“There must be a million people here, Sara,” I whimper into the cellphone, a slight note of panic in my voice. “And they’re all rushing and shoving and shouting. Shouting, Sara.” It was definitely panic now.
I had just landed in Newark after nearly a year in our quiet little Dingle. Sara had preceded me to the States by ten days.
Sara dropped into her soothing voice, the one she would use if she were perhaps talking to someone standing on the top rung of the guard rail on the George Washington Bridge. “It will be all right, Jimmy. Why don’t you get something to eat and maybe a nice glass of wine before your next flight? I’ll be waiting for you in Cleveland.”
“Okay,” I sniffle, dodging a vehicle carrying perfectly healthy people down the concourse. I skirt around the scrum of travelers lined up at the entrance to the moving walkway. “Does no one walk anymore with the legs the good lord gave them?” I mumble to myself.
One of the things we love about our life in Dingle is the quiet. Not silence, mind you, but quiet. Cows moo. Sheep bleat. Tractors roll down the lane. People speak in a soft, modulated tone. It’s…quiet.
I find a stool at a food stand in the middle of the concourse and order a salad and a glass of red wine. Around me I can clearly hear the voice of every patron. The woman on the stool next to me is having a loud conversation on her cell phone that is so intimate I begin to blush. “Thank God,” I think, “she doesn’t have it on speaker.”
We were back in the states for six weeks to make final decisions on the house we are building in Ohio and to attend a number of social occasions: a first communion, a wedding, visits with friends, and a graduation. It promised to be mad. We’ll mix that in with visits to nieces and nephews and their babies. I hoped I’d survive.
Sara is waiting for me at the Cleveland airport. “We are a loud people,” I tell her.
“There, there, Jimmy,” she says. I step down from the rung.
The next few weeks are a whirl.
We make decisions on the house, visiting the wood flooring store and the tile store and the carpet store. We go to the kitchen cabinet warehouse for the fourth or fifth time. We agonize over countertops and back splashes, bathroom fixtures and mirrors. We pick out grout colors–until I was well into my forties, I thought the only color of grout was, well, grout. I was wrong. We pick out paint colors at the paint store. The electrician wants to know the location of every outlet, light switch, and canned light. The plumber is concerned about the drains. It is all exhausting.
In between all of these decisions, we celebrate our granddaughter Sara’s First Communion. Sara (senior, not Sara junior, the celebrant) makes the sensible decision to go full Youngstown Italian for the reception so we bring in trays of stuffed chicken, pasta with red sauce, and salad from a local restaurant, rather than cook it ourselves. She is a wise woman. The party is a great success, even though it is raining and we can’t go outside to sit at the table I built between trips to the paint store and the tile store. People admire it through the windows, though, which is gratifying.
Then we drive to Chicago for a dear niece’s wedding, a truly lovely affair that allows us to visit with longtime friends and family whom we haven’t seen in a few years.
The only downside was the traffic in Chicago. We are at an intersection near the airport with six lanes of traffic going in each direction. All twenty-four lanes are backed up 18 to 20 cars deep. I turn to Sara. “Do you realize there are more cars at this intersection than in all of West Kerry?” I ask her, the panic creeping in again. She uses the soothing voice to calm me down.
After visiting with more dear friends, we fly to Portland, Oregon to celebrate the graduation of our daughter Meg from the Oregon Health Sciences University with her Doctorate in Nursing Practice. Yes, we are very proud of her, thank you for asking. And the traffic on I-5 was bearable.
And then it’s a flight back to Chicago and a drive to Ohio where a few more decisions have to be made. Apparently, different tile requires different grout. I am learning so much on this trip.
Then, at last, after six long weeks, we are on a flight back to Dingle. I sink into my seat, exhausted.
The first night back in Dingle I make cacio é pepe, a standby of cheese and pepper and butter that I turn to when jetlag renders thinking through a meal impossible. We think of it as comfort food.
“Would you like lamb or fish tomorrow night,” I ask Sara.
“Oh fish. I’ve been dreaming about pan-fried hake with that caper sauce you make. We’ll stop at David’s fish shop tomorrow.”
“And Jerry’s rack of lamb on Wednesday?”
The next day I ask, “Are you up for the short walk?”
“That’s about all I’m up for.”
We turn left out the gate with Lucy and walk through the abandoned village of Monrea. The roofless stone cabins are surrounded by blooming lilacs. We’re soon back home for a nap, still knackered from the flight.
The short walk is all we can manage the following day as well. We walk slowly, building our strength, and remarking about the red hedge roses that are starting to bloom.
By the third day I ask, “Will we walk down the lane?”
“We will,” Sara answers.
Lucy pulls on her lead as we turn right out the gate and walk down the grass-centered road. The forestry has all leafed out, hiding dark and mysterious paths through the trees. Foxgloves stand guard and fuchsia are just starting to blossom in the ditches. Soon the hedgerows will be walls of red fire beside the lane. Soft clouds of Queen Anne’s Lace float over it all. The palest of pink blossoms on the briars promise a bountiful blackberry harvest this Autumn.
We pass our neighbors’ fairy garden.
Dogs come from behind walls to greet us, asking where we and Lucy have been. Lots of sniffing ensues. Even the mean dog of the old sheep farmer offers a friendly half-hearted snarl and a grudging tail wag. The farmer himself gives us a wave as he sits on a kitchen chair outside his open door, soaking up the sun. We reach the cottage of the old woman at the end of the road. Her curlers are still in her hair. Her hydrangeas are a whirl of red, blue, pink, and white. Lilies and yellow roses line her stone wall.
That night we sit on the couch in our lounge, books in our hands, Lucy stretched between us. Beyond the forestry cows moo and sheep bleat. A tractor rolls down the lane. It’s quiet.
“Will we do the long walk tomorrow?”
“That would be nice,” Sara responds.
We go back to our books with contented sighs. A few moments pass.
“It’s good to be home,” Sara says.
“It is. It is indeed.”