Random memories of outings and teas with my Irish cousins (our great-grandfathers were brothers) (yes, I know) bloom to consciousness in this long year of reduced social engagement. I’m so grateful for the times we have shared in Ireland and some wonderful times in Ann Arbor.
From Aunt Dorothy’s first stories and shared letters to the first letters to Ireland in 1996, then a first meeting in the states 1998 to the first visit to Ireland in 2002, finding new Irish-American cousins in the States, and three magnificent trips in the summers of 2017 and 2018 — all prompt images and feelings; and, a smile takes over my face.
There are the expected good memories — playing camogie / hurley across three generations of family on the public green and only belatedly seeing the “No Games Allowed” sign, exploring the hospitality and history accompanied by the Irish eye and wit, glorious family table discussions and teas. And the unexpected — 15 miles on a non-touring bicycle in western Co. Clare is very different than riding a hybrid in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but Bessie the Bike took me along roads of easy integration of holy springs and ancient tombs with modern activities.
And, of course, for all that we share, an inevitable culture gap will arise.
I hope I never forget the slightly aghast but mostly puzzled teasing look of my cousin as she wondered aloud, “What is that?” I had returned to the front passenger seat with a breakfast for us of fresh bread, too much butter, chocolate, and some waters to fill our stomachs a bit before we set out for tracing in the cemeteries for the morning.
“In the car?!?”
“You don’t eat meals in your cars?”
“No! I should say not, and certainly not this car.”
“Oh. It’s a bit of how we make cars our own in the States. One book used the example of a McDonald’s to-go meal in an open, moving convertible as the quintessential American meal of popular culture — tasty, an experience, but probably not much nutrition or sensibility.”
We were both quite hungry, and I definitely needed a bio-break before we went on our way. (The shopkeeper would never have insisted or given a look despite the effort of opening up the closed portion of the combination pub / grocery store. Our purchase seemed more like being in community than obligation. There’s a reason the Irish are known world-wide for their congeniality and hospitality.)
“I’ll make sure the car is clean, and you can have an ‘American’ experience without ever leaving Ireland.” I wasn’t sure the latter was a selling point. We managed, and on any day when I need a smile, I think of that moment: a culture gap as wide as the ocean but only a few feet apart, cousins sharing a kindred heart.
With gratitude and good wishes to my cousins and us all, as we make our way through these hopeful final months of the pandemic, an XO and snow angel or two for smiles and warmth to you across the miles. (Thanks to my neighbor, Jan, for taking the photos!!)