Notes of a Memory

I was traveling

a trip to Ireland

when all I wanted to do was stay home with A Guy

whom, it turned out,

had no space for me

yet it would take him some time to inform me of this fact

At the time

I hung My Everything on him

In return, he flattened himself out and slid away

I didn’t know that impending future yet

All I knew was I was alone

traveling in Ireland

thinking of A Guy back home

Alone

knowing enough of confidence to approximate it through sheer will

I headed to Co. Donegal

the village of Killybegs

where I was the only guest at the B & B

treated like a daughter by the B & B hostess

–my B & B mom

She and her husband took me dancing at The Blue Moon

A wooden-floored makeshift ballroom

the hub of their social life

There, I communed and spun with the village’s grey beards

The rest of the week I spent

hitching

reading the treacle that is A Prayer For Owen Meany

all throughout, feeling the clump of my hiking boots as I did a foxtrot with a 65-year-old, hopped in to a handyman’s truck on my return from Slieve League, climbed the stairs to my top-floor room in the B & B

To travel alone is something

challenging

requiring that self-consciousness be benched

demanding staunchness in the face of solitude

At its best,

to travel alone

opens one up

increases approachability

Traveling alone made me accessible

my face never turned toward a companion’s

my conversation partner not pre-determined

When I traveled alone

People saw me

talked to me

cared for me

included me

The daily crucible

when traveling alone

was meal time

Usually, I would wade into a pub with my book for a companion

In Killybegs, I ended up with my own “local”

my neck bending towards the pub’s window one late afternoon as I clomped past

having tried and failed to work up the courage to seat myself and order a chicken breast at the establishment down the road

I was pushing against an unsatiated hunger

when my neck bent towards the window

Over the sound of my clomps, I heard

fiddle music

beckoning

my curiosity equalizing my dread at wading into a new place with no back-up

A deep breath filling my lungs, I leaned against the door

assuring myself the worst that could happen would be feeling out of place, pressed against the wall by the pressure of too many staring eyes

much like moving from social science to study hall in the junior high building had

In the pub, the door swooshing closed behind me,

I scanned a largely empty room

the focal point of which was a curly-headed man with a full beard

his facial hair framed by the chin rest of his violin

his fiddle

an extension of his shoulder

his bow

organic to his hand

one Martin McGinley

His eyes flicked up to take in the newcomer

He grinned

and played

The swell of elegiac notes mollified my nerves

and fell across the listeners

a tumbling cascade

baptizing the congregated

I sat

sipping a cider

at ease

listening

eating that chicken breast

The sky over the Atlantic darkened

pushing more people into the pub’s light

more drinks

more musicians opening their cases

joining in with the plaintive strains of the fiddle

Another fiddler

Pipes

Drums

A voice

No stage

Rather–

friends sitting at a table

surrounding Martin with a volunteer corps of fellow players

Together they were

amazing

their harmony swirling out the window

flying into the inky black

darting amongst the stars

I sat for hours the first night

on a cushioned bench in the back

engaging in conversation with a local…a lonely, homely native of the village

single

never married

no kids

He wandered in at dusk each day, sustaining himself with the cultural camaraderie

We talked of Louden Wrainwright—the third

We did not flirt

Free of artifice, we were two people in the same place, talking to each other,

tapping our fingers on the wooden table, rhythmically thumping our heels up and down

I returned to the pub the subsequent night

my dreams having jigged all the sleep before

By myself, but not alone, I ordered dinner

and a cider

caught eyes across the room with Louden Wrainwright—the third—guy

raised my glass in greeting

chose a seat close to the grouping musicians

and discovered, over the next few hours, that a young village fisherman with black-grey hair

intended to press drinks upon me

until I applied for citizenship

The next day

I walked some kilometers down the road to the beach

scoring a ride from The Strand back to the village in the car of an English lord

That afternoon, I wandered the village, looking for diversion

eventually remembering my B & B mom’s suggestion–

something about the Blessing of the Fleet

I looked towards the harbor,

the docks,

and spotted a huge building

into which hundreds of bodies flowed

My hiking boots clomped,

and I blended into the stream of humanity

As I had at the pub,

I stood at the back

Alone but surrounded

Not really so alone

A man in robes entered

strode to the front

a crucifix in hand

His words would protect the boats

save the sailors

protect the fishermen

assure a hefty catch

create a buffer of belief around the villagers

draw upon the collective power of persistent faith

They needed this

Standing amongst the crowd

in my thick-soled boots

encircled by women in skirts and pumps

men in cabled sweaters

I heard

a melody from Martin’s fiddle float across the harbor

an added blessing

I needed it, too

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Published by Jocelyn

There's this game put out by the American Girl company called "300 Wishes"--I really like playing it because then I get to marvel, "Wow, it's like I'm a real live American girl who has 300 wishes, and that doesn't suck, especially compared to being a dead one with none."

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19 Comments

  1. Wonderful – I can literally see you, young and a little bit scared and shy – trotting the Irish streets… so brave to travel alone like that, creating memories and discovering the world.
    Monica

  2. That was wonderful, Joce. I now want to travel alone, to wear cable-knit sweaters and walk on the moors. Or perhaps to go somewhere where someone will care for me just because I am alone and look like I could use a friend. 🙂

    Pearl

  3. Loved this Jocelyn. Bought back memories, as a young backpacker, for me too. Two hippy Americans we met in Ireland at the time persuaded us to visit them in Philladelphia, making it my second trip to the U.S.
    Have not been back to either country since unfortunately. Found both the United States. and Ireland such hospitable countries.

    1. I’m sorry! But I hate that book–with a fair bit of vehemence. It’s very manipulative. However, I am in the minority. Most nearly everyone loves it.

  4. What a great piece! I enjoyed the writing and have to say, I loved the dance videos! There is a place about 35 miles from where we live that has classes in the Step Dancing and I’ve often thought I wish we could swing it to get Maya lessons in this kind of dancing but the lessons, plus the fancy costumes would be totally beyond our budget, especially with the mileage and cost of gas these days! But I’ve thought she could do well with that type of dance because since she was between 2-3 years old, on her own, she began to do a sort of side-step dance as she would run and do this half-skip with it through the house. At least she doesn’t appear to have 2 left feet like her grandmother seems to have! LOL Thanks again especially for all the videos you posted. I’ll have to show them to Maya when she gets home from school today!

  5. One of my favorite memories of visiting Ireland a year ago was sitting in a hotel bar in Killarney on a Saturday night listening, mesmerized, to a band of local musicians (two flutes, a harp, a banjo, a fiddle) playing and singing to a room packed with locals who accepted the four tourists among them with good grace. Irish hospitality is truly grand.
    You have just proved that, even when we travel alone, we are never truly alone. Thank you.

    1. You are very gracious in the way you put that, Jenn. Some might just say I’m “crabby and judgmental.” Heh-heh. Is this the wrong place to reveal I hated The Help?

  6. I was delighted to read that A Prayer for Owen Meany = Treacle. I listened to the audio, which seemed to go on f-o-r-e-v-e-r just for the payoff at the (eventual) end.

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