She looked around the spare room where Mickey once threw bottle caps at the referees on television when he didn’t agree with the call. Now his wife used it as an office. The floor boards shone with the same reverence Maura had seen in the entry hall at the rectory. Not a speck of dust filtered through the still air. Every book was shelved according to color and a distinctive lemon scent rose from the couch cushions. “You need to go back to work, Hannie,” she said matter-of-factly. “This place looks like a feckin’ undertaker lives here.”
Monday, July 29, 2013
Saturday, July 27, 2013
Since 2007 I have been an expatriate living in Ireland…but, only for the summer. In August I go home to Southern California, a place of temperate weather, white-sand beaches, palm trees and choices, wonderful, amazing, convenient choices that I never appreciated until Ireland.
Yes, the emerald isle is really emerald and even more beautiful than those photos on travel sites and yes, Irish history, for those of us fascinated by events of the past, is around every corner and probably the oldest and most interesting in Western Europe. For a writer of historical fiction, it’s a dream come true. The Irish people are characters as well, witty conversationalists who turn a topic as uneventful as the weather into recordable prose. But, for me, accustomed to garbage disposals, air conditioned buildings, multi-laned streets, ice, refillable beverages, king-sized beds and restaurants that open before 10:00 am and stay open after 9:00 pm, even on a Sunday, it can be inconvenient.
Shallow? Probably, but, on the other hand, window screens in a rural country where there are septic tanks, backyard compost piles, lots of humidity and no garbage disposals, all of which breed flies the size of buses, prevent disease. And while I’m sure the hot water switch for the electric shower, always located on the OUTSIDE of the bathroom, and the electricity switch for the cooker (stove) are both appropriately green, forgetting that power isn’t available at the twist of a tap can make for an embarrassing, not to mention uncomfortable, situation when you’re standing in a cold shower without a stitch on.
The work ethic, a far more serious topic, is different here, too, but that’s the topic of next week’s blog.
Sunday, July 14, 2013
Paddy Conway, my husband’s friend, was laid to rest last Thursday. I’m sure all cultures have unique ways of honoring the dead, but the Irish are definitely “serious” when it comes to sending off a loved one on his final journey. First, there is the notice in the local paper announcing the death. Not surprisingly, given their penchant for words, the Irish are a literate population, no skipping The Kerryman or Kerry’s Eye for a morning jog or last minute latte stop.
Then, there is the viewing, open casket, at the funeral parlor. Cremation isn’t really a typical Irish practice. The family is seated in a room with the deceased while friends and family file in, pay their respects and view the body before retreating to another room for conversation, a two hour event.
The following day, mourners attend Mass at the parish church where the priest does his normal thing. There are a few, very short eulogies, no surprises, a homily, communion, the deceased’s favorite music sung and played by his fellow musician friends, (Paddy was a musician) the inevitable and beautiful Ave Maria, Gabriel’s Lament, and Tennessee Waltz. Then, six men hoist the casket to their shoulders and carry it to the waiting hearse.
This is where it changes to something completely different, something infrequently seen anywhere outside small towns and villages featured in National Geographic. To the uplifting, jazzy tunes of Wabash Cannonball, mourners, following the priest, spread out behind the hearse, blocking streets and intersections as they walk behind the slow-moving vehicle ALL the way to the cemetery, no small accomplishment given the heat and humidity of the day and the age of the walkers.
Rath, or Ra as it’s pronounced, is a relatively new cemetery, its inhabitants interred only as far back as the mid-19th century, a mere drop in the bucket for a town that dates back 800 years. And what a cemetery it is. Spread out as far as the eye can see, Celtic crosses, family crypts and small monuments studded with glittering mica stand side by side, back up against each other, the gravel square footage of each gravesite often gaudily adorned with hearts, framed photos, messages, balloons, statues, benches and plaques. My husband’s family is there, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles and brothers, as are the families of everyone belonging to the town of Tralee and outlying townlands.
I can’t help thinking about the cemeteries of Southern California or even Arlington and the gated, manicured uniformity of cut grass and small, rectangular stones or crosses marking the resting places of our dead, the tasteful flowers and tiny American flags conjuring up serenity and distance, qualities not considered necessary in this green land thousands of miles from home.
At the gravesite, it’s music again, prayers, the casket is lowered into the ground and then it’s back to the pub. This is where the real send off begins, with sandwiches and alcohol, a few tears, more stories and even more laughter, a fine ending for a kind man. Rest in peace, Paddy Conway.
Sunday, July 7, 2013
Johannah had read once that when a man marries a woman, it is her hand he will hold in the final moments of his life. She remembered being diverted by the sentiment, by the prophetic and powerful drama of the words, but then she’d read on, conveniently forgetting what had turned out to be a truer prediction of her fate than she’d ever dreamed.
She paused in the action of filing the four remaining death certificates she had no idea what to do with. She’d ordered nine, one for The Building Society, another for the church, the bank, Mickey’s life insurance company and their solicitor. At the time, it seemed like a good idea to have a few extra, just in case the utility companies required evidence that she, Hannie, a man’s wife for thirty years, four months, twenty-six days and seven hours, and now his widow was, by default, the responsible party.