Ahead of the Corona Curve

While most of the Corona panic- buying here in the Shenandoah Valley has seemingly subsided for the moment, one item continues to be a semi-precious commodity: yep, toilet paper.

This continued depletion of supply has inspired some folks to come up with some, shall we say, novel solutions and some ideas not so odd. One of these is the slow introduction to the general American public of an appliance that has seemingly been in use in Europe for a long time: The bidet (that’s pronounced, Bee-day for folks raised in Duval County!). The other night a fellow blogger wrote a piece on just this topic and it brought back memories of my first encounter with this European marvel.

In March of 1973 I decided to take a trip to the place of my father’s birth, Ireland. This would be my first time on an airplane and my first time traveling to a foreign land – except for an accidental trip to New Jersey, which is another story!

I was well prepared for this adventure. Just before leaving I consulted with a cousin who had traveled frequently to The Old Country. He gave me a wealth of information: The Irish currency was called a Punt and was worth about $2.50 at the time. Cars drive on the left side of the road and the steering wheels are on the right and all cars have manual transmissions. I was told that upon leaving the Shannon Airport I was to drive kind of northward and sort of along the coast, but not too close! He also said when I arrived in the hometown to just ask for “Batty”, that was my uncle’s nickname, and for good reason, said my cousin. Loaded with this information (who would need more?), I set off.

I arrived in Limerick, rented a car and started out the parking lot. It must have been my unique driving style that caused the Garda (Irish police) to run to the exit gate, raise it and jump behind a row of concrete pillars. As I bucked passed them, one made the Sign of the Cross and the other uttered a phrase I would hear often during my “Journey Home”: Jaysus, Mary and Joseph! Off I went.

Like a homing pigeon, I did make my way to Charlestown, County Mayo and quickly found Uncle Batty, a gentleman through and through, but with an odd sense of humor, I was told. After visiting for a couple of days, seeing my family living in the same single room cottage as did their great- grandparents, I set off for Dublin, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day. I felt like a regular world-class traveler by now. Little did I know that I was about to have an experience not ever to be forgotten!

No reservations, no problem. God surely protects fools, I’ve learned. So, down Dublin’s main thoroughfare I drove (getting better by the minute, I was) and decided to turn onto a quaint side street. Now, Dublin at this time was not much different than during the time of Joyce and Yeats. Cobbled streets, the scent of peat from stoves and fireplaces, painted doors and stately stone buildings everywhere. It was a movie set, I thought. Pulling up to a stone-fronted hotel, a crisply uniformed young man greeted me and helped carry my duffle bag to the check-in desk and then up to the room. Now, I had also been advised to bring with me an ample supply of Kennedy silver half-dollars to use as tips. Apparently this was good advice because the bell boy was actually excited to get one: American money and an Irish-American president. Nothing better in Ireland during that Spring of 1973! Now, my long-remembered experience was about to begin.

 The room was huge, with a sitting area that overlooked the cobbled, narrow street below. The bathroom was expansive. Everything was marble – floors, walls, double sinks – the whole thing. After looking around and seeing everything to be in order, I decided to refresh a bit after the long drive. Wait, what is that? A toilet for a midget? These Irish think of everything, they do. So, I decide to give the “midget seat” a try. Before “doing” anything, I decided to give a side lever a tug – just to see what’s what, so to speak. A gush of cold water blasted my back and head. What the heck!! This can’t be right. So, I stood up and gave another yank to the handle. Old Faithful then gushes out all over the floor, turning the bath into nearly a pool. Something’s wrong here, for sure. Hmmm, I’d better get some help.

So, I go out to the hall and there stands a young girl in a heavily starched black and white uniform, wearing a lace cap, carrying an armful of clean towels. The Sherlock Holmes in me figures she must work here. So, “Can I ask you something” I say. “Yes, sir”, she replies. “Come in, please”. She follows and I walk into the bathroom with her, somewhat reluctantly, following behind. Pointing to the midget seat I ask, “Do you know what that is”? She stiffens and says, “I do”. We’re onto something now. “Do you know how it works”? A bit more stiffening and a hint of wariness is now in her voice when she again replies, “I do”. “Well, could you show me how it works?”  “I WILL NOT!”, and like a bolt she runs from the room. By the time I can get to the door she has run to the end of the hallway and met with another uniformed girl. I can hear that other one saying, “He didn’t!!”  “He did”, says the first girl. They both turn to give me the Short Eye and then hustle down the stairs. Odd girls, I say to myself.

So, after foregoing trying to give the geyser another try, I go out and have a wonderful evening exploring Old Dublin. When I return, I decide to have a drink in the hotel’s small, wood-paneled pub. Three or four older men sitting at the bar and the bartender, dressed in the customary white shirt, black tie and pants were the only other people in the pub. I sat at a small table. The bartender looked at me and said, “What will it be”? “A Guinness, please”. He pours it and puts it on the bar; I get up, take it and say, “Thanks”. “Ah, you must be the Yank staying on the second floor”, says the barman. “I am”, I say. The barman smiles and bends to whisper something to the men sitting at the rail. A burst of laughter. “He didn’t!” says one, “was it Mary?” “No, the new girl, Bridie”, says the barman. “Ah, Jaysus”, says another of the men. “Mary would be bad enough, but Bridie! Is she still runnin’”? Now, another burst of laughter. Odd bunch, these Dubliners, I’m thinking. On the way out, the barman says, “Yank, did ye’ figure out that thing in your room”? “No”, and I continued out and up to my room, but not before I heard more laughter and, “Jaysus, ye’d think they would have them in America, as well”. They’re a very odd bunch in this place, I thought. But, still nice.

A week or so later, up in Sligo, I told my uncle Frank all about the midget seat/ foot washer (cleverly, I figured this out on my own!), the cleaning girl running out of the room and the people in the bar laughing. Uncle Frank, not a drinker, nearly choked on his tea. “Well, Billy”, he said, “I’d say you should not plan on going back there again”. He then started to laugh just as hard as the folks in Dublin as he explained just what that little seat was for.

So, if these Bidet things ever catch on here in the U.S., I’m way ahead of the curve! And it’s a good thing that we’ve installed waterproof flooring in the bathrooms!

As always, pray, don’t worry, be careful.

Bill

Staunton

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West Beverly St. Downtown Staunton

It’s been nearly a week since we made the trek from Jacksonville to Staunton, Virginia to prepare for our relocating there in about six weeks. Skirting the effects of hurricane Florence turned a nine hour trip into 15 driving hours through Georgia, up into Tennessee and finally slipping over the mountains into Virginia from the West.

Along the way we spoke of what lay ahead of us and what we were leaving. Four years earlier we had had a similar conversation of what we were leaving behind in Connecticut as we drove along I-95 toward The Bold New City of the South. We said we would make a home that would be our “forever home”.  As singer-songwriter John Gorka wrote, “the old future’s gone”.  Apparently, this bold new city requires a sensibility different than ours.

Here, friends were made, acquaintances, too. Some were lost, some just recently made. Some know, too, that this is not their “forever home”.  Our reasons are mostly the same: too much heat, traffic and violence. There is also the feeling that something better is possible, if only a chance is taken.

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Our cross mountain conversation centered on what was most important to us. Not just now, but what has always been so: Family, of blood and heart, a sense of purpose and a sense of belonging to and in a place and a shared Faith.

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St. Francis of Assisi Church

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How odd, then, that by moving we hope to better have these things. The Redhead and I will be closer to “the kids” and our Connecticut friends. Staunton is also closer to northern Tennessee than is Jacksonville, making it easier to still be close with some of our family of the heart who will be leaving here, too.

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The Shenandoah Valley in many ways reminds me of the western Ireland of my heritage: rolling hills dotted with cattle and the abandoned homes of those that once worked the land, all in the shadow of the nearby mountains that, like those in Eire, also witnessed a bloody, never forgotten, conflict.  Yet, there is a gentleness to the land that has been smoothed by time.

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Abandoned cabin, Churchville,VA

The main purpose for our trip was to find a rental property to settle into as we explored and learned the area. It turned out that finding something we liked was not as easy as we had imagined. But, after a few days a very nice condo-type apartment in the town of Waynesville, about 20 minutes from Staunton, was found and secured for our arrival in early November. After taking care of a few more business matters we spent the rest of our week exploring the area and enjoying an afternoon at the Blackfriars PlayhouseStaunton certainly has no shortage of interesting things to see and do.

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Staunton Arts Center

Each day, now, we pack a little more. Boxing what we’ll need immediately and sorting it from those treasures we cannot part with but may not see again for a year. It is a strange experience.  We know that we both are resilient and optimistic and our prayer for guidance is simple: “Lord, let us know what You want us to do and give us the courage to do it”. Who knows what’s in store for us? It’s all part of a plan.

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All according to plan, Swoope, VA

 

 

 

Oh, Boy

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I read the news today, oh boy…

Come out ye Black and Tans and fight me like a man…

These two snippets of wildly divergent songs keep playing in my head these past several days.

The first, of course, is from the John Lennon song, Day in the Life, and is familiar to anyone that has listened to the Beatles Sgt. Pepper album. The second is from the Irish rebel song written by Domenic Behan ( Lyrics.) Before I explain why these two songs are on auto-play, let me give you a bit of personal background.

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I am of the first generation on my father’s side of the family born in the United States. Both sides of the family, however, came from Ireland. I grew up listening to stories of fairies, leprechauns, keeners, ghosts, Tinkers, famines and beloved Saint Patrick. And, the Black and Tans. (Historical video)

My father and uncles were children during the time of the Irish Rebellion of 1919 -1921. At the time, they ranged in age from 11 to 14. When I was about 9 or 10 years old I asked, innocently, why my uncle Pat limped so badly and why my uncle Frank had two scars, white, irregular circles, each on either side of his cheeks. It was the “bloody Black and Tans”, I was told. “What’s that”, I asked? The British Army, was the answer.

 You see, before the age of telephones and the internet, many people had to communicate face to face or in writing. This was certainly the case in rural West Ireland of the time (even up until the 1950’s in many areas). The Irish Rebels – IRA – used fleet-footed youngsters to spread the news of the Black and Tan mercenary military units approaching villages and towns. The Tans, recruited from the ranks of unemployed soldiers following WWI and, reportedly in some cases, the mental wards and prisons of England, had quite the reputation for pillaging, murder and rape. Their approach would strike terror and hatred into the civilians of towns and villages.  Uncle Pat, then age 14, was caught in County Clare and, as he was correctly suspected of being a “runner” for the IRA, had his instep crushed by the butt of a British rifle. Never would he run again. Uncle Frank actually did have a printed IRA message concealed in his mouth when he was apprehended by the Tans in the mountains of County Mayo. Since he wouldn’t open his mouth to expel the message, a pistol was placed to his cheek and the bullet blew the message and his face to shreds. He was 12. My grandparents, fearing for my father, who was a runner, too, sent him to the relative safety of English coal mines to work underground until he could buy his passage to America. He was about 12 when he left home – forever. Nearly 100 years later, Black and Tans are still a curse and cursed in Ireland.

So, why are the songs of John Lennon and Dominic Behan playing in my head? Because, two days ago I read the news and could only say, “oh, boy”.  It seems that some folks in our government are seriously discussing the idea of raising a mercenary force of fighters to replace U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Mercenaries bought and paid for by us – the American citizen, to fight a war Congress has not the guts to declare. These forces would be recruited from former U.S. soldiers. The report stated some of the reasons for considering this proposal are to continue the war in Afghanistan – but at a lower cost; troops would be under the control of Afghan authorities, thus removing the U.S. from some culpability for “irregularities” and we could bring our boys and girls home. How nice. See: u.s. mercenaries

Have we lost our collective minds and souls? The idea of the United States using mercenaries to fight its war – even if those mercenaries are American – is sickening.  War is bad enough. But, using proxies always comes back to haunt you. Just ask the British. If the war in Afghanistan is, after all, a “good” war, should we not fight it ourselves? If it is not, isn’t 16 years enough?

 Yes, I read the news today and said, “Oh, boy” and pray that years from now Afghans will not rise up in their own variation of the Behan song: “Come out ye ‘Mericans, and fight me like a man”.