Why Can’t We Stay Forever Young?

[Brian looks out over Galway Bay, Ireland (2015]

As I type this post (3:00 pm Saturday, July 14), I’m thinking of my son, Brian, who, 31 years ago would be about seven hours old. When the OB-GYN turned from his mother, Nancy and asked me what I thought of watching my son being born, all I could do was look out over the parking lot of the Stamford Hospital parking lot and cry.

It was an awesome and overwhelming experience to be the second person to see him enter the world.

In 2015, he joined Mariam and me in Ireland for a quick tour and to meet some “real” Egans. He says he loved the trip…and I believe him.

Father and son are now 31 years older than we were that hot July day in 1987. He lives and works in New York City now and Mariam and I sit and listen to the loons in the middle of the North Country.

He is entering the prime of his life. I’m a ‘senior’ citizen and have more gray hair than I did yesterday.

From a father who loves his son…more than words can describe, I’m wishing him a very Happy Birthday.

Brian, you’ve grown up to be an amazing man.

Try to stay “forever young.”

[Brian bids me good-bye at Shannon Airport, Ireland 2015]

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It Was 28 Years Ago Today: Changing Views

BrianB&WwithNancy

I saw him when he was born.  I watched and began to wonder…even back then.  I thought about what I had seen.  I went to the Delivery Room window, looked out over the parking lot… and wept.

Taken in the long view of human life, I had just witnessed something most men have been kept from seeing…an actual birth.  But, there he was, wet and gooey.  When he could focus, it was on his mom’s face…her eyes…her expressions.  Soon he discovered there was another person in his field of view, his father.

He would look at me, straight into my eyes.

Then as he got older his view still was on his mother and me, but he was seeing other things, other people come and go into his field of vision.

I had already raised a daughter, Erin, and I was fully aware of the passage of time.  As an old song goes: “Turn around, and she one…turn around and she’s two…turn around and she a young woman going out of the door…”

I was determined to have these early memories of him cling to me like pollen in May, like sap on a pine.  I wanted to have it all just slow down or stop or encase it like an insect in Miocene amber.

But there are rules of nature you cannot alter: The flow of time is Rule #1 Nothing to be done here…just enjoy the moment as it is.  You can’t stop the flow of a river by pushing your hands against the current.  You can’t stop the rain by pushing back at the raindrops.

Soon the moments became months and then the years began to add up.  Rites of passage occurred…he turned eighteen and began driving.  He turned twenty-one without major mishaps. (That I know of).

He wasn’t running to his daddy with a broken tail reflector from his bike anymore.  He was discussing fine wines with his girlfriend, Kristin.

BrianKristen

His view points were changing, not about politics but about how he chose to spend time and places he travelled.  I found out he was in Jacksonville, Florida about a year ago when I first saw a photo of him dancing on a table at the local Hooters!

“Dad, can I go to Hooter’s and dance on the table?” never once left his lips.

So, a young man slowly turns from the comfortable and familiar and begins to find his way in the strange and unknown world.  I would have not have it any other way.  This is life.  This is growth.  This is maturity.  This is growing up.

He joins Mariam and I for a brief trip to Ireland.  It’s his first European stamp on his passport.  We’re driving the Burren, a place of desolate and austere limestone landscapes in the west country.  We pause to take some pictures.  He wanders toward the cliff edge.

I snap a photo of him gazing out over Galway Bay.  I don’t know what he’s thinking about.

But he’s looking away from me and into a future that belongs only to him.

I would have it no other way.  I hope as he grows older, he stands by uncountable cliffs over unnamed bays and thinks of life from the viewpoint of his own eyes and ears and imagination.

BrianGalwayBay

 

Reflections in a Sad Eye

NightPub

The last bus stopped running an hour ago.  The publican has rung the bell in the nearby pub, calling out “Time gentlemen, please.” The night‘s action is most definitely over out here in the ‘burbs of London. The streets may be quiet and the locals are at home…but it’s still light out!

It’s only a bit after 10:00 pm.  In truth, the nearest pub will be remain open until midnight so it’s not entirely an empty neighborhood.

Meanwhile, the late flights from Capetown, Rio, New York and Paris are approaching touchdown…their wheels are lowered and they are slowly approaching the runway about 255 feet above my head.

Yes, my head that has been hit with a massive case of hay fever or some sort of allergy since I walked through customs a few hours.  I can’t use my handkerchief any more; it needs to hang out to dry.  I’m down to using a roll of toilet paper to stifle my sneezes.  Even the woman tending bar at the pub noticed my agony and offered her own personal pills she claimed worked for her hay fever.

I tend not to take pills from people I never me before.

The flight from Shannon was only about an hour.  The “food” was a box of crackers, some cheese, a small chocolate bar, some vegetable pate, small can of tonic, and a glass of water.  All for €7.50.  Aer Lingus must be in financial trouble.

We’re in the very B&B we used in 2012. It was cheap, near the airport and provided a free shuttle to the terminals.

I doubt we’ll travel this cheap again.

The room’s light was dingy, quite brothel-like.  There was no shower curtain and only one towel each.

I’m writing this with my iMac Air and using it like it’s supposed to be used…on my lap.  But I have a bad back and I’m leaning against a pillow that is, if I’m lucky, two inches thick.

I’m a hugger.  I don’t know, maybe my mother took my teddy away too soon, but I need something to wrap my arms around.  I’m going to be forced to use my neck cushion.  The kind of thing that looks good in the W.H. Smith store but is difficult to pack…like a football.  People  sleep with them on planes and trains.  Mine’s blue in case you’re interested.

I’m not very happy right now.

This was meant to be a reflection of a wonderful trip.  But, as usual with me, it’s bittersweet.

We said good-bye to Brian on Sunday.  Ireland seemed to be a little emptier without his companionship, wit, charm and sense of amazement at what he saw and what we shared.  I’m quite proud of myself for planning a trip that included a medieval banquet, being on his own in a few pubs in Cashel, and climbing to the battlements of our ancestral castle in County Tipperary.

Thinking back on the entire trip, I can recall some awesome sights and some frustrating moments.  I’ve looked down haunted wells where a violated youth was thrown.  I’ve seen the withered hand of a saint who founded the Abbey that later became Ely Cathedral.  We’ve rubbed fingers with mummies in a crypt in Dublin, threw a pence into the Liffey from Ha’Penny Bridge.

Up in County Sligo, at a cemetery in Enniscrone, I stood at the grave of Tom and Kate Egan who once served me tea from water that had been boiling all day over a peat fire.

That was over thirty years ago.

I’ve looked out over the fields my people plowed and had their cattle graze for decades.

Stone walls don’t change much in human life times. The hedges grow for centuries. The rains fall and the people keep smiling.

In England, our friends edge toward retirement and think thoughts about where it would be a nice place to live.

To me, I couldn’t think of any place more in tune with the beats of my heart and yearnings of my soul than England or the west of Ireland.

Being of Irish background, I thought of what it would be like to live there.  My body is pulled two ways.  My blood says to go back to the soil that first made you who you are…melancholy and love of the written word are my genetic markers.

But, I’m happiest when I’m walking.  And, there is no place with footpaths that lead to all my dreamscapes than England.

If you drive six miles through Wiltshire, Somerset or Dorset and not pass a dozen “public footpath” signs, then you have a bad case of tunnel vision.

My adventure is over and I’m a sadder man because of it.  In the coming weeks, I will sit and tell funny stories of our trip, but deep within me, I’ll long for the footpath.  I’ll long for the place when the biggest decision I need to make is which direction to walk.

Yes, the Adirondacks have hundreds of miles of trails and I live in the center of it all, but somehow it lacks the ancient history and mythic lore that stirs my soul as I stand inside a stone circle that was constructed before the Great Pyramids.

I am cursed with restlessness.

But the posts will go on. I’ve not shown you things or told you stories of many things.  Some will keep you awake at night. Some will make you smile and some will make you cry.

If I can do all these things…I’ve succeeded in what a writer most wants.  Getting people to read.

Right now? I’m going to shut the dingy overhead light off and switch on my Barnes & Nobel reading lamp.  I’m working my way through Dickens at the moment.

Its title is very appropriate:

“Great Expectations”.

GardenHeathrow

 

[This post is written in England but it will be posted from Penn Station when we get back. This hotel wants £4.00 for Wi-Fi. I have never paid for that service before and I’m not going to start now.]

 

Slán

THE CLIFFS OF DOONEEN

You may travel far far from your own native home

Far away oer the mountains far away oer the foam

But of all the fine places that I’ve ever seen,

There’s none to compare with The Cliffs of Dooneen

Take a view oer the water fine sights you’ll see there

You’ll see the high rocky slopes on the West coast of Clare

The towns of Kilrush and Kilkee can be seen

From the high rocky slopes at The Cliffs of Dooneen

Its a nice place to be on a fine Summer’s day

Watching all the wild flowers that ne’er do decay

The hare and lofty pheasant are plain to be seen

Making homes for their young round The Cliffs of Dooneen

Fare thee well to Dooneen fare thee well for a while

And to all the fine people I’m leaving behind

To the streams and the meadows where late I have been

And the high rocky slopes of The Cliffs of Dooneen

—Christy Moore

 

[This is my final post from Ireland.  I saw and experienced far more that I had put into words.  At the end of the day, I often had no plan for a theme or a topic to write about.  On many nights, my energy to sit and think was not there.  I won’t go into details about the rather dicey WiFi connections at our B&B’s.  I will be catching up at some point…so you’ve not read the last of the tales I can tell about this island of mist, magic and myth.  They say there are twenty-eight shades of green in the hills and glens.  I never counted.  One shade of true Irish green is enough to satisfy my soul.]

DSC_0043

May The Sun Rise To Meet Him

 IrishStuff

On Wednesday, my son, Brian will step off the red-eye flight from JFK and the sun will rise to meet him.  I will have my son, my boy, my only boy with me while we tour our ancestral island with my wife (on her first visit, too).

It’s been thirty years since I’ve been to Ireland.  I can hardly wait to see how it’s changed, fear how it’s changed and hope that some things are not changed at all.

I will take Brian to see some Irish Egans.  I will meet a distant cousin I haven’t seen since 1984.  Together   we will visit the graves of my other relatives who have passed on in those past three decades.  As homework, I asked him to watch The Quiet Man, something I’m sure he didn’t have the time to do.  That’s okay.  He has me as his guide.

I will be the Seanchai, and tell him stories of Irish history…the glorious tales of heroic myths like Cúchulainn and Tir Na Nog and Brian Boru.

I will also tell him of the days of the famine, when the British landowners shipped beef and potatoes back to England, leaving the Irish to eat dirt.

He will hear of the Uprisings.  He will hear of Kevin Barry, a man younger than my son, who was executed by the English in 1920.  He will know of Bobby Sands and the hunger strike that took his life six years before my son was born.

[I love England, as my readers know, but I also understand what some English did to my people.]

I will show him the Cliffs of Moher, and the towns of Galway and Sligo.

I will read Yeats to him under bare Ben Bulben.  I will make every attempt to get him a sip of Potcheen.  Like a true Irishman, I will talk his ear off while he is cornered in a pub in Culleens.

Cashel

We will walk among the ruins of Cashel and rub our hands against the ancient rock.  The lichen and the moss will scratch our palms.  It’s likely to rain Irish water from Irish clouds on his shoulders.  The fog may slow our driving through the narrow lanes.  But, in the few days he has to be with us, I will touch the highlights that will dirty his fingers with the soil of his homeland.

 

If Hand-Hewn Beams Could Talk: A Proper English Pub

PubBeams

I’ll repeat what I said in a previous post:

“If you want to know what is happening in an English village, just sit in the pub for an hour or two.”  I am convinced that this is true.  Pubs and not bars in the way we know bars in the States.  If the village is small enough, nearly everyone who lives nearby will stop in for a pint, a dinner or a quick chat.  It’s the way the social network works in this little country.

I’ve been in quite a few pubs during my time here.  As many of you know, I lived in Dorset for a year and have returned to see old friends and visit old haunts in 2012, 2014 and this year.  I seem to gravitate to Dorset because there is something about the ancient footpaths, hedgerows and pubs that have made their way into the core of my being.  In my second book, “An American in Dorset”, I try to explain my feelings.  I’m not sure I can fully describe how the wind blowing through a field of rape or an ancient copse of oaks hides secrets or how an ancient tumuli holds the bones of someone who walked the fields and tended sheep while the Egyptians were building the pyramids.

As I’ve tried to give you, my faithful reader, a look at a small English church, I will take you into a typical pub and make a humble attempt to give you the feel and the experience.

My photo gallery:

MinsterTavernSign

[Most pub signs are decorative, clever, artistic and usually relate to something local…though not always. Common themes are Kings, Queens, Harts, Arms, it goes on and on.  My personal favorite is the pub I spent a great deal (in the year I lived in Dorset, 1984-85), of time having dinner and sipping my Best Bitter is the Barley Mow]

PubFireplace

[There is usually a cozy place to sit beside the fireplace.]

pubTV

[I would say that it’s a rare pub that does not have at least one TV so you can keep up with the Leeds football game with Liverpool.]

SkittlesAlley

[Other than the ever-present dart board (failed to get a photo, sorry mate), there is often a Skittles game in the rear of the pub.  It’s a bowling sort of game.]

PubGirl

[A great selection of beers is found in most pubs…and sometimes a pretty barmaid to serve it to you.]

pubPoster1

[Many pubs have charming posters…here’s one.]

Pubposter2

[And another.]

PubDessertMenu

[Here is the desert menu.  Third from the bottom??? Don’t ask.]

PubUrinal

[Yes, I took a photo in the Gents room to illustrate the communal nature of the urinal.  These are not found as often as they once were.  But, at least you had someone to talk to while you went.  Remember: you don’t “buy” beer, you “rent” it.]

pub bell

[And, at the hour that all men dread…it used to be 11:00 pm for decades…the pub owner would ring a bell (at 10:50 pm) and say rather loudly: “last call!”.  Then at 11:00 pm sharp, the bell would ring again with the age old…”Time, gentlemen, please.”

I loved the culture and atmosphere of the English pub, from the Duke of Wellington in London to the Horned Ram in Puddletown.  There is a long and lovely history of uncountable lives that played out in the pubs of England.

This is my final post from England.  Tomorrow, we fly to Dublin, Ireland and spend eight days in the country where people walk and work and drink…that have my very own blood in their veins.

Tomorrow I’m going home.

Dance Like A Wave Of The Sea

IrishCliffs

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree…

–W. B. Yeats

Three decades have passed since I last walked the streets of Dublin, Galway and Sligo.  A great many things have changed in those years.  And, a great many haven’t.  The smell of peat-fires in Dublin on a December night, the blasts of wind from the North Atlantic that sting your face when you look out to the west from Donegal and the foamy black pint of Guiness…these things never change.

I will be in good company.  My wife and my son will be on their first visit.  Where does one begin to plan such a trip?  What to see?  What to gaze upon?

We shall avoid the touristy places like Blarney Castle.  But, we will stand above the sea on the Cliffs of Mohair and look up at the keep that is the Egan ancestral castle..Castle Redwood.  It was once said to be haunted.  I, myself, heard Michael Egan (who restored the structure) tell of being awakened by something dark that was choking him.  He called in the local priest the next day.  He slept soundly ever since.

redwoodweb2a

[Castle Redwood, Headquarters for the Egan Clan]

We will stand amid the ruins of Cashel and contemplate the glories of the past.  We will drink alongside unshaven farmers in pubs with names like Egan’s, O’Malley’s and Fitzgibbon’s.

Egan PUB

As I sit on the right in the driver’s seat and drive on the left, we’ll wait for the herd of sheep as they muddle pass us on a narrow lane.

IrishCasteNearCashel

[Near Cashel]

My wife and I will walk up Grafton Street (my son won’t join us until we reach Shannon Airport) and perhaps see a woman with black hair…and she will weave a snare…that someday, I might rue.

My wife and I may sit at the 19th hole and wait for my son to do 9 holes with an old duffer in tweeds.

All this, and more will happen.  And I will, yes I will, yes…sit them both on a stone wall under bare Ben Bulben’s Head, at the edge of the grave of the greatest of Irish poets, William B. Yeats, and read to them from the dark marble of his headstone:

Cast a cold eye

on life, on death.

Horseman, pass by!

dad ireland  copy

[To my knowledge, this was my father on his last visit to Ireland]

When we come at the end of time

To Peter sitting in state,

He will smile on the three old spirits, 

But call me first through the gate;

For the good are always the merry,

Save by an evil chance,

And the merry love the fiddle

And the merry love to dance:

And when the folk there spy me,

They will all come up to me,

With ‘Here is the fiddler of Dooney!’

And dance like a wave of the sea.

–W.B.Yeats

Watch for my blogs from across the sea.