This is the beginnings of something I need to finish, a dozen scenes from a trip to Ireland in 2005, made all the more exotic because it was my first travel break from children in several years. Sorry to break it off in the middle, but it's unfinished. Amy, Myrna and I hosted two of the groom's friends in a traditional thatched cottage that was quite drafty and rustic-- Con offered the nightly dose of Dylan songs, complete with guitar and harmonica, and I'm hoping he shows up soon for the fame and fortune that will be his in America. I was the only married one, and far older than anyone else in the bunch, and I was happy to take my role as food problem solver, once I got the hang of roughing it.
The warped griddle would have none of me. The eggs cooked unevenly on the sputtering butter, while I cursed electric stoves.
”Hey, Con? If you had to pick between slightly overcooked eggs and slightly undercooked eggs, which would you prefer?”
“Homecooked eggs, Denise! I have a choice? Undercooked, definitely.” Great: the eggs were officially done, then. The toast was not-quite-burnt in the oven. Perfect. At least we had real butter, today, and I snagged ground coffee from The Brides’ Family, at the cottage next door. Runny eggs, blackened toast, and real coffee, not bad for day five.
I arrived in Ireland with specific instructions from the Groom: drink three times more water than you think you might need, as this helps with jetlag, and sleep on the plane as early as you can. I tried, but I was so excited! I arrived at five a.m. in Amsterdam, my first time off of the continent of North America, and I wandered happily, calculating Euros and enjoying real coffee and real bread, served on real china. I wrote in my notebook—sleepless is nothing. Inconvenience is nothing. Hunger and discomfort are nothing at all. I am alone, traveling, responsible for no one but myself, and everything, everything is good.
It was mid-winter dark, and too early to see any sights, and my two hours free didn’t seem like much. I purchased a magazine and a set of Van Gogh puzzles for my children. I ate breakfast. I eavesdropped on café conversations. I simply felt alive—I thought of all the years I was single, all the airports I’ve traveled. I breathed slowly, drank slowly, pressed the croissant crumbs with my finger and gobbled up every tiny bit. Free.
Dublin airport seemed like a bus station in comparison, tired around the edges. I walked through customs and into the bride’s family, huddling near a minibus and waiting for me. I’d never met them, but I hit it off with an elderly couple, adopted aunt and uncle it seems, and a cousin. And we were off. December rain, winding roads, countryside green and full of rural scenery. Children were battling with parents, adults were battling with carsickness. The bus stopped a number of times for bathroom breaks, and we arrived in the beautiful middle of nowhere, at a set of cottages in the middle of a pasture. I pulled a whiney bunch of half a dozen children into the gravel circle for a game of Frisbee, and another of tag, and whatever entertainment I could devise, making myself a hero by simply behaving like a creative parent. Glad I didn’t bring my family along. I had a choice. Where were the bride and groom? We had no working phone, no keys, twenty of us, pacing, some grumbling louder than others.
Then she arrived. Christine long ago swore off her youthful habit of pleasing everyone, but her spirit puts everyone at ease, if they let it. Black hair, black eyes set in porcelain skin, and a smile to light the world. People don’t forgive her foibles merely because she is insanely beautiful, that’s not it, but she is insanely beautiful in that regal way that makes a whole countryside better, acceptable. In her presence, it seems everything will be alright. And people do forgive her everything; how could they not?
Christine unlocked doors and set the sleeping arrangements, and people grumbled because they are her relatives and they’d been traveling for two days, some from New York, some from Florida. Some had a stomach bug, and were quarantined to rest. And I got to stay with baby Naimh, playing patty cake and distracting her from the family grouchiness.
“I’ve not told anyone, but you’re staying with us,” said Christine. I lit up, not to have to sleep near children or The Italian Relatives. “And I’m wondering if you’d like to go to bed right now.” It was two p.m, and the answer was yes. I set up shop in Naimh’s nursery, on a futon, and slept for six hours. I woke to darkness in an unfamiliar house, pitch black night. I wandered downstairs and showered, with no trace of people, anywhere.