And through the woods. I landed in Eire September 27th, 6AM, sleepy and with a new friend. The second gentleman over the age of 75 that I exchanged numbers with. No, I haven’t and will never learn my lesson about talking to strangers. Why would I? Just look at this adorable old man hand writing.
I was excited to have an entire row to myself to lay down on the plane forgetting for a second that my courses were in full force and I had to do homework the entire flight.
That plan was thwarted by my neighbor, Connor. “I think you need a break.” I obliged, closing my books and taking out my ear buds. He moved to the states in ‘54, “best country in the world.” Traditionally the eldest son takes over the farm but neither he nor his older brother would run it. He immigrated when he was 18 and is now a retired bus driver from Queens. We chatted the for the next four hours about his family, my future and everything in between. The title of this blog came from the night of the hurricane, sitting around my kitchen table listening to my great Aunt talk about our great grandma’s emigration from Ireland and reveling in “how life takes us. It’s funny, isn’t it?” The adventures, the detours, the forks. This year has been a whirlwind of purposive changes and I am infinitely grateful for everything that’s come my way and where I don’t know it’s going next.
He started to tell me ghost stories. Ghost stories make my eyes well up with tears and my stomach turn. I can’t handle them, especially Irish ones as I believe every word. They’re always told first hand. This was no different. Connor’s friend, whose name I can’t remember, lived in his house even after his parents passed. Every night at midnight, everyone fast asleep, in the empty kitchen, the light above their table would come on. Kids would come by at night and stakeout the front yard to watch the light turn on through the window. One night when Patty Welsh and he were around 12 or 13, they asked to stay over and wait in the kitchen to see the light. The kitchen had six chairs. They were wooden chairs with seats made out of hay that they placed around the fireplace when company was over and then stacked away across the room at night while the fire burnt out. The friend asked that Connor and Patty move their chairs across the room, next to the dresser when they were done for the night. They moved four of the six chairs to the dresser while they waited and pulled their two seats up next to to fire. Patty had a watch on his arm and counted down the minutes, 11:55, 11:56, 11:57, the house was still and quiet, his friend fast asleep in his room, 11:58, 11:59, they watched the light and felt their hearts beat; midnight. The light didn’t come on. They looked at each other and then to their sides. The four chairs they had moved to the other side of the room, beside the dresser, had been moved back around them, set up along the table. No one was there, but the chairs were rearranged, as if waiting for company to arrive. The boys didn’t stop running until they were across the field and looked back. And the light was on.
My cousins started in with me immediately when I got here saying this house is haunted. I have slept in this house years ago with garlic in my bed to ward of vampires. Surely have not grown out of that habit yet and I don’t plan to. I may be 27, but I’m not an idiot.
All was forgiven for spooking me out when he offered his green bean salad. My first food pic of the trip is so incredibly unappetizing. The strip of chicken slop looks worse than dog food. Green bean salad was f’in good though.
Connor’s wife passed away this past August from cancer. She didn’t put up a fight. He didn't want to make this trip back to Ireland without her, but it's his nephews wedding. He met Maureen in New York City at the Jagget house on 86th street. She worked for PanAm and they traveled the world together. He said don’t worry about money. His happiest years were his poorest. Things were innocent, people were happy, considerate. He is a sweetheart. The stories of Betty Murphy let it slip he's a sweetheart, but a mischievous one. She was a childhood friend he grew up with. She did his homework for him all through grade school for nothing in return other than friendship or protection if someone was picking on her. She always loved him and he knew it. Betty went into the convent at 14 at which Connor congratulated her with a kiss on the lips long enough for her mother to slap him on the back to stop.
He moved a seat closer to hear through my mumbling sleepy voice and for me to understand his thick brogue. I'd just finished 97 Orchard the night before, a history of the tenement housing in NYC and the cultural mingling and can nod with sincerity when he speaks of German food and influence on the Irish. His friend Jimmy came to NYC from Eire and worked in German town. He worked more than he slept and was served breakfast everyday by the landlords daughter, oblivious to her feelings for him. He would come downstairs each morning barely glancing up at her, silent through his meal and then head off to work. Years went by and he made enough money to move back to Ireland. His last morning she finally asked him why he never took her out and so he did that night. She let him drive her mothers fancy Cadillac to someplace on Long Island for dinner and they ended the night at a "lovers cove" somewhere in Queens. She took off her pants and turned to him, “Jimmy, you can have anything you want now.” “Anything? You swear by it?” “You can have anything you want now.” He thought, and then answered, “I’ll take the Cadillac," And she kept her word. He got on a ship back to Ireland with the car and explained to his brother where it had come from. His brother thought for a minute, “You made the right decision, Jimmy. Her pants wouldn’t have ever fit you.” <——-so relieved when this turned out not to be a dirty joke.
Be kind to people, he said. Be kind and it will come back to you and don’t worry so much about money. And also, “What did the monkey say when they cut off his tail?” “Won’t be long now.”
We hugged goodbye and shuffled off the plane. I didn't plan on losing touch with him, but I also never called him. I think he's in Ireland until the 17th and I should really keep up my end of the promise. He told me about Jennifer, a neighbor of his he looked after for years when he was in high school. When she was young she watched his horses for him. She would stay with them all day and call him when they went into labor for him to come out to the barns. For her 7th or 8th birthday he bought her a pony. He seems like he’d have been the best grandpa and if it were my grandpa and my grandma just died and he was coming to Ireland with all the strength left in him I would want the girl he met on the plane to call him if she said she would. I'm giving myself to this Friday.
There is always the chance he answers the phone and says "what?? you're who?! Liz, when!? Get off my lawn you little PUNK." TBD!