Posted by: Peadar Ban | February 17, 2012

“You Are Welcome Home!”

INTRODUCTION

We lived in Texas then.  Houston, to be exact; that big city floating on a flat plain just a stone’s throw from Galveston and the Gulf.  It was where I first met men with initials for first names, ladies who went to the hairdresser so they could go to the supermarket, and people who found Jesus and got rich thereby.  It was hot, humid and had roaches you could throw a saddle on.  And sunrises and sunsets and sky-scapes I’ve only ever seen elsewhere about a thousand miles at sea in the South Pacific.

It was 1975.  Sheila’s mother, Ellen Frances McAuliffe Welby, Lady Ellen, came to live with us after retiring from her job in New York City.  She spent the next fourteen years in our house, first in Houston and later on in Nashua, NH, where I now sit pecking this out on a sunny day in February.  She was a slight woman with a ready smile, quiet and kind.  She had a song like quality to her speech, a charming Irish accent, a delicate laugh highlighting an impish sense of humor.  In many ways she was still the little girl who sat in the meadow on the hill above her home in Ireland watching the clouds roll by dreaming of one day going to America, picking the gold off the streets and marrying a handsome fellow.  She did, and in some sad ways, she didn’t.  She loved tea and stories, and her grandchildren, Jeanne and Andrew, especially Andrew, for whom she could not do enough.  And, she prayed for all, always.

Our First Family Photo, 1977. You gotta love polyester.

Jeanne Marie(11), Andrew (8), Sheila (35) and Me, the same

Born in Templeglantine, Co. Limerick in Ireland, in 1914, she had left and come to America as a young girl of  14 eventually married and had two daughters, the youngest of whom I married, Sheila Marie Welby, the first girl I ever told I loved.  Lady Ellen knew it would happen long before I did.  On the second time I met her, when I had left to go home, Sheila told me a few years after, she had turned to her and said, “He’s the one.”  “You have a way with old women in kitchens,” Sheila later said.

Her mother had been only a few months with us when Sheila approached me one evening and suggested we do something nice for a woman who had done so much for her, and was still doing those things.  She asked if we could take her mother with us to Ireland to see her two sisters and her brother and spend time with their families.  Sheila’s cousin Margaret had visited while we were courting, and I learned then that she had a brace of cousins over there.  We needn’t worry a bit about staying anywhere.  Her Mom hadn’t been home in 46 years.  It was time to go.

And, that was that.  We prepared right after Christmas to go in late May through June of the next year, 1976.  We would fly to New York, spend a few days there with the family we had left behind to go South, and then go to Ireland with Grandma.

This was way before the days when security at the airport was a problem.  Nevertheless, after a few days visiting my sister and brother kids and cousins, my Mom and Aunt, and all that, we found ourselves at JFK airport fully four hours before the flight.  Grandma Welby, Candy Grandma as she was known, wanted to make sure we were there in plenty of time.  Oh, Boy, were we.  I just love waiting at airports.  I loved even more then when we had two young children with us.

Anyway, the flight left on time and six or so hours later we were sliding down out of the sky into Shannon Airport, the sun barely up, and us barely awake.  I have vivid memories of that first day in the new place.  When we walked through the doors from customs into the airport lounge we were greeted by Aunt Nora and two of her three boys, Mossie and Jim, brawny lads, slim, straight and strong.  Larry, the quiet one, the contemplative dreamer, was home “at the cows”.  There were smiles and tears and grins and wide eyed stares.  There was this from Nora, a matriarch if ever there was one: “You are welcome home.”

And so it started.  I remember that first morning, the bright sunshine and tropical clouds, wet roads from morning rain, laughter and tears, wonder and tiredness, three full breakfasts, my first taste of real Irish tea, milk still warm from the cow and blood puddings.  We did sleep, finally, in Aunt Nora’s bed in the little house older than the country I had left; the house with one sink, no hot water and the toilet outside, still, and we slept as if we had never slept before, deeply and happily.

We were home; for three weeks, at least

June, 1976, The Gap of Dunloe, Co. Kerry, Ireland

Jeanne Marie, Andrew, Me, Sheila, Lady Ellen (Candy Grandma) Welby

Much has changed over there, and over here.  Once I said that I would not go back, I could not go back for all the changes to that place where my heart seems drawn to be ; to all the changes in me and those I love here and there.  It would not be the same.

Nora, Mary her sister and Mick her brother have died.  Sheila too has died, may she rest in peace.  My children have children of their own, now, and I am old.  The country itself has rushed from the 19th Century into the 21st century in three decades, and it is new.  This is what I thought after Sheila died.  But I went there with the grandchildren and saw the country young again.  And, I went there with Mariellen to show her the country new again.

We have come home several times since, and found that it has not changed, really, for all that seems to have been changed.  This will be a record of our latest trip home last September when the green hills were still green, the tea was still strong enough to trot a mouse on and the days filled with peace and beauty.

You are welcome home with me.

Advertisements

Responses

  1. What a beautiful beginining.

    • Thank you.

  2. Peter, I just love they way you write. … for those of us who may not make the journey .

    • Well, thank you, Mike. Stay tuned. That’s just the intro. Lot’s of pictures, too; some of them of me.


Categories

%d bloggers like this: