She was a homey body, probably 10 years younger than me, and she was waiting for the train with her daughter and granddaughter. A man walked up and sort of butted into line, but none of us minded, since the train wasn't going to leave any time soon.
The man also crowded into our conversation. I would have almost sworn he was trying to make time with the daughter or the mother, but neither gave him much room for it.
"My wife took up with a f-------- younger guy. Twenty-seven years we were married! I go home and the door's locked so I kicked it in and there he was. Well, Im moving to London and never coming back, that I can tell you." He puffed his cigar defiantly, but when none of us reacted he moved away. I was glad to see him go to tell the truth. He was more than a bit full of himself, and probably full of something else too.
The mother laughed and shrugged her shoulders. "He's a right one, isn't he? Doesn't know how to talk around young people or ladies either." She smiled. "I was married long enough to have eight children. Right after the last one was born my husband left and I said, 'Quick, shut the door and lock it!' I've done better without him, and that's the truth. We've done better without him and his drinking and all such, haven't we?" She laughed and her daughter smiled and nodded.
"It must have been hard, though," I said, "to get by."
"Oh well, we've always managed and had enough. The peace was worth it, and I've eight lovely children and now two grandchildren." She smiled, and I thought, yes, she looks content.
Then there was the boy on the ferry to Inisheer.
"I grew up in Michigan, but live in California now. I went to college there, and got a job so I stayed. It was a good job, but I was getting bored. So I quit the job to take a month off to travel in Europe. I'm staying in hostels and backpacking my way around. It's been amazing."
"But," I asked, "aren't you worried about finding another job?"
"I design apps for smartphones," he said, "and the demand is crazy. I don't have to look for a job; I just have to pick on. And I designed an app on my own that I'm getting patented. My girlfriend didn't mind me taking this trip, and my parents are happy because they never got to do this. It's like a dream I always had, and now I'm doing it!" And he leaned over the rail, the wind lifting his hair and the water shining in his eyes.
At the Cliffs of Moher a family laughed as a man struggled to push an elderly lady in a wheelchair up the steep "wheelchair-accessible" path. He backed off and took a run with her, to much laughter from the rest of his group. "For God's sake," one of the women shouted, "if you're going to go over the cliff with her at least throw us the van keys first!"
Our bus driver on that trip was talking about all the building that had happened during the time of the boom when Ireland was considered the Celtic Tiger of the stock markets. "And then," he explained, "the economy went all pear-shaped." Pretty descriptive way of saying it bottomed out, I thought.
On the public bus from Adare back to Limerick, I sat beside a young man who looked Middle Eastern but turned out to have been born in England. We got to talking and he said that he traveled once a month from Birmingham, England to Adare to see his girlfriend and his son. "It takes 12 hours by bus, but it's worth it to see my boy. I want to move here, or get her to move back to Birmingham but Adare is her home. Birmingham is my home, and my job's there. I miss my son, so I make this trip to see him. He's only three."
Then there was the lady who ran a small souvenir shop at Newgrange Farm where we had lunch on our last day in Ireland. "I have a daughter who lives in Charlottesville, Virginia," she told us. "I used to go visit her quite often, lovely place it is. But now I have the cancer, you see, so I can't travel like I used to what with the treatments and all. So I just work in this little shop. I was born in Canada, got married during the war to a lad from Dublin. We moved there after the war, and then here to Newgrange. I'll not go anywhere else. I love it here; they'll have to carry me out in a box."
As we sat in a shop drinking tea in the Amsterdam airport for the second leg of our flight, a woman sat down beside us. "I live in Caracao, just coming home to Scotland to visit family. I love it on the island but you know, have to come see Mum and Dad. My family is all in the same little village, so when I come home it's a constant round of tea and cakes. I learned to tell them I could only come to visit in the evenings, and that way I get wine and no cake!"
On the first leg of the trip home, from Dublin to Amsterdam, a well-dressed man shared the seat beside me. He was busy with some papers so we did not talk until just before the plane landed. As it turned out he was an architect, going to a meeting to plan the remodeling of a medical library to include something he called "book bots." This is, he explained, a book delivery system that basically uses robotics. Much less space is need for shelves because the books can be stored in a more compact area, leaving more space for students to study. He thought electronic books were making huge inroads in library collections, especially in specialized fields like medicine, because of the rapidly changing information of our times.
"You were? What were you singing?" I asked.
"My Cavan Girl. Would you like me to sing it for you?" Would I! So we rode through the early morning streets of Galway, listening to John singing a song of young love and determination. Absolutely beautiful.
"I'm 80 years old," he said. "I've no wife or children. I lost my wife, and she was expecting our child. I learned that prayer is the only healing for great loss.But I love to sing. There's too much doom and gloom in the world today. Singing keeps me young, you see." Then, on learning that I was from West Virginia, he sang Country Roads for me, and then another tune whose title I cannot recall. It was the most enjoyable bus ride I've ever taken. And I am sad that I did not get his contact information so I could stay in touch with this gentle man. You can hear John singing here on this youtube video:
Copyright Susanna Holstein. All rights reserved. No Republication or Redistribution Allowed without attribution to Susanna Holstein.