stuff… get some goofy souvenirs and bric-a-brac to take home.

 

I call my mom and dad to say hi. It’s only a quarter to seven in the morning there, but I know they’re up. My mom likes to recount the story of my birth to me every year. I didn’t want to disappoint. While I’m doing this, Helen calls Siobhan to check on Joan.  We are still hoping that the drugs and IV drip might bring her around. No such luck – she’s going soon.

 

So, Killarney is put off to another day. Instead, Helen drops the three of us off in Killorglin and we wander around for a few hours while she runs into Tralee to see Joan.

 

The town has more pubs than anything. In a town this small, I believe, they have 20. But there are plenty of little shops to go into. Millie and I but a pair of Claddagh earrings. We split them – one for each of us. We swing into a tiny… really tiny, bookshop. I pick up a copy of the new Tales of Beeteater Bard or Tom Bombadil… or whatever the hell that new JK Rowling Harry Potter addendum book is (I think I managed to piss off both Rowling and Tolkien fans in one breath there) for Millie and Danny asks for a Goosebumps book.  A few more shops… a Killorglin calendar, I drop a couple of Euro into the hat of a Romanian man busking on the street – he is neither singing or really playing that guitar. A few more stops – a trivia game for tonight, a talking TARDIS bank… (yep that’s for me).. and my favorite purchase today: “All About Your Bowel”. Literally, we were passing a pharmacy and I saw it in the window. It’s giving me a good chuckle. Were you aware there was an official Bristol scale for types and shapes of … well… you can fill in the blanks.

We also stop in the Kilorglin Library - a beautiful new building that has been built since the last time we were here. Probably the most interesting thing to me was the HUGE "Western Literature" section. Shelves and shelves of cowboy and American west books. I never thought of this genre as traveling well. When I say something about it later to Helen she said that it's huge with young boys. My father-in-law grew up on it.

 

Helen was expecting to be back between 3 and 3:30.  As 3 approached I called her. She and her cousin Tom were on their way back. Joan has died.

 

Millie, Danny and I sit down in the Bianconi pub and wait for Tom to pick us up. Millie has an egg mayo sandwich and I have a pint of Guinness. We are tired and the wind has been cold. She and I are silently acknowledging that this may very well derail our vacation. We understand that things happen and we are sad that Auntie Joan has left – but you do suddenly feel like it was all for nothing.  It’s selfish and irrational and it will pass quickly but we can’t help thinking it.

 

Tom picks us up and takes us back to Helen’s.  The three of us take hands, take a deep breath and swear to take the next days in stride.

 

Helen is making phone calls to family and we are getting ready. We are all expected at a New Year’s dinner party at 4:30 at Cyril and Mary’s. Helen finishes a round of phone calls and we are soon out the door again.

 

The dinner party is very nice. Lots of people we don’t know, so Millie and I giggle to each other quite a bit. When you are at a party like that, sometimes it’s like watching TV. A few people ask us about our stay so far. I get into a conversation with an old guy named Johnny. I can barely understand him but we talk about Chicago and Irish moonshine. Apparently it’s not the moonshine (I forget what he called it) that knocks you out. It’s very pleasant… but the minute you drink water, you pass out. That’s fantastic. We only stay a little while – Helen is not really up for a party. As we are leaving Johnny and I joke about jamming to “Mary Mack”: Mary Mack’s father’s making Mary Mack marry me/my father’s making me marry Mary Mack  apparently Johnny is a genius on the accordion.  Danny stays behind for a few hours to play with the kids. The rest of us, along with a transplant from London named Marie, are in the car and off again.

 

We drop Marie off at her house, make a quick stop at the grocery and soon we are home.

 

The evening progresses with Irish Trivial Pursuit… which is a bit of joke for me and Millie. Helen is making me vodka drinks and Millie is working on beer. Danny rolls in after 9. We are all buzzed and laughing as we settle down in front of the TV to watch the countdown to midnight from London.

 

So now it is 2009. A new year. We watch the London Eye explode in glorious color and sound. We call our families … “I am calling from THE FUTURE”… It’s not long before Danny and I crawl into bed, vodka fogging my head. I fall asleep – again considering the monkey-puzzle tree. What happens next?

 

 

 

DAY SIX:   PRUNE-THOUSAND AND NINE   1/1/2009

 

After several days the sun pokes its head out from behind the gray.  I have some time to journal and get a few more birthday and new years wishes online.  Everyone else wakes up about mid-morning. I put on the tea and we all congregate around the table.  Tonight everyone will congregate Joan’s house, where she has been brought, and say the rosary. Waking the dead in the house is still done here but it’s going out of fashion. Suddenly Helen gets an itch – she’s not going to let this death dominate our visit!

 

She jumps up. “This is your captain! We are leaving for Rossbeigh in 20 minutes!”

 

The Schwartz family was happy for the jolt and we were out the door in fifteen minutes.

 

Rossbeigh is on the ocean. Finally, the ocean!! I’ve wanted Danny to see the ocean ever since we got here. He’s flown over the damn thing twice and never seen it. When I was 11 and my folks took us to Norway, the house we stayed in was right on a fjord, so the ocean was always in sight. She took us down there one day to make us taste it. It was the day I stood throwing stones at the turns wheeling in the sky… and my mother said “leave no turn unstoned”… We laughed for ages over that. I’ve waited 25 years to finally write that joke down in a way that worked. HAHAHA.  Anyway, stoned turns aside, I wanted to take Danny down to the ocean so he could taste it.

 

The road there is gorgeous.  Bog and farmland.. rolling green hills and the sun peaking out from behind the mountains and the sporadic clouds. We pull off the road at a beautiful spot and we take some pictures. A low valley with a creek running through it and a hand painted “no trespassing sign”. On the other side of the valley an orange and tan hill littered with scrub brush, gorse  and scrub grass. It’s just like so many of the hills we pass; wild, scrubby with sectioned off patches reclaimed for farmland. Like Alaska, the government gives you money or a tax break if you can make a section of the land farmable. I am also learning that sheep are incredibly adaptable. I’ve seen them on the mountains, high scrub covered hills with outcroppings of rock and I’ve seen them on rolling green fields.

 

Speaking of gorse… look it up on Wikipedia. The first time I was here, in 2000, they were burning gorse up in the fields. It’s a weed. A pretty, prickly weed with yellow flowers that quickly encroaches on farmland – and sheep won’t go near them. So once or twice a year, with the fire brigade on hand, the farmers burn it out. The fireplaces here are going this time of year.  Now, they don’t burn wood for the most part. They burn bricks made from pressed bog peat. And they burn coal in their fire places. It all smells wonderful. Between the peat, the coal and the gorse… the air can get a wonderfully earthy, salty quality in the morning and evening.

 

We continue on to Rossbeigh. As we travel on I am noticing that… well… let me be delicate. The food and travel have played hell with my system and I’m… a little uncomfortable. After several days of feeling good, except for the remnants of my cold, and now I’m starting to not enjoy this ride to the ocean as much.

 

Rossbeigh is lovely. The sea on one side and the mountains on the other. This is a resort town full of summer homes and rentals. We drive down to the beach and even on a windy, cold day like today the place is bustling with people getting their walks in. Some crazy bastards are trying to wind surf.  We take a drive around the beach and park for a moment.

 

Unfortunately, the tide is out and it’s a long, mucky walk out to the white-capping surf.  Danny’s tasting the ocean might have to wait. Plus the wind is whipping like crazy – Helen says they call it “Fresh”. As in  My word it’s fresh out today”. We all had a good laugh when Dan said “It’s really friggin’ fresh out”. We get back into the car and head up into the mountains.  We drive along the ocean on a winding road that looks across the bay. We  pass incredibly tall, rusted railroad bridges. The word “BRITS OUT” are slowly vanishing into the rust. Helen says that this was a Republican (as in Irish Republican -  national pride) stronghold in the 1960s and 70’s. The words on the bridge were too high for the Brits to get rid of.  

 

We finally come to a little spot right before the town of Kells where we can pull off the road and take some pictures.

 

Earlier, when we were getting into the car, I told Danny to leave his DS at home. When he squawked, I told him that he was going to look at the scenery and he would thank me one day.

 

Looking out at the ocean, Danny said, “I’ll thank you now.”  Good dad moment.

 

We turn around and follow the mountains back to Rossbeigh. We stop at the Glenbeigh for lunch.  Damn! This is the one of the oldest working hotels and pubs in Ireland. I’ve been dying for proper pub food … and wouldn’t you know that my gut isn’t cooperating. While Danny dug into a huge plate of hot chips and Helen and Millie ate piping hot bowls of Irish stew… dumping mashed potatoes in with the lamb and carrots … I enjoyed my smoked salmon and roughage salad.  I don’t think it appeared that way on the menu, but that’s what it was. I will say that they don’t spare the salmon around here. They heap it on. YAY!

 

We finish up and head back toward Killorglin. By this time my gut is killing me. Helen suggests we stop for… you guessed it… prune juice. I’ve never put much faith in the little purple devils, but there is no dissuading her. She stops at a small grocery, hops out… a few minutes later she returns with a liter of prune juice.

 

When we get home, I down half the bottle and go lie down Millie and Helen got ready for the Rosary at Joan’s.

 

After I dozed for a little while, Millie and Helen informed me that I didn’t have to go, which was for the best. Danny was going to Cyril’s while they went. So I soon found myself all alone in the house. I laid down on the couch, turned on the TV and then….

 

Well, I will never again doubt the potency of prune juice. I will also say that half a liter is MORE than sufficient.

 

When Millie and Helen returned later I was feeling fine. It was quite a way to start 2009.

 

DAY SEVEN:  BRACE AGAINST TIME  1/2/2009

 

There was talk that today we would drive to Dingle. The drive to the bay is supposed to be beautiful and we’ve talked about going since we got here. It’s almost become a joke, like an unattainable quest. “Oh.. we’ll be in Dingle soon.”

 

We’ve decided to scrap Dingle for today and do the shopping trip to Killarney instead. I am, however, on a quest. Braces. Sorry… suspenders. Suspenders here are a garter belt. They call them braces here. Anyway, my belt is shot and I need to wear my khaki pants tonight for the wake and removal from the house.

 

We need to leave by 5, so Helen drops us in Killarney around 12:30. She has to go make some wreaths (she does floral arrangement) and so we will be taking a bus back to Killorglin. So the Schwartzes hit the streets of Killarney.

 

Helen dropped us at the train station/bus station/ mall  at one end of the down town area. So we wander through the mall. We step into a video/music store. Almost immediately Danny is next to me. “Dad! What’s this?”  He holds out a copy of the first Harry Potter movie.  He points to what he expects is a mistake. ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’  “That’s supposed to be ‘Sorcerer’s Stone’, right?”  I explain to him that the name changed when the book came to America – because “The Philosopher’s Stone” is actually part of mythology in the U.K. and Ireland. It doesn’t mean anything to us. So they just swapped out “Sorcerer’s Stone” for us… and we were none the wiser. You know, unless you are a die hard Potter Head.

 

A few stores down I find a clothing store, no suspenders. This means I have to keep hoisting my drawers as we head out of the mall into the streets. You’d think this was a back lot. Killarney is exactly what you would expect from a large Irish town. Narrow streets lined with quaint little shops. And I don’t mean that to sound cliché. These shops actually are quaint. As if there is a local ordinance requiring a certain quaintitude be built and immediately recognizable in all the shops present on the street.

 

There is also a tourist flavor here. Killarney is one of the tourist towns, like Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin. These are the places people come to feel close to their roots, discover Ireland and of course drink Guinness. And yes, Guinness and Guinness products are everywhere. But oddly, so is Heineken. It seems that it’s either Guinness or Heineken. That’s surprising to me for some reason.

 

I duck into a little music shop where they are selling little accordions, fiddles, bodhrans and penny whistles… along with electric guitars and accessories. I buy some guitar picks with the name and number of the shop on them and meet Danny and Mil back out on the street. As we move along I come up short in a few more clothing stores. We step into a gift store and get some souvenirs for folks at home.

 

There are literally shops, pubs and restaurants in all directions. Little signs direct you down narrow alleyways with more and more shops. Still no “Braces r’ Us” but I have faith. We are walking and stopping in stores for a little while longer when we finally com to Quills – a large clothing store. Victory is mine. I buy some fairly hideous purple braces (I’m wearing them under a sweater – I might as well have fun with it).

 

We check our clocks – 2pm.  We’ve been walking for the better part of 90 minutes and we need to head back the way we came get on our bus at 3. I have to admit, since Mil will call me on it,  I was getting a little crabby. My feet were killing me and… well, sometimes I just get crabby.  So we turn around and head back. I hope we come back before we go. I’d like to have a look at the other half of town.

 

When we get back to the mall, Millie goes off to find something to wear to the funeral. Danny and I go upstairs to a sandwich place to wait and use the restroom… I need to get these braces on.

 

I lock myself in a narrow stall in the bathroom and disrobe. I emerge five minutes later with Danny staring at me like “um… what the hell were you doing in there?”.

 

Before long we are on the bus and soon back in Killorglin. Helen picks us up and we head back to the house to get ready.

 

We make the trek into Tralee again in the dark.

 

Joan’s house is packed. Literally, stuffed with people. In a sitting room off to the side, the coffin is laid out. The three of us say a prayer -  I was worried about Danny, but he took it all in stride. We head outside because Mil wants a smoke and there’s no place to sit.

 

The only problem is that it is cold and windy outside. It’s still another half an hour until they take Joan from the sitting to the church and we follow. Danny is freezing – so we get Helen’s keys and the three of us climb into the car and watch everything like it’s on TV… but we are warm.  Helen arrives shortly and we drive to the Church. Some of the family is going to walk down the road behind the coffin.

 

The church is huge and old and beautiful. I sneak a few Facebook photos. I will also say for any other Doctor Who fans -  there are two HUGE angel statues with their heads down. Some one placed a “Don’t Blink” sign on a table near them. I thought I was going to piss myself attempting to hold in my laughter.

 

The pall-bearers bring Joan to the front of the church, where she will rest over night. There are a few quick prayers said and then it’s back to the house for tea, cakes and sandwiches.

 

The mass is at 11:15 the next morning and it’s half an hour back to Killorglin, so we don’t stay long. Danny is finally starting to wolf food down. He goes through these cycles were he barely eats for weeks and then we can’t get food in front of him fast enough.

 

We crawl back into the car and head back across the night, knowing that we will return one more time tomorrow to bid farewell to Joan.

 

DAY EIGHT:  SOBER & SMITH     1/3/2009

 

The sky this morning is a mixture of grays and blues, edging toward a complete, pale gray. We are a little hurried as we are all getting ready to be out the door.

 

The mass for Joan is at 11:15 and it takes slightly more than an hour to get there. Plus we have to drop Danny off at Cyril’s.  All the pressure of home without the cushion of being at home. But we do make it, with a few minutes to spare.

 

After a quick stop to buy, as Helen described it, “man-strength” tissues, we arrive in Tralee with only ten minutes to spare. The panic sets in a bit as Helen is doing a reading. With five minutes to go we find our selves two blocks away and at a stand still because of another funeral.

 

As the hearse slowly passes us we see throngs of young people, teenagers, walking slowly behind. Beautiful children, eyes lowered, carrying flowers as they step sadly behind the coffin. We find out later that there was a horrible car accident on New Year’s Eve. A young girl was killed and two boys are still in critical condition. This was the girl’s funeral. It’s sad to see so many young grieving .

 

We are directed by the Garda (Ireland’s national police service) around the corner into the church.  The funeral for the young girl is at the exact same church and everyone is currently leaving. The drive up is incredibly narrow and we clip a parked car’s side mirror on the way in.

 

We arrive 5 minutes late, but the mass is nowhere near ready to start as the previous funeral is just ending.

 

The funeral mass was very nice in this big old church. I’m finally able to see the beautiful stained glass windows. Gorgeous.

 

After the mass, we hop into the car with Helen and drive to the grave yard. The family is walking behind the hearse, so we have some time to sit in the car and be warm before the graveside service. Cyril arrives and joins us in the car. Danny is at home with his wife Mary and their kids still.. When the hearse arrives, we all follow to the grave where Joan’s late husband, Conn, is waiting for her. 

 

Millie and I hang back, bringing up the rear in the procession. This is an odd funeral. There have been tears and sniffles – but Joan was 90 and had a fantastic life. It really feels more like we’re going to see her off on a cruise. Irish cemeteries, by the way, are amazing. The grave sites are very elaborate. Each plot is not only marked by a head stone, but there is a little marble wall around the plot – some engraved with slogans. “I did it my way” was the one that made Millie and I chuckle.  We did see a grave for Pearse Brosnan, which was a surprise. We didn’t realize he was dead.

 

Once they had committed Joan’s body to the ground – with a few words from the Arch Bishop, who is a family friend. We all trudged back through the dead to our cars and off to the luncheon.

 

Lunch was very nice. We all settled down at a beautiful hotel just outside of town for a lovely meal. Guinness, smoked salmon salad, breaded chicken with mushrooms… delicious. A mélange of small desserts… I need to go to more Irish funerals.

 

Millie and I were expecting this part to go on for quite a while, but it didn’t. Many people were driving quite a distance to go home. So a few goodbyes to some people that we won’t see again for a long time and then it was back in the car.

 

We stop for gas before heading out of Tralee. While Helen is paying she hears that they will be announcing David Tennant’s replacement as Doctor Who tonight in a BBC special. So – I know what I’m doing tonight. We stop in Milltown where I hop out and get meat for Helen’s planned dinner.

 

We get back to Killorglin around 4:30 and we settle in for the night. Helen makes her meatloaf, Millie slips into her jammies and I put myself down on the couch to watch the Doctor Who special. Helen and Millie join me and we all discuss the selection of Matt Smith as the new Doctor. I chat online with Laurie and some other folks.

 

Danny comes home a little later, we eat and then… before I know it, it’s time for bed. The last few days of cramming vacation in between the funeral plans have wiped me out. I crawl into bed next to Danny who is snoring quietly and dive off the pier into sleep. 

 

 

DAY NINE:  SHACKLETON’S DINGLE CAMP  1/4/2009

 

The day has come. Dingle… the oft dreamt of destination… our quest, I guess, will be fulfilled this day.

 

We all wake up around 10 o’clock. Cyril and Mary need to drive 4 hours to Dublin to see a friend who has, I understand, been brutally attacked. Their son, Danny’s new best friend, Padraig, is coming with us to Dingle. Helen goes off to fetch Padraig while I get the other Schwartzes out of bed and ready to go.

 

After so many aborted attempts this week, we are getting to Dingle by hook or by crook.

 

Well, actually, it’s by car.

 

Talk of Dingle started over a month ago when Millie found that you could go on Whale watching boats out of Dingle. Plans for that were scrapped when we realized how cold it would be  but Dingle was now in our lexicon and we wanted to see it. Helen says the drive there is spectacular.

 

Helen returns with Padraig, some Maken and Clancy CDs and we all begin the journey to Dingle.  If you haven’t noticed, I love writing Dingle. If that’s not bad enough… our first stop on the trip is the little ocean side village of Inch.

 

There is a huge sand bar/beach that extends out into Dingle Bay called The Strand. You can see it on any map or Google earth. Surfers come here. When we step out onto the beach to take pictures, the huge waves are swelling and breaking before us. Beautiful.  It’s the only time I have even thought that surfing would be nice. HA! The day and the wind are much milder here than Rossbeigh, which is literally across this huge bay from us now.

 

Back into the car and driving along the ocean, until we turn inland. We reach a town called Annascaul and turn right. Annascaul’s claim to fame is The South Pole Inn. Tom Crean, one of Annascaul’s native sons, took part in 3 Antarctic expeditions; two with Scott (1901-1904  and again from 1910-1913) and then with Shackleton’s ill-fated journey. When their ship, the Endurance, was crushed by ice and the crew fled to Elephant Island. It was Crean who went with Shackleton and three others to find help – crossing 800 mile crossing of the Southern Ocean.  Crean was one of the last left standing when help was found.  He returned to his home in Annascaul and opened The South Pole Inn.

 

It’s still early, so we don’t stop at the South Pole Inn. We continue on through Annascaul and beyond.


The valley we travel through is amazing. It reminds me of big sky country in Wyoming or South Dakota… only greener. Farms that go all the way up the side of a mountain until they reach the treeline and vanish into purple-brown lichens, scrub brush and rock. The sun is starting to emerge and is falling like little spotlights on parts of the mountain.

 

It’s breath taking but Helen is starting to wonder if we’ve gone the wrong way. It’s beautiful but nothing is looking familiar to her. I tell her that my gut says we are going the right way and Millie says “ever forward” – so we press on.

 

So far I have been fine with the drive… until we come around a corner and the land falls away into a deep, deep valley with the sea beyond. It’s stunning.. but I can’t look at it. My fear of heights kicks me in the sack and I tense up.

 

It’s crazy… I want to look out at it – because it’s fantastic – but every time I do, my irrational fear grips me. I find myself leaning away from the edge slightly. I can tell that Millie can see what’s happening. I’m trying to laugh it off, as I do.

 

After we pass another sign for Tralee, Helen pulls into a gas station in the town of Camp. Yep, we turned the wrong way at Annascaul. So we headed back. This time, as we pass the South Pole Inn – we follow the correct path to Dingle.

 

Dingle is a sea side town with little shops, yachts, fishing vessels and lots of beautiful colors. The sun has gone and there is a mist of rain as we hop in the car again, driving further down the peninsula to Slea Head – looking out into the Atlantic.

 

It is gray and drizzling when we arrive there. We pull off near prehistoric beehive dwellings. In either direction there is ocean, some of the other side of the bay and black rock cliffs straight into the frothy brine below. This is the ancient land of the Celts – where the ancients might have once stood and watched invading Norse row in.

 

Shit, I don’t know… but it sounded good. What do you expect of me blog reader?!

 

We turn around and go back the way we came.  Once back in Dingle, I take Danny and Padraig to the Ocean World Marine Aquarium, while Millie hits the gift shop and Helen scouts a place to eat.

 

They love it. The hip word here is “SAVAGE” and Padraig calls the spider crabs and small sharks “Savage”.  The last leg of the aquarium is a glass tunnel under the water and fish. It’s awesome and the kids went nuts.

 

After the aquarium we take lunch at the Dingle hotel and I finally my pie – beef and Guinness pie. Mmm.  While we were at the aquarium Helen also got stuff to make her seafood chowder. HA! I’m set for the night.

 

The trip back seems to take half the time. When we get home I fall asleep while Helen makes her chowder. Every moment I’m not doing something, at this point, feels like I’m  wasting time. Time is at a premium, but the drive today wiped me out.

 

After Padraig leaves we all retreated to our corners. Danny played his DS, Helen checked in with Joan’s family, Millie played on her computer in the other room and I watched Genesis live in Rome. This vacation is winding down. As sad as it is to leave, I suppose the time has come to head out.

 

One more day. One more chance to force in the things that soak slowly in when you live her. One more day to lose myself in the mountains and the green. One more day before I have to drag my family back to real life.

 

 

DAY TEN: FRANCES, DOLORES & MY SKIN  1/5/2009

 

It is the final day. Last night before we went to sleep, Danny said a prayer asking for nice weather. I woke up at six this morning, unable to shake thoughts of real life… bills, house cats, the job… they all leak in and I try to get back to sleep. Finally I give up and get up.

 

I work on my journal for a while and wait for the others to rise. I had no idea that Millie had gone to bed at 5. It’s few hours before everyone is up. I am well into my third cup of tea when Helen appears. She gets Millie and Danny out of bed and makes French toast for breakfast.

 

It’s around 12 when we finally leave the house. Our last outing. The intention today is to do a little shopping in Killarney and then back home for dinner followed by Cyril and Brendan for “Facts in Five”, a trivia game that they are all crazy about.

 

On the way to Killarney we stop at Helen’s friend Maura’s house and chat with her a bit. As we are talking we are watching the Biography of John Mills. As much as I like Maura, I’m itching to get to Killarney. I still haven’t been into any record stores, which is one of the things that I wanted to do here. I can feel every minute burning away, I know it’s a little selfish but Helen can get a little sidetracked.

 

We don’t stay at Maura’s long and we head toward Killarney, taking the back road. The FUBW  as my wife calls it – Fucked Up Back Way. She calls any short cut or country road I find to get me to the same destination this. Actually, I pretty much call these by the same name now – but I still take them.

 

I suppose after so many journal entries it’s redundant to say “it was a beautiful drive”… but it was. The sky is completely blue – the sun is hanging above the mountains over our shoulder and this place is so green… well, you get the picture. We pass through the small town of Beaufort – which we’d come to on the first night for the quiz – but this time we go through to into Killarney.

 

We are right in the center of town… when Helen decides to sidetrack us one more time. She’s taking us to one more sightseeing place before hitting the shops. Like a selfish little shit – I was steamed. I just wanted to…

 

Right there, in that moment, I realized something very deep about myself. It explained something that my friend Laurie joked about on Facebook. “You’re the only person I know who goes to another country to watch T.V.”. It’s absolutely true.  It explains why I am so fascinated with grocery stores and TV and road signs and the food and the money. My vacation isn’t going to Ireland to see it… I want to BE Irish. For 10 days I want to live like the Irish live. I want to buy what they buy, eat what they eat, watch what they watch and launder their clothes the way they do. I do it everywhere. Killorglin, London, New Mexico, Miami… it doesn’t matter. I want to submerge myself in who these people are. That’s what I want out of a vacation – I want the experience of being outside of myself… being somebody else. Trying on a different life.

 

I cannot tell you what this revelation did to me. It stunned me… but after 37 years it explained so much. It explained why, when I would leave some place, like San Diego or Miami, it felt like I was taking off a skin. I thought it was business… but I was taking off Miami. The skin of someone from Miami. I have always bristled at tourist spots and sought out the genuine… where the locals eat… what dishes do they eat around here? Where do they shop.


God, it was like somebody kicking me in the back of the head and a little metal ball dislodging itself and dropping into the right hole. “This is who you are, stupid!” Even when I read back on this journal – look at what I focus on. 

 

Ross Castle was beautiful, looking out onto the lakes and islands, we snapped a few pictures and then hopped in the car. Back to downtown Killarney.

 

With my newfound self-discovery in hand I hit the shops. Danny came with me while Millie and Helen headed off in another direction. There were two shopping arcades – small shopping malls, really. They almost reminded me of Montreal’s underground city. A loose connection of small shops all joined together through small causeways and pushed into unlikely shapes by existing structure. Not the well planned, pristine shopping malls of the States… which are dying off, sadly. (That’s a whole ‘nother piece of writing from me). These are , we’ve got this space – let’s see what we can do with it and get in multiple renters.

 

I get my chance to hit two record shops – Music Express and Roxy Records. Again, in Music Express I am faced with a dilemma – what to buy. I don’t want to buy something that I could readily get at home. I look for Kings of Leon because I have seen their new video for “Use Somebody” 4 times now on one of the video channels and I love it. Sadly, they don’t have it. Happily I find two other CDs that I snatch up; “Damien Rice – Live and Union Chapel” and “The Essential Dolores Keane”.  Can’t get them fuckers at Wal-Mart. And I love Dolores Keane. As Tom Russell says, she is the voice of the Irish earth. (I am writing this later and have listened to this 2 disc set… it is freakin’ phenomenal!!)

 

Now, Danny came with me because I promised that we would stop at some places he wanted to stop… which, of course meant video games. I have explained to him that the Playstation games won’t work at home. But the Nintendo DS games will… plus I gave him 50 Euro and it’s burning a hole.  After a stop in a tiny book store, where I pick up a beautiful little hardback edition of “Origin of Species” (gold trim, built in bookmark ribbon… unabridged… beautiful)… we hit the high street again.

 

Did you know that Killarney has a Game Stop. Yes, Mitch, a Game Stop. So guess where we went. Danny was over the moon and bought two used games – “Ninja Reflex” and the new “Super Mario Brothers” for his DS.

 

I call Helen and set up our meeting point. A quick stop in a news agent to pick up a “Doctor Who Adventures” magazine for Danny… and then we wait.  On the way home from Killarney we stop an another cousin’s house. Gerard and Peggy Collins, and their daughter Niamh (who I am happy to say, has a Facebook account). It was a nice little visit but we were soon off  again.

 

Back home we have set about packing. I am neurotically concerned with us all getting up in time. After a time, with most everything packed, I settle down on the couch and start journaling.

 

We finish the last of the seafood chowder as a starter and Helen makes another meatloaf. They are delicious but I she thinks we are a little more obsessed with meatloaf than we actually are.

 

A little later Frances shows up. Frances has been popping up periodically while we have been here. She’s a little crazy and keeps asking us if we want Chinese food. “Would you like a Chinese,” she asks on more than one occasion. “Just call if you want a Chinese. I’ll spring for a Chinese. Does Danny eat Chinese.  It actually gets to the point where I ask Helen if Frances owns one of the two Chinese places in Killorglin. She doesn’t, she’s just crazy. She has these eyes that seem to leap out of her skull as she stares at you. And her hair is yellow and white like a mixed bag of plain and buttered pop corn. Apparently she’s a vegetarian… but not in the “she eats a lot of vegetables” way. She just doesn’t eat meat – but eats mostly bread and… apparently cigarettes. She’s a character that I imagine Terry Jones playing on Python. She’s a nice lady, just a little nutty.

 

Soon Cyril arrives with his brother Gerard O’Neill. Padraig and his sister Emma are in tow to play with Danny. They start settling down for a game of Facts in Five, which apparently is an old trivia game that they played as kids. Someone found it on eBay and all the grown ups are excited… until Cyril asks if Frances wants to stay and play. Helen looked as if she was going to push a lamb out of her ass.

 

So we play… and almost all of them smoke.  5 categories like Name Brands, American Cities, World Leaders, Diseases and Animals.  Then 5 letters : BWVPM .  So… 5 Name Brands that start with B. 5 American Cities that start with B … and so on. It’s fairly complex. Frances never seems to catch on… she’s too busy burning her hair with her cigarettes. No really, I’m not lying. She doesn’t even notice.  I swear, if Helen had a gun she’d have shot her like Han Solo did to Greedo in Star Wars. And no (for all you Star Wars purists)… Frances wouldn’t shoot first either.

 

We have fun… and we argue… and we marvel at Frances.

 

At 10, Helen boots everyone out. Danny and Padraig say their goodbyes, as do we.

 

I set the alarm on my cell phone for 5:30. My alarm? “Gut Thumping” by Gag Reflex.

 

Leaving Millie and Helen awake in the dining room, Danny and I go off to bed.

 

 

DAY 11:  TERMINAL FROST  1/6/2009

 

The strains of me and my Gag Reflex mates wake me at 5:30… and again at 5:35. 

 

I have never missed a flight. Not for business. Not for pleasure. And I won’t this time.

 

It’s still dark outside and I wake Danny. He’s groggy as he pulls himself to his feet. I dress quickly and make sure he stays awake. We need to leave by 7 to be at the airport by 9. It’s a two hour ride to Shannon airport (longer because Helen is ssssllloooowww) and we’re going to run into rush hour traffic. Now, it might be a little lighter than usual because it’s Nollaig na mBan – Women’s Christmas in Ireland.


In America, Christmas is a couple of days. In Ireland, it lasts two weeks. Today is the last day of Christmas. The tradition is that this is a day for the men to take over the housework and give the women a break after preparing meals and everything  else over the past two weeks. It’s an old tradition, but it’s still a day when women all over Ireland go out for lunch or dinner with their lady friends. I’d imagine that the younger set will booze it up proper tonight.

 

I don’t have time to think about the wonders of a country full of drunk women… I have tea and sausages to make. Our last Irish sausages. Apparently there is a company in Tinley Park, Winston’s,  that makes them. So we can get them at home, we just have to hike to Tinley Park.

 

I finally pack up my computer and help Danny finish packing. As I start the tea and sausages, Helen’s wake up call comes through and she is out of bed. Tea with a drop of milk. For me? Tea, milk and two Splenda. The sausages are cooking up nicely… throw in some toast. I have Danny checking around for things we might be forgetting. I hate forgetting things. When they will be left in another country… well, I needn’t tell you my neuroses surrounding this.

 

I check our passports and flight information at least 7 times while I’m making breakfast. I am in pre-flight mode, which is almost as bad as pre-show mode.

 

Eventually Millie is awake, the suitcases are by the door, mp3 players are charged… it’s time to hit the road.

 

It is dark at 10 to 7  when we step outside. The sky is clear and the car is covered in a layer of frost, which we weren’t expecting. It’s not real common, apparently, and Helen has to find her scraper, while I start scraping with my expired Sweet Tomatoes gift card. Soon the windows are fairly clear and we are on the road.

 

The roads are barren at this time of morning. The commuters for Killorglin to Tralee or Killarney are still at home. We turn on Irish talk radio and they keep talking about dangerous frost on the road. I know… being from Chicago, I want to laugh, but I don’t. They are very concerned.

 

We roll on through the darkness, through towns and villages. Millie is asleep in back and Dan is silent, unable to play his DS. Helen has the annoying habit of braking to a crawl every time a car passes her. I don’t understand it and I want to scream “I HAVE NEVER MISSED ONE, HELEN!! IF I DO… SOMEBODY DIES!! IF YOU TOUCH THAT BRAKE AGAIN I AM GOING UGLY AMERICAN ON YOUR ASS!!” I don’t say it of course.

 

To the east the sky beings to lighten. We have moved out of County KerryKillorglin, Dingle, Killarney, Milltown, Tralee and Beaufort are now well behind us. We have moved into county Limerick… or should I say

 

“We drive on into County Limerick

the roads are all frosty and slick

Helen’s slow on the wheel

but I won’t make a deal

because I don’t want to look like a dick”

 

There is one point as the sun is starting to break on the horizon, that we come around a hill and we can see across the valley ahead of us. The frost has grayed the entire landscape and a cushion of fog is resting low to the ground. It’s absolutely stunning. I would think it was snow if I didn’t know better.

 

This part of the country got hit harder by the overnight freeze that County Kerry did.  We have been on the road for almost an hour and a half  - we were hoping to be to the airport by 9AM but that hope is slipping away fast. The flight isn’t until 11:40, so we’re not going to miss it, but it’s frustrating.

 

We do have to make one stop that we’ve been planning since the day we landed. Millie needs to get soil from Adare for one of her friends. Adare was her maiden name.  We stop there, Danny has a pee and Millie digs soil out of a nearby potted plant.

 

Adare is a pretty little town that dates from the 13th century and has gone to great lengths to maintain some of it’s historic sites. Thatch-roofed houses sit along the road, glazed with frost. A church built by the returning Crusaders sits near the road.  You can see pictures here - http://www.adare-ireland.com/  .  I would like to stay and have breakfast at The Pink Potato, but we can’t.

 

Next we “blaze” through Limerick at rush hour. Sigh. It wasn’t bad, not like trying to take Route 88 toward Chicago on a Tuesday morning.  But it’s already 9.

 

The sun is well in the sky as we pull up to Shannon airport at 9:30. I shouldn’t have worried. There is no line to check in. We have our boarding passes before Helen parks the car and comes into the airport.

 

We sit with her in the café and have one last snack with her. It’s a little sad, of course. But we know we’ll be back and we still have the trip home. We hug and say our goodbyes.

 

We coast past customs. Hundreds of U.S. soldiers are waiting to catch flights. I seems they are coming home, where they were bound, I’m not sure. Every time I see then I want to say something. I want to say thank you for serving our country. I want to say I’m sorry that our leaders have sent you into danger because of faulty information. I’m never sure what to say – or who to say it to. God knows what they’ve seen or had to do. While they wait to go through customs to get back into their own country, I sheepishly move on to my gate.

 

The reason we didn’t go through Customs was because our flight from Shannon stopped in Dublin. We got to have the wonderful experience of taking all our stuff off the plane after 35 minutes in the air. Then we had to wait in line at Customs, get our passports stamped and then wait to get back on the plane.

 

It was a pain in the ass and I think at that point 12 days together had finally worn on the Schwartzes and tempers flared.  By the time we are back in the air we are fine, but it’s time to be home and we have another 7 hours in those seats.

 

I wish there was some sweeping, poetic end to this trip that I could relay. Fairy tales, adventure stories, operas and detective novels all end because what comes after is… well, frankly not always worth writing about. Prince Charming and Cinderella paying the mortgage. Indiana Jones having nothing to do on a Sunday afternoon and falling asleep in the Barcalounger listening to Baby Snooks. Sam Spade catching a cold and calling in sick to work.

 

All vacations, no matter how wonderful end watching your luggage come down a slide. No matter how exotic and wonderful, it ends with a slow ride home over well covered ground. The faces of the last days… Cyril, Frances, Padraig, Maura, Siobhan, The Arch Bishop… they all dance in front of me as Chicago snow falls outside the limo window. The taste of the sausages and Club Orange visits me. The smell of the burning Gorse. Spongebob in Gaelic. My little family standing in the sun in the hills of Glen Car.

 

I look over at them both, asleep – exhausted from traveling- in the dim dome lights of the limo. I’m so glad I could give them this. I’m so happy I could give them the exhaustion of a world traveler.

 

I turn up the blue limo halo lights, close my eyes and doze off as the car edges through the Illinois snow and traffic toward our little green home.

 

 

© 2009  Eric Peter Schwartz