Thursday, December 9, 2010

Vignettes of a New Life, So Far

Even arriving, requesting "residency" while going through immigration, and collecting my 7 bags packed full of my last 26 years didn't make me realize that this is now my home. The familiar smell of damp air mixed with burning turf soaked into my skin after exiting the airport, it chilled me thoroughly and for a moment I felt extreme sadness. I was here. For good. It was the end. It was the beginning. The moment passed, and I was overwhelmed with the excitement one gets when starting a journey filled with unknowns. Hurry, hurry, load the car, lets go home. It rained the whole hour it takes to drive from Shannon to Ennistymon. I didn't mind it.
Within days, there were things I just had to have. New pillows (his were older than me, I swear, and entirely too flat for me to get proper sleep). I wanted a frame for this photo of my parents that my mother gave to me at the airport in Detroit. Over 30 years and still as happy as the day they said, "I do." My father smiling his usual professionally photographed smile. My mother smiling, my smile. I had to put it behind glass right away, so I could display it somewhere that would allow me to see it daily, to see them daily.
We drove to Ennis, a town 30 minutes southeast of us, the boutique capital of Ireland actually. He bought me new pillows, picked out a gorgeous stained wooden frame, which matched the background of the photo perfectly. Then we started down the street to a shoe repairman, to replace the heel on my favorite boots. The man gave himself an hour to do the job, so we decided to head to the chipper around the corner. With one bag to split between us, we passed the remainder of time wandering the town. It had started raining, and as we passed the bag of chips back and forth, I got this wonderful hot whiff of vinegar and potato every time I reopened it to eat more. We frolicked through the cobblestoned streets, I giggled loudly at how stupid we were to forget an umbrella and how I could barely see beyond the low brim of my hat, losing him at corners and crossing in front of cars. He asked me for the now soaking bag of chips, "They're really wet!" I laughed. "Potato soup," he answered back.
I suddenly felt the moment as being ours and ours alone. I realized how beautiful our footsteps sounded on the wet cobblestones, how ridiculous we must look window-shopping in the pouring rain with nothing but a bag of hot chips, how wonderful it was to be making memories in my new home with my new husband. Such small things. I reached for his hand, he held it tightly and pulled me towards the shoe shop and out of the rain. As the repairman was gathering my boots from the workroom, we stood there shivering and smiling at each other, shaking off the wet like two muddy dogs. He kissed me gently on the cheek. The cold of his nose, the radiating warmth of my skin.
So this is how a new life begins.


I love the smell of his parent's home. I have since the moment I went to meet them for the first time. The damp of Ireland never seems to go away no matter where you are, and this building smells like it's been collecting that dampness and hoarding it inside since the moment it was built, over 150 years ago. It's not at all a bad smell, but one that I've grown to love, a scent that my nose couldn't identify at first but now reminds me immediately that the voice of my mother-in-law will soon be greeting us at the top of the stairs.
Whenever we go visit, we enter first past the bright red but now empty shop front, walking along a stone passageway where the cold always hits me hard and fast, as if it had been secretly hiding there just to chill me to the bone. Once we pass the underbelly of the staircase, we turn left to find the old door that leads us up that staircase and into the rest of the house, the handle of which I have never been able to figure out how to correctly turn so that it actually opens the door.  No matter the weather, it's almost always uncomfortably cold inside, except for the sitting room in the front of the house that looks out over the main street, where my in-laws keep themselves busy during the day. This room has the stove, forever burning coal, whether full-on or just embers, and it's by far the coziest part of the entire house that consists of enough bedrooms to count on both my hands, amongst other expected rooms.
Within moments of arriving, she's offering us tea. We'll both sit on the small red couch against the far wall, my eyes always wandering to the piano to my right that hasn't been played in years but is now functioning as a shelf for dozens of framed photos of the family. I must admit, I felt a soft warmth when I first noticed our picture on that piano. It was before we were engaged, but already there I was, family. I take note of how she serves us tea, every time, so that I'll know how to properly do it whenever we have guests at our home someday. It's brewed in the teapot, poured gently into each cup, and then placed onto a serving tray on a small serving table between us. Milk in the tiny pourer next to the sugar bowl, tea spoons on their sides, all surrounding the plate of biscuits (cookies, in America). After walking through the cold of the main street passageway, I always welcome the warmth of tea. Plus, it's an incredibly Irish thing to partake in. I've been told, even if the postman is simply dropping by a package, you should always offer him tea.
I've often daydreamed about this house. My curiosity gets the best of me. I try to picture my husband as  a small boy wandering through it's room and corridors. I remember being a child myself and wanting so badly to have this sort of old-country upbringing, believing wholeheartedly that I should've been born in the 1800's in rural-somewhere, because modern, city life just wasn't for me. Then I lived in cities for a bit as I got older, and I loved the convenience and bustle, the fact that something was always happening somewhere close by and I never had to wander far to find a store or a friend. But this house is reminiscent of times, years, decades passed. There's no numbered address because The Walls have lived here for generations, since the last surviving member decided to take up residence there after the Great Famine. It's seen so many people come and go, it's heard so many conversations, so many souls have put down their guard to gently fall asleep at night in the many bedrooms. Its had work done, a second house built onto the back, an old barn off to its side. Across the alleyway in the back, there's this horribly dilapidated building that used to be a shoe factory but that is still part of their property. It has a flagstone roof so old, it's protected by some National Conservation group. You can still see old shoe parts hanging from the rafters. My husband has hinted that this building could one day be turned into our home. A modern space between ancient walls. I picture my children running through the yard, as I sit under the tree in the corner against the stone wall reading or writing, perhaps.
My father-in-law once showed me this incredibly old photo album they found in the house when they first moved back into it in the 1970's, after leaving London and then Dublin, where they raised their first four children. The photographs look so dated, they could be in a museum; some of them are labeled, but most were left with no identity except for the unsmiling face of some distant relative. There's some resemblance in a few of the photos and he tells me a story or two to go with each one. I don't even want to touch the book, having this fear that it would simply fall apart once young fingers graze it's aged pages. It thrills me in a new way to look at each captured moment in this stranger's life, and know my children will come about because they existed. My father-in-law barely knows much at all about any of these people and who they were except that he's related to them, as is his son, my husband.
There's such a comfort, deeply rooted from some long ago time, with no words to truly describe it, that flows from that book into my fingers and settles in my blood. It fills me with incredible amounts of pride. I'm a young soul in this old house. I'm the newest member of this family. I'm the start of our role in it's history. I'm a part of this now. Its past now gracefully molding my future.

I love driving back into Lahinch at night. Well, I'm not driving, he is. I'm far from being comfortable enough to maneuver a car on the opposite side of the road and as a lazy American, I never did learn how to drive a stick. So I guess I should say, I love riding into Lahinch at night, with my husband behind the wheel and myself, wide-eyed and distracted, watching the countryside open up before us to reveal this small part of Ireland that is now my home. The marmalade glow of lights in distant houses dots the hills, contrasting against the stark silver of each blinking star in the blackest sky I've ever seen. It's amazing how dark the night can be at the edge of the west coast here, with no light pollution to dirty it; nothing but deep and pure black, the absolute absence of any other color. A few times, we've taken nightly walks along the promenade all the way to its end and a little along the rocky cliffs above the shore. This is where it's truly the darkest, and I'll feel this overwhelming sense of how epically small I am, looking into that blackness and seeing star after star after star...a million too many to count. There's nowhere in the world where I've clearly seen so many stars before, that combined with the cold sea air leaves me breathless. The whispering sound of the Atlantic's waves lapping against the sand is deafening in such quiet. I sometimes look so hard into the distant horizon, the dark nothingness that I know leads back to the home I once knew, and wonder what's happening there now, without me. I left behind so much, so many. Life goes on, as they say. But this night sky, this natural quiet passing of time, this man, my husband, his hand in my hand - this is all new and beautiful and what's mine now. I try to remember what I felt before him and here and realize it doesn't matter. There's an ocean and a giant expanse of sky between now and that life, and this life, oh yes, this one - is only just beginning.