The woman who rented her sons’ room was slight of build with a determined stance that suggested, there in the doorway greeting us in that crepuscular air that lasts from seven to eleven of an evening in June in Ireland, she owned the moment. Farm stock, you might say.
“Ah, I see the blow ins have arrived,” she said with that lilt in her voice that immediately identifies the speaker’s country of origin to American ears.
We had phoned from the car to inquire if the Lenihan’s B and B had room. Daylight promised but never quite failed to lead us along the narrow winding road in Kilkishen in county Clare. We were on our way to O’Callaghan’s Mills for a family reunion of sorts the next day, the two of us, brother and sister, planning to meet distant members of our family in a part of the world that would never become familiar to us but that already had a familiarity to it.
On the phone Charley Lenihan said sure, two rooms, come early, come late. Searching out the address, I found a sign above their mailbox proclaiming apiaries lived there. I asked my brother if he knew what an apiary was. The word was unfamiliar to him. Beekeepers, I explained.
Peg Lenihan stood in the doorway beaming at us and offered to take a suitcase saying come in, come in, as she lead the way to the parlor where I introduced us adding, “and you have hives.”
Charley had joined us by then and they both laughed at my double entendre. “I do,” he said with a twinkle coming from the crinkled corners of his eyes, thumbs twisted in his suspenders at shoulder level, “and they’re out back and I’m taking medicine to get rid o’ them!”
It was late, but our hosts appeared in no hurry and quite willing to stay up and chat. However, I begged off and we were shortly shown our rooms. As we passed through the hall where there hung numerous family photos, my brother paused in front of one and asked the name of the priest who was pictured presiding over what were most probably nuptials.
“Ah, that’d be Father John,” Charley explained. “He’s there officiatin’ at our son Declan’s weddin’ ta Madelyn some ten years back.”
“Thought I recognized him,” my brother said matter of factly. “Father John’s one of our distant cousins we’re going to meet.”
The apparent coincidence was the last thing to be remarked upon by anyone as we found our beds, were shown the bathroom down the hall and where the light switches were in the rooms and the hallway.
In the morning Peg was up early. I found her in the kitchen frying thick rounds of blood sausage with eggs cooked hard in the middle, offering me big slices of buttered bread that was, naturally, lathered with honey. Charley was also at the table, but ate little more than the bread which he took big bites of while pulling on his boots and swallowing hot tea in huge gulps from a well-worn mug that was cracked on two sides and might well have been glued together. “Mended,” Charley told me when I asked.
My brother appeared, took a seat at the table, asked why Charley seemed to be in both a great hurry and quite excited.
“Ohhh. Charley’s goin’ ta Quin fer bees,” Peg said between puffs on a cigarette and herself sipping tea from a mug. “Do you two want to go along?”
My brother jumped at the chance and immediately said yes, but I declined. I had not showered and was worn out from our cross country drive. I would stay behind and take it easy, study the map as navigator and prepare for the long anticipated meeting we were to have that afternoon between people who were related, but with a gap of four generations, a succession of great and great great grand parents who had fled their land of birth in search of a future with a modicum of security, food and shelter.
“I have something special for ye,” Peg told me with a conspiratorial wink as the two men departed and the door shut behind them. “I know what ye Americans like.” Then she set about fixing me a cup of instant coffee.
The jar must have been left behind by a former boarder who long ago passed through because the brown granules were no longer loose and able to be mastered with a spoon. They had melded into one big chunk which Peg chipped a piece off with a sharp knife and plopped into a tea pot which she then filled with hot water straight from the kettle whistling quietly on the rear of the oil burning stove.
It amazes me what people in other countries assume about Americans. We can all ride horses; we drink whiskey in the afternoon; we are all fast food junkies and think British food is bland. Also we must have coffee, never tea. And not being coffee drinkers themselves, it’s all the same to them whether it is instant or perked, filtered or dripped.
As she poured a thin brown liquid into my cup, I gazed out the window and remarked on the spacious and beautiful back yard with its neatly mown lawn. Off to one side was a cabbage patch and in the rear what I took to be boxes of bee hives.
Demarking the boundary between properties was a rod and wire fence and beyond that a farmer rode a tractor with a tilling device attached. He churned up a considerable amount of dust as he cut the soil, just like in the States.
“What’s your neighbor getting the fields ready for? Shouldn’t he have already planted?” I pretended to take a sip, was repulsed by the fake coffee odor and put the mug back on the table with fingers laced around its warmth.