“Family”- a person or people related to one and so to be treated with a special loyalty or intimacy.
Potato farming with Joe was more satisfying than I expected! Which further supports my belief that I come from spudmakers rather than fish catchers. Digging through the soil to unearth more tasty little taters was like a fun game of farming hide and go seek. Plus all I could think about was how delicious the little fellers were going to taste smothered in butter later that evening.
Joe likes to work in silence. He humoured me a time or two, but my constant excited jabbering was hindering his potato mojo. We’re such opposite people from opposite sides of the world, with a completely different set of life experiences, and yet here we are, together. He in his Aran wool sweater, cap and work boots, me in spandex and padded cycling shorts, sharing an afternoon together digging potatoes and once in a while, talking about life.
Dad wrote; “people and topics are surprisingly the same everywhere. The talk is of the cost of living, the price of meat, the size of the tax, and the chore to make ends meet.” And it’s true. Joe and I talked about the cost of living, the price of meat, the size of the tax and the chore to make ends meet. It turns out his parents shared the same names as mine, Mary Anne and Martin. He misses his folks. I asked him if it gets easier, he said “No. It gets different”.
We talked about what the island will be like in a few more years, as the next generation are not staying to fish and farm, but are heading to the mainland where the job opportunities and wifi signals are more prolific. The times they are a-changing. Tony Faherty, who drives a horse drawn carriage for tourists on the island, suggested that I come and buy a guesthouse that’s for sale. He said “we need new blood to bring new blood and your blood looks like good blood, so by Jaysus, you should bloody well do it”. Tough to argue with that logic!
I find it sad that times change so quickly and that traditions are lost. And yet I know I’m hypocritical because I don’t necessarily want to be the one left behind to dig the proverbial peat. Yet I feel like we’re all in such a rush to keep up and move forward that we’re discarding the good points of our past. I sometimes sound like a 95 year old woman who carries Kleenex up her sleeve and says, “back in my day, we went to this place called a library, where they kept these things called books, and it was inside those little books that we found the information we were looking for. None of this googley schmoogley goop, you kids keep going on about!” Historically I’ve been quite bad at letting go. My dad used to tease me that I would secretly love to build a house in which I could store all of my ex-boyfriends and cover the walls with effigies of myself. So that I could move on, they couldn’t, and I could go back whenever I wanted and revisit those people and those times. Did I mention he was a bugger?!? However, over the past 10 years I’ve gotten much better at accepting change. Because I’ve been forced to. I’ve accepted change, but am still mastering the art of letting go. I think that’s part of why I’m on this journey; to learn to let go, gracefully.
Joe and I bade our farewells and it was back to the ocean toss headed for never dry land. Although I know I’ll never see him again, and he laughed when I asked him about email, I will hold him in my little heart. Two souls crossed, shared a moment and then moved on. Look at me practicing letting go!! Ohhhh it’s a hard slog these life lessons!
It was on to the small village of Listowel, where my dad’s mom’s family, the Galvin’s, come from. It’s a lovely town, with about 5,000 people and 150 pubs. That’s my kinda town! I actually feel quite content walking around this village, maybe something in my DNA feels at home again.
That evening, we had a group date with a very special set of folks. Our entourage now involved myself, my Aunt Anne and Uncle Ken, who are driving the vehicle with my cinematographer, Robin and my new sound person, Sue. They’re all troopers, jammed into a clown car, with gear sticking into and out of everything as we made our way through the hills to the home of our dear friend Billy Leen. Billy is the man who designed the chair to my dad’s memory which sits at the end of the Dingle Peninsula.
Billy is an artist, a sculptor, a politician, an activist, a spiritualist and a soft souled kindred spirit. He has the kind of quiet but strong energy that makes you want to curl up and fit inside the breast pocket of his shirt so he can carry you around all day and make everything better. Billy’s house is perhaps the most eclectic and interesting place I’ve ever been! It’s Disney World for the artists’ senses. With crazy sculptures made out of found objects all through the yard, throne like chairs made of found timber, more books piled on crooked shelves than I could read in a lifetime. Every piece has a story and I find myself wanting to know them all. We’re here to join Billy, his daughter Mary, who is also a very talented stained glass artist, and Frank Hartnett, a County Kerry roads engineer, for dinner. Billy has made my favourite – corned beef, turnips and the largest plate of boiled potatoes I’ve ever seen. I ate everything. Twice. It was salty and simple and perfectly delicious.
A number of years ago, my dad’s younger sister, Anne, wanted to do something to honour her brother. When dad was going through his chemotherapy treatments, just before they’d jab him with the IV needle, first he’d say, “for what I’m about to receive may I be truly grateful”, and then they’d follow up with, “Go to your happy place Marty”. So we asked him once, just where he went when he drifted to that happy place. He said “I’m standing on the end of the Dingle Peninsula, the sea wind is blowing through my hair, (he’d lost all of his by this point), I’m looking west toward home and feeling the great pull of possibility beneath my feet”. And so my Aunt, the poetic soul that she is, contacted Frank Hartnett to see what could be done at dad’s happy place. Frank found the perfect spot, Billy designed the perfect chair and now, almost 10 years later, we’re sharing corned beef, stories and our lives with these fine people who helped honour Da in such a meaningful way.
In dad’s journal he wrote of a conversation he had with a woman named Brigid, with whom he had stayed near Dingle. He said “we spoke of her father who had passed away a year before. I gathered he was something of an invalid of age toward the end and was fairly helpless. She used an interesting idiom in this regard; she said it’s difficult to see them and tend to them when they get like that, especially when they’re so close in the blood”.
I know what she’s talking about. One of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced was the helpless feeling that accompanies watching the bodies of those I love most, fail. And fail painfully. And knowing there is nothing I could do to ease their pain and their journey to death, and that the only gift I could offer was my ability to witness. But I like her turn of phrase because I don’t think “being close in the blood” means we have to share an actual bloodline. Because I’m sitting here in this eccentric home and I feel close in the blood to Billy and Mary and Frank. I feel close in the blood to Robin and Sue who are helping me create my dream. I feel close in the blood to Anne and Ken who are my favourite people on earth. I feel close in the blood to Joe and his potatoes. And I feel close in the blood to all of you who are reading this. I feel like I’ve crawled in your pockets for a moment and you’re carrying me around and I’m better and stronger because of it.
I’ve always found the act of blood and organ donation to be literally awesome. That we are all so connected to one another that we have the power within us to keep each other alive. But it doesn’t have to be a physical donation, we all have the power to keep each other buoyed. As the Canadian Blood Services motto says; “it’s in you to give”.
Thank you all for your donation of spirit to me. My cup brimeth over.
More to come…