We’d stepped off the DART at Killester station, on the way to Howth. I’d wanted to make this stop, more than any other. The station—almost exactly as I’d remembered it from around 40 years ago, only the electronic ticket booths to set it apart from the version in my mind.
I knew the way to the house by heart, even after all those years. Time had not dulled the memory of the many, many times my sister and I had accompanied Grannie Mac on Tuesdays or perhaps Mom or one of her friends as we’d make our way to and from the station, off to the city, or maybe to Howth. Perhaps even to Cork for a week.
And the place where the butcher shop used to be. The shop was gone now, but the building remained. Real corned beef, that’s what we’d get there. Not that silly “bully beef” stuff that you buy in a tin. No, real corned beef. Grannie Mac would select a piece and the butcher would cure it overnight. The next day we’d have that, along with cabbage from Grando’s garden. Each trip to Ireland, just before we’d make the flight back we’d drag the suitcases down to be weighed. Forty-four pounds each. No more. Sometimes that would be a struggle and things should have to stay behind.
The house was even closer to the station than I’d remembered. All of a sudden, there we were, right at the end of the street, then the front gate and then, finally,, at the front door. I’d rang the doorbell, what seemed an eternity ago; time for almost four decades of thoughts to run through my mind but, in reality, one supposes, only a few scant seconds.
It had to be–I’d been holding my breath wondering what would happen next.
“Hello?” came a voice from just around the corner of the house. The voice carried a timbre of friendliness mixed with curiosity. A tall figure appeared and walked toward me, then stopped around three metres away.
Was that a twinkle in his eyes? A hint of mischief perhaps?
“Hi there. I’m from Canada and this is my wife and daughter. Thirty-five years ago, this was my grandparent’s home.” There. Done.
I waited, all too aware of the fact that it was mostly unclear which of the three outcomes this greeting would lead to: welcome, disbelief or, perhaps, a visit from the Garda Síochána.
I got my answer. He laughed gently, looked at us and said, “Come in, would you like some tea?”
We went inside. We all sat down. We talked.
About Bertie, the very eccentric next door neighbour. Sometimes he’d only shave one side of his face. He’d loved the horses and always made sure they were groomed just right, even if it meant walking all the way to the stables for a 6 am start. . He’d died some years back.
About the Burtonshaws. The kids had moved away and Fred had died a while back but Peg was still doing well.
About his family. They’d raised three, who were now grown up.
About my family.
About the house. Clearly he’d made it a constant work in progress. The grounds were still so familiar—the walkway, front lawn and hedges, all the same, just a bit older; the hedges a bit taller. The house, though familiar, had clearly been cared for, kept up, expanded and improved.
He, too. was Maurice—the same Maurice Walsh that had bought the house thirty five years ago. It was so obvious that we had so very much in common. Continuity… Work: something you could love but still leave behind; Family and Friends: things you could love but never leave behind.
And what else could there possibly be after that?
Other than to hope that, maybe 25 years from now when I was about his age I, too, could look back on a life well spent as he so clearly could.
It was time. Josephine mimed, “come on, we dropped in unexpectedly and have stayed long enough. He was in the middle of something.” …a fact attested to by the tools I had seen out back by the door. The house was always, and would always, be a work in progress and who were we to stand in the way?
We got up to leave; a quick picture by the mantelpiece.
He accompanied us down to the Burtonshaws. Sadly, Peg was not here. “She must be away,” he said. Still, we took the time for another quick picture of the old Morris Minor parked by the door; just like the one Grando had owned 60 years prior. I wondered if it was hers.
It would soon be time to move on…
…but I was not quite ready. A few more stops needed to be made.
Just as we boarded the train for Howth the rain, which had barely been holding off all day, began in earnest, a proxy for welcome tears of joy perhaps; ones that I was, for whatever reason, incapable of shedding myself. A fortunate coincidence.
A dreary day in Howth but my eyes could not see that. The sandy beach was secondary, as was the beauty of Howth head.
All the way back to Dublin I said not a word.
We got off at Connoley station and started walking to O’Connel Street via Talbot. There was still lots of time left in the day and with all the rain, shopping was probably the best way to spend it. At one point Josephine and Lesley went into a ‘Lesley Store” (Lesley is my daughter) — you know girls’ clothes and such. I just stayed outside, under the umbrella, a little mesmerized, listening to the rhythm of the rain.
I looked about and realized I was exactly opposite Guineys and came to with a start. I was right at the epicenter of the event of that fateful time, one still etched in the memories of those who still live here. I continued to look around. The visible scars had healed; no visible marks, just a nicely decorated street filled pedestrians. Justice? Who’s to say? But I know what i saw: lots of people, their spirits not at all diminished by the rain, just out enjoying a somewhat damp but warm evening in mid summer, strolling along a beautiful, busy but still peaceful street.
It struck me then and there. Ireland had changed; Ireland had remained the same. Best of all, near as I could see, the parts I did not like had changed for the better and the parts I’d always treasured had persevered.
A circuit had just been closed; a quest had been completed. The old home had been in good hands and still was the same place of hope and love that it had always been.
A smile spread across my face. I closed the umbrella and went inside to see what Lesley and Josephine were doing. Time to move on.