By Michael Ledwith
December 14, 2022
Thornton: Well, some things a man doesn’t get over so easy.
Mary Kate: Like what, supposin’?
Thornton: Like the sight of a girl coming through the fields with the sun on her hair.
Brendan’s girlfriend, Kathleen, drove him from Bweeng Cross to Shannon to catch his flight to JFK.
He had met her three days before, standing in the O’Callaghan’s front yard behind a stone wall that came up to her waist. Brendan’s mom and dad, short, ruddy cheeked, the mom in a beehive and the dad in coat and tie, were with her.
They waved as Brendan honked the horn and parked.
Ah, the American friend we’ve heard so much about, his mom cried!
He had met their son on Cape Cod the previous year. Irish students, with relatives in Boston, worked as maids, bell hops, bartenders, and gardeners at the Wianno Club during the summer season. It was a club so exclusive that the Kennedy’s were never allowed to become members.
For the small number of American college students working there as well, all male, the goal was to save $1000 in tips during the summer to pay for the next year’s fraternity dues, beer and book expenses.
He and Brendan bonded over Led Zeppelin, Heinz Guderian, and while hitchhiking into Boston to see the Hollywood premier of Catch 22.
At twenty, with Vietnam raging, absurdity seemed to be the way of the world, and, after reading the novel, everything, they agreed seemed a catch 22.
Now, a year and a half later, after getting out of the Army, with a full bank account, he had left home to hitchhike Europe on a $5 a day.
Starting in Ireland.
He hoped Brendan would hitchhike around with him. They had talked about it on the Cape, but found out on the ride from Cork Airport that he had a new girlfriend, was an apprentice to an uncle who was a brick layer, and he wasn’t going anywhere.
If I leave, he said, she’ll find someone else for sure.
And there she was in the flesh, Kathleen Doyle. A remarkable presence. Tall, taller than Brendan’s parents by a head, taller than Brendan, almost as tall as the American friend.
Bags thrown in a spare bedroom, then across the street to the local pub, Molly Looney’s.
Molly herself pouring pints, eighty if she was a day, a bit of wispy white hair under her chin. If she had baa-ed Hi, Yank, he would not have been startled. The women and girls sat in a separate room drinking orange soda, talking about the men, and the men drank pints of porter in the bar and talked of rebellion.
He had no idea what they were saying when many came up to chat with Brendan’s friend, the Yank from Florida.
Brendan advised, just wait for a pause or a gap and murmur, ‘you don’t say’, and you’ll be fine.
They took their pints outside and met Kathleen and her friends in the car park. They drank in the cold night air, seeing their breath in the moonlight, under a sky filled with a billion stars. Brendan walked across the road to his parent’s house and brought back the guitar Van Morrison had given him at a concert in Dublin. He played while Kathleen sang “Into the Mystic” as if she were born to be a rock and roll star.
Others hearing the music, wanting to join in the singing, came out of the pub and shouted the last chorus with abandon.
The pub emptied into the lot and cold night air except for the old men, them flush with their dole checks, working through their fifteen pints or twelve pints per night reputations and singing as well in the pub.
The pub a degree or two warmer than outside.
No more Van the Man after, just songs about the troubles, hangings, and laments about lost loves, many in the Irish.
The next morning they walked off their hangovers ambling on to Mallow, road bowling. Brendan pointing out magic fields that were never farmed because of Druid stones. The local hurling field, and the location of an ambush during the Easter Uprising.
Four dead, my great uncle Padraig among them, Brendan said.
He sat at dinner with the whole family, Kathleen there too, talking about America, JFK’s portrait in the place of honor above the fireplace. The room warm from the peat fire, cozy, friendly, as if his family.
America, American movies, John Wayne, rock and roll, books, the history of Ireland, Vietnam.
The parents went to bed, the two young men and the black haired, green eyed Irish girl from central casting talked long into the night.
As he was falling asleep in the little guest room, the walls adorned with votive shrines lit by tiny electric lights, he heard Brendan and Kathleen arguing in low voices outside his window. There seemed a bit of tension from how much she had laughed at his stories and how, according to Brendan, she shamelessly flirted with him.
You might as well have taken off your top, Brendan told her.
Maybe next time I will, she retorted and laughed.
He and Brendan drove to Cork the next morning. Wandered around, lunch at a pub in the harbor at Kinsale, dinner at an incongruous Italian/Indian restaurant that night.
He was leaving for the states, Saturday. At the going away party at Molly Looney’s Friday night Brendan got very drunk, fell off the thatched roof attempting to fly, breaking both wrists. Kathleen drove him to Shannon to catch his flight.
They talked about what she was going to do with her life.
Go to university, live in Dublin, be a history professor, she said. But what he was going to do? He had no idea. That’s America she said to him. There’s so much to do. There’s so much opportunity for the young. People your age can just cruise about confident something good will happen.
Maybe, he answered, but choice makes it all a bit confusing, doesn’t it?
She interrupted, but, you’re convinced it will all work out, aren’t you?
Of course, you are. Just skateboarding through a life of promise, on a cheeseburger and fries. Fries, ya call ‘em.
We, here, on this tragic, little island, don’t believe that it will all work out. She said, look at that sign there…Cork Road Works Improvement Scheme. Even something as simple as putting tar on a road is a scheme! It might not work. Don’t be getting your hopes up!
In America it always works. There aren’t schemes. There are definite plans. You went to the fooking moon!
He looked out the window of the little car, the utter green of that little island, the soft blue of the sky, not the hard blue, so sharp it could cut you off Colorado or New Mexico. Tragic little isle, he thought, tragic?
Even the fecking cows looked happy.
He answered her this way: I’m confident that I can create my own happiness. I’d do the same if I had been born in Ireland. I’m going to catch my flight, go home, surf for a few months, and see what happens.
She pulled over, that’s the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard a man say, that he’ll create his own happiness. I think you will. I don’t think you’re lying for effect.
Kathleen looked at him the way she had a couple of times in the pub, and once as he walked into the dining room. In the way that Brendan had complained about from the first night when he overheard them outside the bedroom window. Ah, yes, she sang, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free. That’s how I’ll live my life as well.
Then: here you are flying back to America on a fine morning and you haven’t really seen anything of Ireland, have you?
Well, he said, some magic fields, Cork, Kinsale. I’ve done a bit of road bowling.
Feck’s sake, she said, you haven’t seen anything.
That’s settled then she said. We’ll drive to the Dingle. It’s the prettiest place in Ireland. We can stay at my cousin’s cottage on the headland above the ocean and walk down to the beach. If there are waves then maybe you can surf. There’s several crazies about that I’ve seen try it.
But, he said, I’ll miss my flight.
She cried: Miss your flight? Fifty years on you won’t remember the fecking airline, much less the actual flight. Feck the fookin’ flight!
He said to her: How long will we be in Dingle?
Not a clue, Yank, and she put the car in gear.
Frequent contributor Michael Ledwith is a former bag boy at Winn-Dixie, who worked on the Apollo Program one summer in high school. A former U.S. Army officer, he ran with the bulls in Pamplona and in the process, almost got his friend Gary Fencik killed. Surfer. Rock and roll radio in Chicago. Shareholder, Christopher’s American Grill, London. Father. Movie lover—favorite lines: “I say he never loved the emperor. Never!” and “You know, I’d almost forgotten what your eyes looked like. Still the same. Pissholes in the snow.”