One of the pluses of living in the country is that one is required to live in The Real.
I had especially noticed this sense of living in The Real during my many visits “Back Home” to Ireland. Being of the first generation of my family born here in The States, Back Home meant the family place. For us it was the West of Ireland – County Mayo and in particular the then small town of Charlestown.
My first visit was a real eye opener. Despite stories of having descended from Irish Royalty (weren’t we all?) the reality was the family was materially poor. My father and generations of family before him was born and raised in a single room cottage that was, upon my first visit, still occupied by my uncle and his family. No electricity, no running water, no plumbing. That was home.
Politically, it seemed the family was all over the place. Uncle Batty, when I showed up unannounced at his workplace, thought I was an IRA hitman that had “come for him”. I never asked why he thought that. But, the joy he showed that it was the son of his never-met older brother standing at his doorstep erased all need to explore the matter further. His wife, Evelyn, was a nurse, educated and trained in England. Her political views, expressed only once, was that, Yes, things had been bad in the past. But, she said, “Without the English we’d all now be a lot worse off”. She was living in The Real. The world as it was right then, not what it had been, good or bad.
I’ve thought many times of Evelyn’s words and contrasted them with those of my father. Yes, he had seen a bit more of the brutality of an occupying army. Not allowing even English Toffee into the house, however, seemed a bit much, even to a little urchin. But, the day that my eldest sister had a would-be “suitor” call at the house was a real humdinger. Dressed in a tweed suit, he carried a gold pocket watch that he allowed me to hold. Yet, the real treasure was a strange coin with some type of antelope stamped upon it.
“Dad, look at this”, I blurted out. Examining the coin, my father seemed to enjoy the novelty of it as much as I. Until he turned it over. There it was. The image of Queen Elizabeth II in all her youthful beauty.
First, his jaw went slack, and then his eyes started blinking out some type of Morse code. We had seen those telegraphing eyes before. Whatever was coming wasn’t going to be good.
“You’re a *&^)#%@*^# ’Limey”, shouted my father. “I say”, said my sister’s Caller. Well, he didn’t get to say much else, I can tell you that. The last we or my sister saw of him was the back of the tweed bending over to pick poor Elizabeth up from the sidewalk in front of our house.
It would be several years later before my sister would agree (with permission, naturally) to marry a very nice man. Of Irish descent, of course. All went well until the day before the wedding. It was then that dad found out that while the young man about to marry my sister was indeed Irish, he wasn’t the “Right Irish”. His great-grandfather had come from…get ready…Belfast, Northern Ireland. My sister was marrying a “Collaborator”. Neither I nor anyone else in the family knew what the heck my father was talking about. Which brings me back to the beginning of this story, living in The Real.
When I say that we live in the country it’s that we are surrounded mostly by farms. Dairy, goat, poultry, horse and agriculture farms abound here. Some are small, some quite extensive. Our immediate neighbors in this neighborhood come from different backgrounds and professions: teachers, technical engineers, business owners, medical professionals, skilled labor, etc. Many come from small towns or farms. And, of course, this city boy. Each of us have been drawn to this area for reasons, while specific to us, have similarities, too: the need for “elbow room” in order to have privacy or to have a garden, the need to escape the costs, congestion and craziness of large cities. Yet, there is the tacit understanding that we would help one another. And will be kind to each other. Perhaps it is by being so close to nature, to God’s abundant blessings, that we have become so aware of how beautiful life is.
And so, this past week, we celebrated our good fortune in two ways. First, we had a “block party”. Every family in our little hilltop neighborhood came to “the crossroads” to enjoy a beautiful, sunny day and sharing food, laughter and the feeling that, at least within our little community, all is well.
Secondly, The Redhead and I ventured out for a drive yesterday that took us out beyond Route 42 into deep farm country and finally heading westward along Route 250 through the Allegheny Mountains into the small town of Monterey. Monterey is the home of the Maple Festival, drawing craftspeople and maple syrup product connoisseurs from great distances. Unfortunately, like most other festivals, this year’s was cancelled due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, Monterey is a nice little town (really small) but it has several nice country- style restaurants, inns and spectacular scenery. I will say, that prior to yesterday, driving over the mountain was something beyond my comfort level. Do it slowly, carefully and in good weather and you could have a nice outing. Hint: Monday may not be the best day to make the trip – some things are closed.
Along this section of Route 250 you will also find the Confederate Breastworks and the battle field of McDowell, dating from 1862. Both locations, near one another, while relatively limited in scope, were where Confederate and Union troops clashed for control of this mountain pass. Standing at the Breastworks and looking down the valley where so many men had struggled, fought and died two thoughts came to mind: What a terrible tragedy that Civil War was, pitting neighbor and family against one another. And, later last night, after mistakenly watching a few minutes of the “news”, I thought back to the beauty, bounty and friendship we had seen all around us this past weekend and wondered, why this country is being torn apart.
Will we ever let the transgressions, real or imagined, of Queen Elizabeth, Stonewall Jackson, Columbus, Kit Carson, Junipero Serra and on and on stay in the past? Will we ever again live in The Real?