is a wonderful and terrible thing.
I wasn't born in Ireland, but the closest place I have to a hometown is on the N8 in County Limerick. If you drive from Dublin to Cork, you'll probably pass by the cottage where my father and his family grew up. That was way back in the fifties and sixties, when Angela's Ashes was life and the damp and the cold was life's backdrop. It was a prototypical Irish Catholic metafamily, with ten children: eating at the dinner table was a mark of seniority, and having one's own bed was a laughable proposition.
The ten of them became latter-day McAlpine's Fusiliers, scattering across three continents. My father married and moved to America, and so I was born in Naples, Florida, which was no more like the Galtee Mountains than Oklahoma, North Carolina, Miami, or Osaka. Still, something within me has longed for green hills and white skies, for making fun of Kerrymen and saying "shite," for drinking Cidona in a dimly-lit pub amid the din of rabid hurling fans: even though I'm American-born and Japanese-schooled, I will always be of Ireland.
I never got to go back to my country until I was five years old, and way back then it was an almost incomprehensible proposition. My American mother, a reformed wannabe hippie, used to explain some of my father's tirades by saying "Don't worry about him... he's from an island, and people from islands think differently." That island was always etched in my mind as someplace strange and someplace wonderful.
I can remember more than a few things about that first trip. My father and I rode on top of a big green double-decker Dublin Bus. That was 1988, the year of Dublin's millenial celebration, and so the city was at the peak of its existence up to that time. We walked through the markets on Sunday, and I seem to remember cockles and mussels being sold somewhere, although that might just be something I made up.
Driving down to the south was an incredible experience. Ireland's real development had yet to begin, so the trip was long and consisted of village after village of decades-old pubs, centuries-old castles, and millenia-old traditions. Every town on the way had a beautiful name: Kildare, Portlaoise, Abbeyleix, Cahir. We drove past the Rock of Cashel, so close that it almost seemed to be right above us.
And, as it turned out, I had cousins. A whole lot of cousins. I'm still not sure exactly how many I have: it's somewhere around twenty, maybe more, maybe less. But up to that point, I had been an only child: here, I actually had family, and a whole lot of it to boot.
My father and I kept coming back, in two-year intervals at first. On our second trip, I saw little circles of gold stars everywhere: the European Union. They popped up at Dublin Airport, and then all over the countryside, on big signs proclaiming great public works projects being funded by the Community. Even the license plates were changing.
Aer Lingus had sold its old, dingy planes, and bought sparkling new ones. The road from Dublin to Cork was widened in places and bypassed in others, starting to make the transition from highway to motorway (or expressway, as I still thought of it). Instead of riding the bus, we could take the DART into Dublin City.
When I first went to Ireland, three of the ten children from my father's family were living there. Over time, three more moved back. My father and I stopped travelling through London because there was hardly anybody left to see there. So slowly but surely, Ireland came to me, as though it had an outboard motor aimed toward Scotland.
Not too long after my family moved back to Florida, my mother died. I was in the seventh grade. After that, I started spending the summer at that old cottage in Limerick, a stone's throw from the Tipperary county line, and that was when I was born again.
It happened slowly, partly from playing Mario in my cousin's bedroom and cursing the Koopas in fluent angry Irish slang, partly from camping out in my uncle's fields up in the hills, partly from shooting pool in the pub, partly from watching RTÉ every fucking day, partly from a tonne or so of tea, and partly from exposure to football and hurling.
The village was vibrant now. There were new pavements by the roads and new cars in the driveways of freshly-painted houses. Through all the country, there were gorgeous restaurants and shops in all the towns and cities, and the pubs were polished to a lustrous shine. You could smell prosperity in the air of Dublin: at least I could, and I was still too young to really understand the word.
Yet for me, Ireland was still the same. It meant sleeping between hills that would always be green. It meant ballads at night, while the elders drank and the rest of us played. It meant life.
I haven't been back to my country in a few years now. Maybe four, maybe five: I've lost count. Today, though, when people ask where I'm from, I say "America, sort of, not really."
Everyone has a place in this world, and sometimes that place is hard to find. I found out where that place is, though. I am of Ireland, and nobody will ever tell me otherwise, ever again.
Ask yourself where you belong. If you don't have an answer, then it's time to start looking.
a nodeshell rescue, not that it matters