Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Settling back into normal life

That was more of a hiatus than I planned; thanks for being patient. Long story short, I’ve had one computer disaster after another, in addition to being swamped with other duties. Things seem to be settling now, and I hope to slowly get back into posting.

So, an update on what we’ve been doing. The Girl and I spent four weeks in my native USA this summer; it seems a long time, but we had many cousins and old friends to visit, and saw each one for too short a time. I visited friends I had not seen in many years, people who have shared the golden moments of my life, and for a few hours we laughed like no time had passed, the threads of our lives briefly touching again. I used to mind many of their children, and visited the fine young men and women those children have become. I heard about the new passions they have discovered now that their children have grown -- some embracing new charities and churches, others building new businesses or careers. Our lives have gone in many directions, but none of our futures worked out the way we imagined -- a symptom of our times.

The Girl and I stayed with my grandfather, now 91 and still mentally sharp and physically active. We had the privilege of going through the personal items left by my great-aunt Imy, who died last year and had been a second mother to three generations of family. Imy was famous – in our family, anyway – for never throwing anything away, but until my daughter and I began opening up her hatboxes (when was the last time you saw a milliner’s hatbox?) we had no idea how far her archives extended.

We found Imy’s girl scout essays and First Communion certificates from the 1930s, her rosary and Latin hymnals, her swimsuits (which fit my daughter quite well) and her photographs, all to be saved and passed on in her memory. Most of all, she saved papers relevant to her parents and grandparents, all born in the 19th century.

So it was that we saw commendation papers for my great-grandfather, a pious and kindly man, for courage under heavy machine gun fire in the trenches of World War I. No one ever knew this – he never mentioned it. We brought my great-grandfather’s doughboy helmet, with the dent where the bullet hit, and carried it in my backpack on the plane home. All these things sit on my shelf as I write this, voices from another era.


One of the small pleasures was taking my daughter around the area they used to live, where I played as a child – working-class but clean, with small brick homes on quiet streets, lined with weeping willows or clusters of birch, with swans paddling in nearby pools and children walking home from school.

“I like this place,” The Girl said.

So do I, I said – this is where your great-grandparents used to live, where Grandpa grew up, where my aunts lived, where I spent a lot of my childhood. Do you know what this place is called? I asked.

“No,” she said.

This is Ferguson, I said – do you remember the place where all the riots were? That was here.

“Here? This doesn’t look anything like what I imagined.”

Always remember, I said, that when the media show images of what they call news – protests, rioting, unrest, a civil war – they are trying to show you something dramatic, so you’ll keep watching until the advertisements. So they show you someone in a moment of rage or panic -- a teenager, a protester, a police officer -- and their face is frozen in that moment and shown on a million screens around the world.

But that’s not who they are most of the time, of course – usually they work a regular job, take care of their children, and have an ordinary life. They are never the cartoon you see on the screen, and neither is that place. There’s always more to their story than you know.


In other news, Ireland is taking in some thousands of Syrian refugees in the coming months, and we’ve put the word out to help; parents and teachers at our local Catholic school have gathered a roomful of buggies, baby clothes, toys, books, and other goods. I’ll be volunteering to “befriend” some of the refugees – take them shopping, show them around – and that will keep me busy the next few weekends. I won’t be able to say any more about it for now, as these are vulnerable people and our interactions are meant to be confidential, but I’ll let you know if it goes well.


We’re gathering crops in from the gardens, and giving all the scraps to the chickens, so they’re eating well. My mother-in-law is making her usual autumn batch of pickles and sauerkraut, we turned our elderberries into syrup, and I’m enjoying experimenting with kim chee and other dishes to keep in jars over the winter. We skipped the jam-making this year – we have enough jam to last us for years – and my carboys are already filled with wine.

The Girl has been taking on more chores as she goes into adolescence; helping me cut down a diseased tree and burn away the infected parts before they spread; making syrup for the bees and feeding them, taking care of the chickens. Every day I’m conscious of the clock counting down the days until she leaves for an adult life – perhaps two thousand left, and I want to get the most out of them all.

We’ll have to re-do our entire garden this winter; a fungus ate the timbers we used, and in places the rotten timber broke apart, spilling earth onto the walkways. We’ll be re-doing the raised beds in brick this time, but it will be a great deal of work over several weekends, and of course we still have to take the bus to Dublin during the day. It will be a very busy holiday season for us.

 Thanks for continuing to check in.