Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving: How our American tradition has evolved during five years in Ireland by E. Alana James


How our American tradition has evolved during five years in Ireland.

By E. Alana James - 11 November 2010

Illustration by Marie Guillot

Having adopted life in Kinsale, County Cork, Ireland, over five years ago now we have become adept at managing the celebration of a holiday specific to one country when living in another. Upon reflection, the changes we have experienced are instructive of our settling in and making connections within our community.

The first year I remember both celebrating and ruing the differences in what it took to get things done. On the one hand, there were no lines in the markets and we could purchase a range fed turkey with no bother because few others wanted them in November. However, we had to do without pumpkin pies as there was no filling to be found and the real pumpkins had all been sold earlier in the season. Our guests were neighbors, older gentle and interesting folk who had graciously included us in the small gatherings that happened in the neighborhood. Much of the conversation around the table made little sense to us, and in truth the Cork accents were often so strong as to render us incapable of reply.

The second year was an experiment in mixed cultures, one that perhaps did not lead to the best entertainment experience of our lives. We had sorted the pumpkin pie issue by simply bringing cans home in a suitcase after travel to the US. The turkey was the best we had ever had, coming as it did from the local butcher. Our guest list included a younger couple who we knew from the town, the older gentleman who manages the works of our village, and an American who had rented one of the houses close by. Unfortunately the American was of the sort who felt that his way was the best way and “What was wrong with the locals that they didn’t...?” Take your pick: answer their emails being at the top of his list. The one brief moment of connection for me was when I explained to him what I had learned from my Rotary group in Cork - that people here are so closely connected that they seldom resort to emails, at most texting. Why move to the impersonal when you can go downtown for lunch and run into everyone you need to see? What we were experiencing was our lack of connection rather than their rudeness. The Irish couple concurred and I felt as though I had won a prize in multicultural understanding. When the older gentleman fell asleep at the table it seemed a proper comment on the evening.

Our third year felt as though we were finally at home and Thanksgiving modeled much of the lessons we had been learning. We were flexible, resulting in a bigger dinner on the Saturday while we took the heart of the celebration of our holiday to our multicultural group meeting on the Thursday by sharing pumpkin pie. Having built real homey connections with people, our guest list including the folks with whom we walked our dogs, worked, and lived close to, all of them people who shared other events regularly with us. We understood 95% of what was said throughout the evening, only really breaking down at the end when our guests fell into politics and sports. There was only one man whose accent was strong enough to cause me to have to ask him to repeat himself so I could answer a question. And best of all people stayed, talked and laughed until well after 1am. Great craic.

It wasn't until the fourth year that we unpacked the China, and rolled out the bits and bobs that truly make the celebration one with historic memory by including grandmothers silver, the tablecloth we picked up in Hungary, and the centerpiece that included the little bits of handmade crafts from Africa. Perhaps that is the greatest gift of moving to Ireland for us, that we become increasingly part of the world culture because travel is easier and the community norm allows for greater multicultural mix.

This year we are taking Thanksgiving to a new high, and now that we have a regular group of friends who will join us for the feast, we can stretch the tradition a bit. We found that it didn't work for us to have a meal on any day but Thursday so we are back to the traditional day while being adventurous instead with the food on the table. Our friend from China, Tina, will be making the feast and we are adding Chinese traditions to our American norm. It is bad luck to have an odd number of main dishes so we will have a small amount of soup and then six dishes to be shared together: a couple of types of dumplings, a vegetable and potato salad, and a couple of meat dishes. Tina and her friend Grace will teach us how to make all these, thus adding to the repertoire of our lives.

Thanksgiving continues to teach us many things as it helps us to reflect on our lives, and how much we have to be grateful for in our adopted home echoing the original Thanksgiving feast.

Those settlers long ago had found warmth and helpfulness in their new neighbours. Those puritan settlers were not prepared to make their way in a wilderness and had it not been for the helpfulness of the native people they found there their crops would not have been successful. They had neighbours who literally kept them alive in that first winter. While nothing in our journey has been so extreme, we continue to find the connections with other people in the appreciation of the wide world in which we live as sources for our deepest gratefulness.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Mowing Dinner: A terminal moment most fowl by Victor Sullivan

Mowing Dinner

A terminal moment most fowl

by Victor Sullivan, © 2010

My Uncle Tom, a farmer, was ready and willing to treat me as a ten-year-old man and I tried to respond as manfully as I could. On one memorable occasion he had deemed me fit to cut a small field of oats with a one-horse mowing machine. He had overseen my oiling of the moving parts, issued warnings about hazardous features and watched as I backed Nancy between the shafts and tackled her to the machine. Then I carefully lowered the knife-bar, mounted the cast iron seat from behind as instructed and lined up the mare for the first cut following the straight line of standing oats that my uncle had already opened with a scythe.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Visitors of the Night: Are all Georgian houses haunted? | Marie Guillot, October 2010

Visitors of the Night
Are all Georgian houses haunted?
by Marie Guillot, © October 2010

A scream. Then we hear Lina trying to force open the door of the old library where we are sitting. In a state of frenzy, she finally succeeds and enters the room. She is white as a ghost.
“I knew your house was haunted. They all are when they are so old, especially in Ireland.”
Having lived for 12 years in that tri-centenarian Georgian house, I thought I knew it inside out.
Lina and Garry, our American friends, are visiting us for the first time this evening.
“What happened?” I asked.
“I saw a ghost. I know you won't believe me, but I saw it moving.”
I offered:
“Let's retrace your steps, Lina. You'll show me where you saw the ghost.”
Reluctantly, holding my arm, she leads me back through the dimly lit lobby, towards the kitchen.
Then she turns around.
“Look over there. That's where I saw it.”
We are now facing the front door of the house; actually an inside glass door, preceding the final porch which has another door, the one visitors would come at.
Both of us are staring, holding our breath.
In a flash, I see a shadow moving behind the glass.
“Did you see it Marie?” she shouts. “Now you believe me.”

We were warned: there are stories about the house. Among them, a ghost soccer team playing on the main lawn; a stain of blood that does not come off a wall; a carriage coming to the front door, heard but not seen.
Since then, we have added our own stories to the repertoire. Namely a ghost dog on a Halloween night; the moaning of a child, audible only in one precise spot upstairs; and, of course, various unexplained rumblings during the winter nights. Not to mention that a piece of gutter fell down shortly after we moved in, as well as a large portion of one ceiling.
As French people, brought up from birth with la raison pure (rationalism), my family was rather excited about those stories. The game was to find a proper explanation for each incident.
Until, one day, or rather, one night...
Back from a late outing in Cork, exhausted and eager to crawl directly into bed, I made my last stop in the upstairs bathroom. There, in the quietness of the place, I heard distinctly a double tap at the window. I froze, looking blandly at the closed curtain. Tap Tap again. I have to admit that I left the room without further exploration.

Against Lina's will, I open the glass door. There, we see two bewildered crouching creatures.
Martine, Pierre!” I exclaim, “que faites-vous la?” (what are you doing there?)
The young French couple are our guests for the week. Having no English, they had decided to stay out tonight, so as not to interfere with our visitors.
They were only trying to enter quietly without bothering anyone. Now, they are deeply embarrassed by the turmoil they have created. Lina relaxes a little bit, but says that she can still feel something strange about the house. So do I. It's a matter of interpretation... and of pulling the curtain.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Beach Bums by Aidan O'Shea


by Aidan O'Shea

© 10/09/2010

Dateline: Calpe in the Spanish Province of Alicante, July 2010.

It's a challenge being a grandad on holiday. The Ford S-Max diesel growls its way down Avenida de Los Exercitos Espanoles, turns into Calle Gran Bretana, and parks on sandy waste ground. Operation Beach is under my daughter’s command. "You take the towels and togs (swimsuits), you the parasol, buckets and spades, and, Dad, get rid of the recycling. Monika (the au pair), catch the girls’ hands while I take Róisín in the buggy." This highly-trained commando unit is about to establish its beach-head on Playa Arenal.

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Childhood Home by Máirtin Ó Connallan

The Childhood Home

© Máirtin Ó Connallan

It must have seemed stupendous

This great big rambling mass

Of dark red limestone

Hewn from lowland Scotland border country

Beautiful rectangular cut stone chunks

Meticulously chiselled

Then mortared into place

To the wee Glaswegian school pal

Whose wondrous comment after the obligatory

Tea and buns treat

Having just completed his first courtesy visit


Crikey Mrs Conlon

I used to think Martin was an orphan

But his house is as big as an orphanage

Everything seemed so tall there

Friday, September 10, 2010

Independence by Seija Kerttula


© Seija Kerttula

I hopped happily on the long quay, towards the water. I had a pair of shiny new shoes on and the water looked black. It was not a lake but a deep natural pond, surrounded by marshy land. On the edge I stopped, but kept hopping. Suddenly one of my shoes flung to the water. I watched after it, shocked. Without thinking I jumped.

I sank deep down in the cold pond, not feeling the bottom. The unexpected change of element was baffling and left no time for fear. Still while falling I knew I might die. I could see the sun rays above the green water covering me become more and more distant. I remembered being told that ponds have no bottoms; they just go on and on. Unexpectedly, a recollection of what my father had once said entered my mind: ”If you are under water and curl yourself into a ball, you’ll move up to the surface.” I did so and it worked, I started rising towards the surface. I was relieved but not surprised; the successful application of the theory merely verified it to be a law of nature. I could see the brownish roots of the grass coming out of the edge soil and with some effort managed to grasp them. Finally I got my head through the surface. Between the wet hair plastered at my face I could see and hear my little brother run away crying that I was drowning. I had already struggled myself to the ground when my mother came hurrying. I said, choking: ”I did not drown, after all.”

We walked a couple of kilometres to our home. The sun was shining. My hair and clothes were dripping and I only had one shoe on. Butterflies flew around us playfully, grasshoppers made hot-summer noise. We passed a pile of rusted old bars of iron near one of our strawberry places. It was one of the exotic spots in our kingdom, which was nearly isolated from the rest of the world. We reached our small house on the top of the hill, in the middle of woods.

This was the year of my first disillusions. Facing a potential death was not one of them. It belonged to the drowsy childhood fairytale in which you never question anything, not one thing in life. A child’s life is intact, whole and perfect, without wants and desires others than those for basic needs: food, sleep and warmth. If there is the minimum of love, you never notice anything is lacking.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Sisters Growing Up by Marie Guillot

Sisters Growing Up
© Marie Guillot

All night, alone in the empty house, I was unwittingly
watching a slow motion movie of my younger years, as I waited for the lorry of destruction. At dawn, I dragged the last remnants out into the street, to add to the pile of household leftovers dumped the day before. I watched a box of books follow a mattress into the refuse truck's compactor, which gobbled them with a crunching jerk. My books. My mattress, possibly the one I was born on, some fifty years ago.
Three boys and three girls. Geraldine was the last child and I came just before her. The two of us were brought up together, reared by hand, you could say. But our interests were totally apart: she was a vulnerable and artistic soul, and I, a rational but impulsive mind.
I used dolls, all lined up on a bed, to teach them. She used fabrics to dress them and jewelry for their embellishment. Both of us had a pram. In mine, I often carried around one of our cats, quite at ease since he could jump out any time he wanted.
At night, after our family curfew, I used a small flash light to read under the sheet. Geraldine was horrified by my boldness and was actually afraid for me.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Snow Glorious Snow by E. Alana James

E. Alana James, Ed.D. moved to Ireland from the United States in 2005. Here she remembers her childhood in Colorado. To find more of Alana's writing visit one of her three websites: Reinventing Life, The Future of Education Project, and the Doctoral Network

Snow glorious snow

© E. Alana James, Ed.D.

When I think about my childhood home I think about snow.

Sometimes lovely amounts of it, over a metre of it, never perhaps higher than my head, but the snowmen could be, the snow forts could be. Crouched behind a wall of packed snow, ready aim and fire! Our pyramid shaped pile of potential missiles at hand waiting for the next unsuspecting kid (you got in trouble if you hit an adult). This is how I remember growing up in Colorado.

Snapshots fly past my consciousness: all decked out in a snowsuit, mittens with yarn pinned to my coat so I would not lose them. Trudging in red rubber boots the two blocks to school, all the world white. A few trees would have cracked under the weight, the parents in THAT house hadn't come out in the middle of the night with a broom to knock off the heavy wet powdery flakes.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

# 34: Summer on the Main Line by Evin O'Keeffe

This is the first in our series of non-fiction pieces focused on childhood homes.

# 34: Summer on the Main Line

© 2010, Evin O'Keeffe

Chirping from birds outside the window and the faint smell of toasting bread stirred my head. I climbed down from the hand-carved double bed, hearing the bedsprings sing as they gave up the burden of holding me. This was the bed that held my Dad when he had chicken pox and the house where Grandma and Aunt Margaret grew up as sisters. It was summer on the Main Line outside Philadelphia. My feet landed softly on the worn wood floorboards with the faintest of creaks. I listened to voices floating through the bedroom door, slightly ajar from when my Grandma crept out earlier. I hadn't heard her, but she was much quieter now that she wore a hearing aid. I followed the voices into the hall and felt the wool runner rug under my still bare feet. For a split second, I considered putting on the rainbow-colored slippers Aunt Margaret had crocheted for me, but it was too hot and they were too slidey on the wood floors anyway.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Arriving by Aidan O'Shea




It was a late summer’s day in 1970. Deirdre and I, our toddler strapped in the back seat of the Renault 4, were house hunting around Cork City’s north side. With a second baby on the way, the pressure was on to move from our small but picturesque flat on the river’s edge at Sunday’s Well. We had already been savagely outbid on a few crumbling and damp bungalows off the Sunday’s Well Road. We drove more in hope than expectation along the narrow artery from St Luke’s towards Montenotte in the parish of Mayfield. Montenotte (Mountain of the Night) was named after a small hill town in Italy and scene of a fierce battle in the Napoleonic Wars.

The road was bounded by the sandstone walls of grand merchants’ estates. Many of these estates had been converted to nursing homes, convents or outposts of COPE. COPE is a foundation dedicated to the care of physically and mentally handicapped patients. Then the road broadened, and so did our destiny.

To our left was a fine green lawn, dressed with old trees, behind which we saw the skeletal beginnings of a housing estate. This was no show-house, just a few bare walls and gables. The houses (Tracton Avenue and Place) were being built in the grounds of Tracton House, leaving wide lawns in between. The young foreman on site was Pat Hegarty, instantly recognised as a Cork hurling star of the time. He showed us around and gave us a small black and white brochure. We stood together in the frame of an unfinished doorway, baby clutched on one arm, looking lordly over the Lee valley and eastwards as far as Aghada. Without saying a word, we knew that we had arrived at our destination!

Hold on! What about the mortgage? In the weeks that followed, I trekked around the banks and building societies of Cork, seeking the daunting amount of £5000. This represented 250 times my weekly gross salary of £20. We had not impressed the lenders, although we had cobbled together the balance of £1500. Most of this came from the gratuity Deirdre received when she was obliged to leave her civil service job on marriage in 1968.

Despite our deposit, I was rejected even by my late father’s bank manager! As a final throw of the dice, I made an appointment with the manager of Irish Permanent Building Society on Winthrop Street. Never mind that we did not have a single penny on deposit there. Dressed in my best (actually my only) suit and tie, I clenched my clammy palms as I was ushered into his office. He seemed incredibly old to my eyes, seated at a large mahogany desk. He must have been fifty at least! Behind him stood a massive brass safe, the door of which was open. I could see nothing inside; it looked like an empty tabernacle. This was a bad omen indeed. However, previous rejections had strengthened my resolve and sharpened my technique. I managed to steer the discussion away from my current salary, to describing my ambitions, my prospects and my future solvency. Was it a trick of the light, or did I see a slight gleam of hope behind the manager’s half-frame gold-rimmed spectacles?

Weeks of waiting followed, and our hopes receded towards resignation. Finally, the postman brought not another overdue gas bill, but The Letter. Yes! The mortgage had been approved, and we counted every block, batten and slate of that house still in construction. We haunted the site. The baby crawled up the open staircase. We marvelled at two toilets, two showers AND a bath! No more body scrubs at the sink for us. In March 1971, the house, still reeking of fresh paint and uncarpeted, was ready for occupation. I was dissuaded from moving our things in the Renault 4, and sent to work while the removal men got on with the job. To their credit, they did not break a cup (we had only four), or scratch an armchair (we had two of those).

It was a rough and ready start, despite all the extra space. The roadway in front was still an earthen track, the floorboards remained bare for many months to come, but we were happy here. The communal green lawn beckoned invitingly to the first steps of toddlers. The trees burst into glorious pink and white blossom in May. To the rear, COPE provided a well-groomed vista of gardens and flowers. If you looked over the builder’s rubble, you could claim it as your own domain.

So we joined the informal Tracton commune of shared tea bags, nappies, baby medications and self-help. Maybe it is just another housing estate, satirised in Malvina Reynolds’ song with these lines:

Little boxes on the hillside

Little boxes made out of ticky-tacky

Little boxes, little boxes,

Little boxes all the same.

But as proof of our content, I am still here, thirty eight years later, proud to claim it as Gort Álainn (The Beautiful Field), our May Field.

Friday, June 25, 2010

"Don't Pick Those Blackberries!" by Victor Sullivan

"Don't Pick Those Blackberries!"

© Victor Sullivan 4 May, 2010

The long Summer holidays were drawing to a close. In a few

days I would be leaving my Grandmother's farm near Castletown Bere in West Cork, to return to school. It must have been 1946 or 1947— which ever was the great year for blackberries.

Blackberries were rampant on every wall, fence and hedge, great big, juicy, fat ones and my face was permanently purple from ear to ear from eating them.

"Here boy!" called my Grandmother from the kitchen door.

"Yes Granny?"

"How about filling this with blackberries instead of yourself? That way we'll all have another blackberry and apple pie on the table."

"Yes Granny!" (My Granny's blackberry and apple pie was an experience not to be missed, even if we had only just finished the previous one).

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Boots by Marie Guillot

The essay below is an adapted excerpt from the book “Friends and Friendibility” (2009, Bad Kitty). Text and illustration by Marie Guillot. © Marie Guillot


Working on farms to assist local vets, I decide to treat myself with a professional pair of rubber boots, otherwise called wellies. These wellies are to be used under adverse conditions: water, mud, muck, rocks, nails, animal kicks, or any combination of those.

At the local Coop Super Stores, I choose a box saying: PRESTIGE / Quality Wellingtons / Resistant to animal and mineral oils and fats, to acid and petrol. I try a pair, they fit perfectly. Back home, at the bottom of the box, I discover a little booklet called User’s Manual, in thirteen European languages.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Vocation by Greg Butler


© Greg Butler

BROTHER Vincent was feeling weary and discouraged. The monastery parlour was quiet, but inside his head the noisy voices were there again… voices of doubt and regret.

He thought about the last class that day. Maybe he’d over reacted. But Horgan was a stubborn boy, like his brother. His mother said there were problems with him at home. “Don’t spare the rod,” she sanctioned.

Brother Vincent was a big man with a formidable reputation. He got results. No one questioned his methods, least of all the parents.

He was a handsome fair-haired man, broad shouldered, and stood over six-foot tall. He moved quickly and elegantly round the classroom… with the leather strap tucked into the waistband of his black soutan- like a gunslinger- with the ever present threat that it might used to deadly effect.

His quiet voice and shy smile contrasted with his reputation. The boys knew him as Vincy. He called everybody John, sometimes with menace. When he said, in a low voice, “Out to the line- John,” the boys knew trouble was brewing.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

I am Ruth by Máirtin Ó Connallan

On a clear September day, a young Cork woman and her child left Logan airport in Massachusetts, and what happened 25 minutes later, embedded itself in the minds of the civilised world, and East and West minds tried to entangle the reason for such callous slaughter, some understanding exactly, others utterly incredulous.

It was 9/11 as we now know it, and for the family of that Cork woman an incredible series of events were to follow, only typifying what each family involved of the 2,973 people who died that day, must have gone through.

I knew that girl young and vibrant, I knew her brothers, I do not know their pain, all I can ask are questions about all of us, and the following are some of these.

© Máirtin Ó Connallan

I am Ruth

I am Ruth

Of Ireland

From a suburb

In Cork

I am Ruth

Of Palestine

From an enclave

Among refugees

I am Ruth of Afghanistan

Near Kabul

I am Ruth of France

Saint Etienne

Mon Village